Coffee 101 is, as you may have guessed, all about coffee! We
will review topics such as the difference between Arabica and Robusta, how to
discern coffee names, differences in grinder types, the meanings of many coffee
terms, the basics of cupping coffee, what it takes to become a Barista and much
Coffee, possibly the world's most valuable agricultural commodity, is available in many different varieties. Of all the various species of genus Coffea (family Rublaceae) known to exist, only two species are of any commercial importance: Coffea Robusta and Coffea Arabica.
The coffee plant is a small tree, grown in hot, moist climates, principally between latitudes of 30 north and 30 south. The richer and more flavorful coffees are grown at elevations between 3,000 and 6,000 feet. These coffees are of the Arabica variety.
A coffee tree starts producing coffee about 5 years after planting, and will only yield around 1 pound of green coffee annually. The lower grown Robusta are harvested all at once mechanically, while the higher grown Arabica are picked by hand as they ripen. This makes the Arabica a cleaner, more flavorful cup of coffee.
After harvesting, the pulp around the bean is removed. This can be done by drying the coffee and removing the pulp; or by using water water to wash the pulp off. These are known, respectively, as the dry and wet methods of preparation. Both produce unique and different flavor profiles, and add to the wide variety of coffee available. After the pulp is removed, the coffee is dried, sorted, graded, and bagged accordingly to type and quality. Now it is ready for exporting.
Coffee Masters chooses to purchase only coffees from the Arabica family. Our coffee buyers have traveled to many coffee producing countries to personally find and inspect some of the world's greatest coffees. We look at all aspects of the processing in the producing countries for adherence to rigid quality control standards. We then conduct multiple tests on the coffee samples we brought back with us. Using state-of-the-art lab equipment and trainded coffee cuppers, we analyze many aspects of the beans; a few of which are the moisture percentage, the amount of defects, the bean size, and most importantly, the actual cup quality. Each coffee is rated on over 20 different taste characteristics before we purchase a single bean. Coffee Masters only purchases from the top 3% of the highest quality Arabica coffee grown.
Once the coffee shipment arrives, rigid tests are performed on the green coffee to insure the quality we originally purchased. If the coffee passes the tests, it is ready to roast. Roasting is the process of heating the beans to draw moisture out, and caramelize the natural sugars that gives coffee its flavor. Coffee Masters treats the roasting process as a science.
Immediately after roasting, the coffee is packaged into nitrogen-flushed bags. This process forces nitrogen into the package, replacing the oxygen that would otherwise quickly age the coffee. The nitrogen preserves the wonderful flavor characteristics of fresh-roasted coffee. Coffee Masters also utilizes "vent tape" technology, which allows the coffee to de-gas, but prevents exposure to oxygen. You are guaranteed freshness in every cup! Back to top
Arabica vs Robusta
While there are many types or varieties of coffee out there in the consumer market, there are really only two main species of coffee plant.
The first, and most traditional, is Arabica, which is considered to be far superior in flavor - the champagne of coffee, if you will. The other variety, Robusta, is higher in caffeine content and tastes far bitterer and more acidic, which makes it less than preferable for most domestic use, but on the upside it can be cultivated in areas where Arabica won't grow. This makes it a cheap substitute for Arabica, which sees several coffee companies add small amounts of Robusta to their product lines as 'filler'. Finest quality Robusta beans are sometimes used as ingredients in certain espresso blends, but these are somewhat of an acquired taste.
Of course, both Robusta and Arabica have sub-varieties, much the same way as wineries have different blends of wine. Traditional Arabica coffees can be Mocha or Java varieties while, on the more exotic side, there's a very expensive gourmet variety of Robusta called the Indonesian Kopi Luwak.
What makes this bean so unique is that the beans are gathered from the droppings of the Common Palm Civet, an animal whose digestive processes give the bean a very distinctive flavor.
Most varieties aren't anywhere near as bizarre as that. In fact, most varieties or Types of coffee plant are categorized on where they are grown, rather than any scientific basis. Just as with wineries, a different geographic location can greatly affect how the plant grows, and how its bean tastes, as can the nutrients that feed into that particular area's groundwater system and soil. Back to top
The Ritual of Coffee
The ritual of coffee has meant many things to many people down through the centuries. Apart from the early Turks, who drank their coffee boiled strong and black, nearly every other culture has experimented with coffee additives.
Perhaps the strangest of these concern certain African tribal cultures, who have developed a ritual in which blood brothers cement their bond by mixing a drop of blood from each between the beans of a single coffee cherry, and swallowing the lot whole. Most cultures lacked this degree of imagination and drama when determining the additives that would enhance their enjoyment of the perfect cup.
The 1940's and 1950's saw Americans consuming a thin, weak brew that they called "black" coffee. "Real Men" did not drink milk or sugar in this beverage because adding anything would completely obliterate any semblance of flavor.
However, the bolder, dark-roasted coffees that we enjoy today have enough character to hold up to the addition of milk and sugar. Milk can serve to create a smooth body, and to cool off the brew. If you like the taste of coffee with milk, but want to retain the heat, try steaming your milk before adding it to your cup.
The Dutch ambassador to China first attempted the addition of milk to coffee in 1660. However, the practice was not widely received until the first Viennese cafe owner, George Kolschitsky, brought it to the masses by preparing his coffee with milk and honey.
Like milk, honey and sugar have frequently been added to coffee. The early Egyptian coffee drinkers boiled powdered coffee with sugar to produce a thick, syrupy coffee. In Japan, raw sugar is actually called "coffee sugar".
For a uniquely rich "dessert" treat, try adding molasses, dark brown sugar, or turbinado sugar to your favorite brew; these rich, thick, flavorful sugars add great undertones to an already delicious brew.
The very first coffee drinkers, the Arabs, added spices to their thick, boiled coffees. In recent times, we have witnessed other herbal additives that have been used to extend coffee, or change its flavor.
One unique approach from Great Britain is the addition of ground and roasted figs in a ratio of 7-to-1, which results in a full-bodied, fruitful beverage...very distinctive, but hard to recreate in the US, where roasted figs are scarce.
Closer to home, our friends in New Orleans have traditionally added the root of the European endive plant - Chicory. Endive is a close relation to the hardy dandelion, and when its roasted roots are added to coffee, a syrupy beverave with a peppery tang results. Back to top
The Magic of Blending Coffees
From time to time people in the "dating world" have been heard to say such things as "I like so-and-so for her personality, and so-and-so for her looks...if only I could mix them, I would have the perfect mate!" For centuries, people who are struck by a romance with coffee have been having those same sort of thoughts, fortunately, in the world of coffee, the perfect cup is not nearly so hard to achieve!
Coffees grown in different regions of the world have vastly different taste profiles. While all Coffee Masters coffees are high-grown Arabicas, their varied heritages create coffees that seem worlds apart! In fact, everything that happens to a coffee tree; genetic lineage, weather conditions throughout the life of the plant, and throughout the individual growing season, altitude; impacts the flavor of the coffee it produces. Some regions of the world are known for full-bodied coffees and other regions for their deep flavor or aroma. Some are fruity, some acidic. While the aroma of one may inspire poetry, its flavor may be none too special; everyone will consider no one coffee "perfect".
The blending of coffees has been practiced for centuries. People have been trying to create the perfect cup of coffee for years - one that possesses the perfect degree of acidity, body and unique flavor characteristics. We remember the early days of this country and remember with horror the things that were blended with coffee to stretch limited supplies. In today's marketplace, where you can find beautiful, origin-specific coffeees such as Costa Rican Tarrazu's, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe's, Celebes Kalossi Toraja's, etc. why is there a need to blend? Basically, there are three reasons; taste, consistency and quality.
First, there's taste. Let's just say for the sake of argument, that you like the boldness of a dark roast, but that you like a hint of fruity flavor (which may be diminished in the dark roasting process). Let's further assume that you prefer a strong aroma with your morning coffee, and that you also prefer coffee that has a medium mouthful. Where in the world would you find a coffee that consistently possesses all of these characteristics? The best solution in a case like this might be to create your own coffee! This is precisely the reason that many coffee enthusiasts consider coffee blends an art form. In creating a blend, high-quality varietals are isolated according to their dominant characteristics, which include, full-bodied, aromatic, acidic, and flavorful. The artful blend usually begins with an acidic, flavorful base. Then, one spoonful at a time, aroma and body are added. Care is taken to record the coffee proportions; these are then used to create a basic "recipe" for the ultimate cup of coffee.
There is simply no way to develop a coffee blend without tasting it, and for a truly outstanding blend, this will take numerous cuppings. Some coffees blend great together, some do not blend well together at all. The only way to achieve what you want is through trial and error. While this might sound tedious, look on the bright side - if you are using high quality coffees to make your own blends, how torturous can it be to taste all those great coffees?
Maintaining consistency on any product is usually the key to a product's success. In the case of origin-specific coffees, the quality may always be the best that particular origin has to offer, but that quality will vary from year to year. Because of climatic and various other conditions, the body, acidity, aroma and flavor is constantly changing with each new crop.
Blending to improve quality can have a couple of different meanings. In the mass-market world, it can be used to control pricing; by taking lower-priced almost generic-tasting coffees and blending them with a higher-quality coffee one can obviously keep costs low. Some large commercial roasters may have up to 20 or 30 different formulas for every coffee they carry. In the specialty world, blending takes on different meanings. Usually the specialty roaster is looking to create something unique, something to call their signature blend. Some take years to develop that special blend.
But whatever the reason, the blending of coffees is no easy task. It is not something thrown together from Grandmother's old recipe. Coffee and its unique characteristics change from crop to crop, season to season. Sad but true, blends that were created last year or even last month, change, sometimes dramatically. It is the Roastmaster's duty to see that these taste profiles are met day after day, year after year. Back to top
What's in a Coffee Name?
Feeling a little confused by the names on certain coffees? Do you sometimes feel though names have been given to certain coffees without any rhyme or reason? Would a coffee by any other name taste as sweet? Here are some tips that will help you through the maze.
Coffee names can more or less be divided into a number of categories. There are European sounding names, Non-European sounding names, Grade names, Regional names, Estate names, Market names, Flavor names, Blend names, Imaginative names that are none-of-the-above, and a few extra descriptive adjectives that help in the confusion. European names usually refer to the degree of roast. Some examples of this are French Roast, Italian Roast, and American Roast. Non-European names, usually of a more exotic nature, usually refer to the country of origin, such as Sumatra, Java, Mexican, or Guatemalan. This makes sense, since coffees require an exotic tropical environment to grow!
So far, you should be able to figure out what is meant by Italian Roast Guatemalan...but wait! Now we add in the Grade names. These are usually assigned by the individual growing nation, and as such, there is no "universal scale". Kenya AA and Colombian Supremo are examples of Grade names.
Closely related to the grade name is the Regional name, because certain regions within a given country have better climates for growing coffee. Examples of regional names include Guatemala Antigua, and Costa Rican Terrace.
Sometimes Regional coffee names draw their wording from the history of the countryside, as in the cases of the Harrar coffees of Ethiopia, which are named for an ancient city within that country.
The country can be subdivided still further if a roaster sells coffees that they have bought from a single crop of a particular estate, as in the case of Jamaican Blue Mountain Wallenford. Oftentimes you will see an estate name in use if a particular estate enjoys an especially good reputation within the coffee industry for quality and consistency.
There are convincing arguments both for and against a reliance upon an estate's reputation; if the estate owner spends as much time and money in ensuring the continued high quality of the yield, then they should be rewarded for their consistent efforts. However, the whole concept of estate naming leaves a great deal of room for fraud, and a good roaster will always cup each crop for its individual taste profile.
Flavor names are fairly straighforward. They usually reflect popular gourmet trends of the day, and generally do not include a country name (except in the case of Irish Creme). These do not, as a rule, confuse people.
Blend names however, further muddy the picture. While almost all of your commercial "coffees in a can" types of coffee are blends based on price alone, in the gourmet world, taste is the only reason that a blend is created. The gourmet roaster who creates a blend is striving for a flavor that is more complete and distinctively different from the straight alone.
However, thankfully, the name of most blends gives some clue as to the origins of the coffees used. For example, Mocha Java, quite possibly the world's most famous blend, contains 1/3 Yemen Mocha, and 2/3 Java Arabica.
Sometimes a very rare, or extremely expensive coffee is blended with a neutrally flavored coffee to create a blend that strongly resembles the more expensive of the two. Still less frequently, coffees with very distinctive flavor profiles are brought together to "mimic" a more expensive coffee; these are not referred to as "blends" per se, but as "style" coffees, as in Kona Style, or Jamaican Style. It should be noted that while these coffees may indeed employ high-quality coffees, very little or no Jamaican or Kona coffee is used.
Sometimes a roaster or store proprietor will create his or her own blend, and give it a "Fantasy" name. Whether or not these names make any reference to point of origin is entirely up to the individual; beware of Atlantis Blend, Lillyput Blend or Never-Never Land Blend. We call these personal favorites House Blends. Beyond these, there are just a few other tags that can be added to help you with your purchase decisions. One of these is organic. An organic coffee is one that has been certified as grown without the use of harmful chemicals, such coffees will have "organic" added to their list of names. Do not be confused by the term "chemical free"; it is not the same!
You may also find the term(s) Caffeine-Free, Decaffeinated, European Process Decaffeinated, or Swiss Water Process Decaffeinated affixed to your coffee label. These denote a number of different decaffeination processes, but basically, you get the idea here.
Well, you should now be able to figure out what a "French-Roasted, Swiss-Water Decaf. Mexican Altura Coatepec" is, or a "Passion Fruit Surprise", or even an "Italian Roasted Spanish Eyes Special".
Just a few little phrases left to confuse you. Turkish coffee does not come from Turkey. Viennese coffee sometimes means a somewhat darker than normal roast, similar to French Roast, or a blend of dark and light roasts or if you are in Great Britain, it could mean a blend of coffee and roasted figs. New Orleans coffee is a mixture of dark roasted coffee and chicory root, or a darkly roasted Brazilian based blend without chicory.
And what about Thai Iced Coffee? As you may have guessed, it's not coffee grown in Thailand. Back to top
French Roast Coffee
French Roast is not coffee from France at all. It is merely a name for coffee beans that are roasted dark and become shiny with oil. The beans used can be from anywhere coffee is grown, however, some growing regions taste better than others when roasted dark.
So, where does the name French Roast come from? Although we could not find an actual claim, our research suggests that the name French Roast is derived from the regional or national coffee drinking habits of France, whom prefer their coffee strong. The same conclusion is valid with Italian Roast, as Italians like their coffee stronger than the French, and perhaps the strongest in the world.
As we mentioned earlier, French Roast is a name for the degree of roast of the coffee beans. During the roasting process, the sugars, fats and starches that are within the bean are emulsified, caramelized and released. This creates the delicate coffee oil seen on the French Roast beans. This oil is what gives coffee its distinctive aroma and taste. Coffee beans that are roasted French, will have a fuller flavor than lighter roasted beans.
In America, people from the West Coast view French Roast as the darkest roast, and on the East Coast, people view Italian Roast as the darkest roast. In the coffee business, Italian Roast and Espresso Roast are the darkest, both almost exclusively used to make espresso.
French Roast in America is very popular. It is regarded as the heartiest of all the coffees, giving deep flavor and a full body cup. Coffee Masters French Roast makes a great eye-opener or light espresso in the morning, or can be equally used as an after-dinner coffee. Back to top
Burr vs Blade Grinding
When coffee beans have been roasted, the next step towards making them drinkable is to grind them down to a fine powder. The fineness of the grounds will have a huge impact on flavor, with a finer grind creating a far richer flavor. Of course, if the grounds are too fine, they'll simply work their way through a filter and spoil the cup of coffee, so there is a point where you have to sacrifice flavor for smoothness in the final product.
But grinding coffee beans is, much like most parts of the coffee-making process, a nuanced art that can have a great impact on the flavor and smoothness of your caffeine fix.
Coffee grinding is performed by either a burr-based coffee grinder or a blade-based grinder. The differences between the two are substantial:
Burr Coffee Grinders:
A burr-based coffee grinder is a machine with two revolving 'tearers' that spins, rips and crushes the beans, without any risk of the beans becoming burnt. These grinders are generally either wheel or conical in variety, with most connoisseurs preferring the quieter, aroma-preserving, and less-likely-to-clog conical grinders.
A conical burr grinder can get your coffee beans down to a very fine and consistent powder without needing to go to high speed - they work at about 500rpm as opposed to the 10 - 20,000 rpm of a wheel grinder - which makes them ideal for the extra fine needs of Turkish Coffee. The ability of conical grinders to do their job without heating the grounds is what keeps the aroma intact, and the options of a variety of grind settings make the resulting product suitable for a wide array of coffee-making equipment, such as espresso, drip, percolators, and even French press.
The wheel-based grinder, or disk-type, grinds at a faster speed than conical burr grinders, which warms up the grounds, but they do bring about a far more consistent grind, which is well suited to most home espresso machines.
Blade Grinders (or Chopping Grinders):
Most commercially available grinders simply chop the beans into smaller and smaller pieces until you're left with a powder, and sure, this will give you the coffee grinds needed to make a decent cup of coffee, but there's also a downside to the chopping process.
The ground coffee from a blade grinder has uneven particles which tend to be warmer, which does affect the aroma. These grinders also create coffee dust, which can clog up the works of espresso machines, or make it harder for filters to do their job. While chopping grinders are suitable for drip coffee makers, and can be very handy for chopping spices and herbs, they're not the sort of equipment that a coffee connoisseur will have sitting on the kitchen counter.
There is another grinding option, which is known as "pounding". This is usually the way grounds for Turkish Coffee are created, and it involves pounding the coffee into a fine dust using a mortar and pestle. There's simply no better way to get ultra-fine coffee grounds, but they're far too fine to be used in any kind of coffee-making equipment. Back to top
Coffee beans are taken from a living plant, and as such, have a limited shelf life. Like most organic products, you can increase their life by storing them properly. More importantly - at least to most coffee enthusiasts - proper coffee storage preserves the flavor of the coffee. Coffee beans contain volatile oils - chemicals that give coffee its characteristic flavor. Those oils are released by the roasting process, and decay rather quickly once the coffee has been roasted. Grinding the coffee beans speeds up the flavor loss even more. Because of the difference in the way that those oils behave, there are different methods of coffee storage that are best for coffee at the different times in its life.
To get the best flavor from your coffee, you should brew it within two weeks of roasting, and immediately after grinding. In fact, coffee is at its peak flavor about 48 hours after roasting. That's a time line that's pretty close to impossible unless you're buying raw beans and roasting your own. If you buy your coffee as whole roasted coffee beans, you can make a point of looking for the date that the coffee was roasted - but you'll seldom find it. Failing that, here are some tips on coffee buying and coffee storage that will help ensure that you get a great tasting and fresh cup of coffee every time.
In order to brew the best cup of coffee, you need to take care of the beans at every step. Simply measuring the water and the beans is not enough to brew a good pot of coffee - you simply need to do more. By learning how to properly store all of the different kinds of coffee beans, you will make sure that your coffee tastes as good as it should - and as good as you deserve.
When you have bought coffee from the store, it generally comes in a vacuum sealed tin or container to ensure freshness. But as soon as you open it up and break the seal, you will begin to lose flavor. This is because the beans are already ground up and the more oxygen exposure they get, the more likely they are to lose their taste. The oils dry up and cannot be released from the beans or the oils are stuck inside of the container. But this doesn't mean that you shouldn't buy store brands - it just means you need to store them in a different manner to preserve as much freshness as you can.
As soon as you open up the container of coffee, you will want to take what you need and seal it completely before putting the container away. Some experts will tell you that storing the container in a cool, dark cupboard is best - away from temperature changes and sunlight. This works well for most families that have the space and want to have easy access to their coffee.
By storing your coffee properly, you will guarantee that you have a fresh cup of coffee each time you brew a pot. And while these tips may seem paranoid, having a poor cup of coffee is a horrible way to start your day. Back to top
Today's Coffee Market
Coffee is big business, and crucial to the economies of many producing countries. Coffee is a tropical plant that grows near the equator and requires very specific environmental conditions for commercial cultivation. Temperature, rainfall, sunlight, wind and soils are all important, but requirements vary according to the varieties grown. The best varieties must be selected, the best soils chosen, and care taken to protect the berries and trees from pests and diseases. Like grapes and wine, coffee cherries need processing before they reach the consumer. The beans must be separated from the cherries, cleaned, dried and roasted. Often they are blended to secure the best characteristics of different origins. Finally coffee must be brewed and served properly to take full advantage of its aroma and flavor.
Today's coffee industry faces many issues; rain forests are destroyed, natural bird and wildlife habitats are diminished, waterways are polluted and farmers are underpaid. Roasters offering specialty coffees that contribute to the cause are addressing many of these issues or coffee processes that minimize negative affects on the environment. There are many coffees and programs on the market now, and we thought you might be interested in some of the new coffee terminology.
Bird-Friendly Coffees: Eco- or environmentally-friendly coffees that grow under conditions that favor the natural environment. Shade is emphasized by "bird-friendly," though pesticides also affect birds. Bird-Friendly coffees grow under regimes known as IPM (integrated pest management), which use commercial pesticides and fertilizers in limited amounts at strategic moments. Sometimes referred to as "Songbird" coffees.
Sustainable Coffees: Coffee that is economically fair, socially just and ecologically sound. Fair Trade, Organic-and Shade-Grown are three terms now used by coffee roasters to communicate sustainable methods of growing and trading coffee. Buying coffee from local cafes, markets and co-ops is the final link in a sustainable coffee system.
Sanctuary Coffees: Similar to Bird-Friendly coffees, except these coffees utilize programs that help save the rain forest.
Fair Trade Coffees: Coffee grown and traded by small farmers who have joined together to form a cooperative. Bypassing the middlemen, Fair Trade coffee companies purchase coffee directly from these small farmer cooperatives at a guaranteed minimum price, ensuring that farmers earn a livable income. The conventional market is replaced by a new system of trade based on respect and fairness.
Conventional "Free Trade" Coffees: Coffee grown on either large estates or small farms and traded in transactions where prices are based on the New York futures market. This is the current trading system for most coffee and is based on profits by middlemen, futures investors and large corporations. This system ignores economic justice, rural communities and the environment.
Organic Coffees: Coffee that is grown in accordance with international standards that prohibit the use of chemical fertilizers or synthetic pesticides. By using on-farm inputs, sustainable farming practices promote self-reliance, and healthier farm faamilies and ecosystems.
Shade-Grown Coffees: Coffee that is grown in the traditional manner with coffee plants interspersed under a diverse canopy of trees. The shade trees fix nitrogen in the soil, fostering the growth of the coffee plants, and their fallen leaves provide nutrients, further reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. The mixture of vegetation prevents erosion and protects the coffee from harsh weather.
Full-Sun or Technified Coffees: New hybrid coffee varieties that are grown as a monoculture without the protection or diversity of shade trees and are dependent on heavy applications of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Full sun coffee has higher yields but it comes at a hefty price in the form of soil erosion, loss of habitat and biodiversity, water contamination and risks to farm workers and their families.
Gourmet Coffees: Quality coffee as measured by taste in the cup. The going, minimal standard is an Arabica variety grown at sufficient altitude to yield a "strictly hard bean" coffee. The harder and denser the bean, the better the flavor. Taste is affected by the maturity and integrity of the bean as well as by human skill in processing and roasting the beans.
Estate Coffees: The product of one coffee farm, unmixed with crops from other farms and processed through to roast under the control of the estate farm. Within the "Estate" category there are still the official grades of coffee as governed by the country. As a consumer, it's important to know what you're buying.
And you thought all coffee was the same! If you would like more information on these different types of coffees, you can search the internet for information, as many articles have been written on each of these classifications. Back to top
Learning to Cup Coffee
Coffee characteristics are a combination of body, flavor, acidity and aroma. Learning to discern each element on your palate is an adventure in taste and how to select favorites. Cupping is a term used by coffee professionals to describe the activity of sipping brewed coffees to assess their qualities.
The "mouth-feel" in terms of weight and texture should be a strong, full, pleasant characteristic. These terms are best described as syrupy, harsh, lifeless, thin, heavy, medium, muddy, and of course, full. Light-bodied (African) Medium-bodied (American) Heavy-bodied (Indonesian)
The combination of the aroma and the taste that the coffee impresses in the mouth. The total impression of Aroma, Acidity and Body. Terms relating to flavor are nutty, caramelly, earthy, spicy, fruity, smoky, musty, rich, grassy, chocolatey, neutral, sweet, and winey. Poor Fair Good Fine
A primary coffee sensation, created as the acids of a coffee combine with the natural sugars, to increase the overall sweetness of the coffee. A pleasant quality that points up to a coffee's flavor and provides a liveliness, sparkle, or snap to that drink. It is tasted mainly on the tip of the tongue. The acidity of a coffee may be assessed as lively, moderate, flat or dull. Acidity is a characteristic of coffees grown at high altitudes such as Guatemalan, Costa Rican, and Kenyan. It is NOT, however, the same as bitter or sour. A coffee that is low in acidity, between 5 and 6 on the pH scale and described as pleasantly sharp, "snappy" and lively quality that is considered a positive attribute. Indonesian coffees such as Sumatra and Java have low acidity and are heavier bodied while Central American and Kenyan coffees are high in acidity. Low ( Sumatra, Celebes, French Roasts) Medium (Colombian, Panama, Mexico, Nicaragua) High (Kenya, Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, Guatemala)
Fragrance is the first sensation of tasting coffee. Some coffees are more fragrant than others, such as Colombian, Costa Rican and Kenyan. Individual perception of fragrance affects your preference when buying. Lacking or faint Delicate Strong Fragrant (i.e., aromatic)
Brew the Perfect Cup of Coffee
1. Start with fresh roasted, specialty coffee. Keep coffee in an airtight container to maintain freshness. 2. Use fresh, cold water. If your tap water is distateful due to hardness or treatment, consider using bottled water. 3. Use the correct grind for your brewing method. If unsure, consult the manufacturer's instructions. 4. Although coffee use will be dictated by individual taste and brewing method, we recommend beginning with one tablespoon of coffee to 6 ounces of water. 5. Be sure your coffee maker is clean. Residues of stale coffee oils will interfere with good flavor. 6. Use a brewing method (such as manual, drip, plunge pot, vacuum pot, or high quality electric drip), which will produce temperatures of 195 - 205 degrees. Never boil or reheat coffee. Serve the beverage as soon as possible, as it will retain optimum flavor and aroma for approximately 30 minutes after brewing. Back to top
How to Create a Cupping Party
As the weather gets cooler, entertaining at home with a few friends begins to look more appealing. We've all probably been to wine tastings in the past, well, how about throwing a small coffee tasting party?
Like wine, coffee has many flavor, body, and aroma characteristics that vary from origin to origin. The art of distinguishing these subtle nuances is referred to as "Cupping". Here at Coffee Masters, we cup all of our coffees before they are roasted, to ensure that you are getting the very finest coffee available from any particular port of origin.
You can conduct a cupping of sorts in your own home, using the various coffees you already have, or order some additional straight coffees. Limit your coffee selections to less than 6; more than this can get confusing. Invite 2 or 3 friends, put out some biscotti or light desserts, and make a party of it.
All that you need to really get started is six cups per person, and plenty of boiling water. you may want to supply each person with a pen and paper. Make sure that all of the samples are in the same order, so everyone is sampling the same coffee in cup #3, etc.
Here are the basic steps in the cupping process:
1. The first thing a professional cupper will do is inspect the green (unroasted) beans, noting the color, shape, size, cleanliness, fragility, and density. Often the cupper is secretly comparing the beans to others they have seen in the past, of a known quality. 2. Next the samples are roasted. This is the step where you can set up for a testing at home. The roasted beans are examined once again. How does their color compare? Are there "quakers" or "stinkers" that are discolored? This can indicate a blighted or underdeveloped bean. (Incidentally, while this greatly concerns the professional cupper, you will find none of these in your Coffee Masters coffee). 3. The coffees are ground to a standard fineness, and a small, uniform amount is placed in china cups. (exactly 10 grams, which is approximately the weight of a nickel). Weight is more important than volume, because different coffees have different densities. However, for simplicity's sake, use a level teaspoon of each of your sample coffees in each cup. Be sure to keep the samples in the same order for everyone tasting. Pour boiling water over the coffee, filling each cup to the brim. 4. Examine each cup. Observe how the grounds rise to the top, forming a froth-like crust. It is now time to test the "wet-smell" of the coffee. Bend and place your nose close to the surface of the cup, and using a spoon, break the crust of the coffee. Use a gentle back and forth motion to waft the aromatic steam toward your nose. How does the aroma vary from cup to cup? A professional cupper can determine the origin of a particular coffee in part from its aromatic profile. 5. Allow the coffee to cool a bit before beginning to taste the coffee samples. Sampling coffee that is too hot can scald your taste buds, and inhibit the ability to accurately taste. Be sure to have a cup of warm water on hand, to rinse the spoon out between samples. An actual cupper would spit out the samples to avoid becoming bloated with coffee as the day progresses; it may be more enjoyable for you and your friends to actually drink the brewed beverages.
The coffees will be tasted in the order in which they were brewed. Take up about one half a teaspoonful, and slurp it vigorously into your mouth, spraying the various "taste zones". By spraying the coffee in this manner, all regions of the tongue are affected, and the aroma reaches the nasal passages. Only in this manner can the full structure of fragrance and flavor be assessed. As you move from sample to sample, slurp once to remove the taste of the previous cup, then again to actually assess the flavor.
As the coffee cools, repeat the tasting, to see how the flavor profile changes.
6. As you cup the coffees, take notes on your impressions. Use specific terms, such as "spicy", "nutty", or "winey", and avoid "fluffy" terms like "great"! Compare notes with your friends. Pay special attention to the acidity (or snap) of the coffee, the body of the coffee as it washes over your palate, and the overall flavor of the coffee. You will find that relatively small differences between coffees are more noticeable with a direct comparison. Not only will you feel more capable of determining a good coffee, but also you will be able to isolate your favorite coffee on your cupping adventure.
After all of the coffees have been compared, brew up a pot of your universal favorite, and enjoy dessert! Back to top
American Roast - The standard roast for American Coffees, which is medium brown.
Arabica - Arabica coffee is the seed from the fruit of the Arabica species of coffee tree. Arabica trees produce a fine quality coffee and require special soil conditions, high altitudes (4,000 - 6,000 feet above) and just the right balance of warmth and moisture. Because Arabica trees are susceptible to disease, frost, and drought, they require careful labor-intensive cultivation and produce only 1 to 1.5 pounds of beans per year. Arabica coffee beans are selected as specialty coffee because of their unique, delicate flavor and aroma.
Americano - A shot or two of espresso that has been poured into a glass filled with hot water.
Beneficio - In the Central American coffee trade this term means coffee-cleansing establishments including washing, drying, and sorting machinery, as well as sun-drying patios.
Bird-Friendly - Bird Friendly coffee is grown under the natural canopy of the rainforest. Bird Friendly coffee protects the rainforest from being cleared for sun grown coffee plantations that support very few bird species.
Bouquet - The fragrance, aroma, nose and aftertaste of brewed coffee.
Cappuccino - A shot of espresso, followed by less than half a cup of steamed milk and a big head of foamed milk spooned on to contain the warmth. The proportion of espresso to steamed and frothed milk for cappuccino is typically 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 frothed milk on top.
Cherry - The ripe fruit of the coffee tree. The seeds, freed from all coverings, become "green coffee".
Chicory - An addition or filler in coffee made from the plant, cichorsum intybus, the wild variety of which is a perennial but the cultivated plant is annual. The raw root is cut into slices, kiln dried, and then roasted in the same manner as coffee.
City Roast - A term used in New York City, indicating a medium dark roasted coffee, but not as dark as "full city roast." This level of roast is a bit darker than the American, medium-brown in color, and dry on the surface (no oil development). Many institutional roasters for their high-end gourmet coffee blends use coffee roasted to this level.
Cups of Coffee to the Pound - The avereage, of good strength, is 40 coffee cups.
Decaffeination - Coffee with 97% or more of its naturally occurring caffeine removed is classified as decaffeinated.
Defects - These include husks, pods, brokens, beans in parchment, blacks, sour beans, quakers, and any foreign objects such as sticks, stones, etc. All are counted as imperfections during graading at various defect negative values.
Dry Method - In the dry method, the berries are dried, either by exposure to the sun or in a mechanical dryer. The hard, shriveled husk is later stripped off the bean by machine, by soaking and washing with hot water, or with a grindstone or mortar and pestle.
Electric Drip Brewing Method - Hot water is poured over ground coffee, which is held in a filter. The brew then drips, with gravity, through the filter into the pot or cup. The result is a clean-tasting, full-flavored cup of coffee that is free of sediment and, therefore, seems lighter in body.
Espresso - A one-ounce shot of intense, rich black coffee made and served at once.
Espresso Brewing Method - A pump-driven machine forces hot water through fine grounds at around nine atmospheres of pressure. Comes from the Latin word Expresere which means "to press out".
European Direct Decaffeination - This method steeps the beans in hot water, and then removes the hot water containing the caffeine. The water itself is then extracted with methylene chloride (CH2CL2) or ethyl acetate, from which the caffeine is precipitated by evaporation of the organic solvent. The remaining coffee oils (and flavor residues) are then added back into the beans to enhance their flavor.
Fair Trade - Trans Fair USA is an independent non-profit organization, which monitors and certifies Fair Trade products in the United States. Fair Trade raises incomes and living standards for small coffee farmers overseas while helping to protect the environment. Fair Trade doesn't provide aid or charity, but instead promotes self-reliance and equality for farmers who are disadvantaged under present trading conditions.
Fazenda - A farm; thus a coffee plantation is a coffee fazenda. Term used in Brazil.
Fermented - A taste fault in coffee beans producing a highly displeasing sour sensation on the tongue.
French press/plunger pot - A device for making coffee in which ground coffee is steeped in water. The grounds are then removed from the coffee by means of a filter plunger that presses the grounds to the bottom of the pot. Also referred to as a Bodum or Cafetiere.
Fruity - A flavor tainst said to come from overripe fruit pulp.
Full City Roast - Roasted to a rich, ebony brown, with a distinctly oily surface.
Hacienda (SP.) Farm or ranch. In Venezuela, usually means coffee plantation.
Italian Roast - Term applied to coffee that has been roasted darker than French Roast. Much used by Italians as well as in many of the coffee-producing countries.
Java - An island of Indonesia; principal ports are Djakarta, Semarang, and Surabaya. Only coffees of Coffea Arabica variety grown upon this island can be labeled "Java" in the United States. Java coffee was originally of the Coffea Arabica variety, but now the Liberian and Robusta varieties are also grown on the island.
Latte - Coffee with steamed milk, usually in a 1 to 3 ratio. It can contain flavored syrup and be topped with a layer of froth.
Mocha - Generally shipped from Mocha Yemen. A small, irregular bean. The roast is poor and irregular but in the cup offers a unique acid character, heavy body; in flavor, smooth and delicious.
Macchiato - A shot of espresso with just a dab of steamed or foamed milk on top.
Manual Drip Method - The drip method is like a muted version of vacuum-pot coffee; the muting comes mostly from the paper filter, which absorbs and retains some aromatic compounds. This method yields a cup that is light in body, and well suited for early in the day. A coffee that tastes a bit too acidic and light in a plunger pot will "resolve" as perfectly brewed drip.
Oily - Slick, greasy oral sensation due to a high degree of roasting.
Organic - By federal and state laws, an organically grown coffee cannot have been exposed to herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, or commercially produced fertilizers.
Parchment - The endocarp of the coffee fruit. It lies between the fleshy part or pericarp and the silver skin, and is removed during the hulling process. Coffee is said to be "in the parchment" when dried after the outer skin and pulp have removed by water treatment.
Peaberry - Normally, each coffee cherry contains two beans. Occasionally, a cherry will form with only one bean. These are called peaberries and are frequently separated from other coffee and sold as its own distinctive grade. New Guinea is one of the more popular ones.
Pulping - The first step after picking in the preparation of coffee by the wet method. It consists of removing by machinery the outer skin. The machines rub away the pulp by friction without crushing the beans.
Percolation Brewing Method - This was certainly the preferred method of coffee making in the 1950's in the United States. It has fallen out of favor, possibly because coffee drinkers began to realize there was more to a cup of coffee than the thin, watery, often times bitter brew that came from percolator pots.
Rainforest Alliance - Protects ecosystems and the people and wildlife that depend on them by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. Companies, cooperatives and landowners that participate in these programs meet rigorous standards that conserve biodiversity and provide sustainable livelihoods.
Robusta - Fine and aromatic type of coffee with higher acidity. High in caffeine and low in flavor. Grown between sea level and 2,000 feet and processed using the dry method. Produced primarily in Africa and Southeast Asia. Robusta is cheap to process and used by commercial coffee companies as bases for instant coffee.
Swiss Water Process Decaffeination - After the beans soak for several hours, the water is drawn off and passed through activated charcoal or carbon filters to remove the caffeine. The water, still containing other flavor elements, is added back to the beans.
Tipping - Charring the little germ at the end of the coffee bean during the roasting process, by too quickly applying an intense heat.
Triage - Used by the coffee trade of some countries to describe broken coffee beans. The word has come to be used in most coffee countries as one of the six usual coffee separations.
Turkish Brewing Method - Bring water, sugar and coffee to a boil in a small pot. Remove from the heat and divide the foam between 4 demitasse cups. Return pot to the heat and bring to a boil again.
Unwashed coffee - Green coffee as produced by the dry process. The entire fruit is dried, the skin, pulp, parchment is removed, and then the "silver skin".
Viennese Roast - Viennese Coffee is roasted a bit longer than traditional American roasts. A rich and aromatic blend of the world's finest beans, primarily Central American and Colombian.
Washed Process - The processing method by which pulping machines separate the beans from the pulp, the beans soak in tanks to remove the mucilage coating, and the beans are dried on patios in the sun or in mechanical dryers. Back to top
What does it take to become a Barista?
Many people in America today make coffee for a living, and most make a decent wage, at least by serving industry standards. Companies like Starbucks, Seattle's Best, Caribou and such all compete with each other for a large market "the fast order coffee market" and they usually do all of their own training of new staff in-house. But there is another kind of coffee maker out there, a variety of individual who can identify any of dozens of different coffee types, make you whatever you want, and get it to perfection every time. These people are known as Baristas.
And sometimes they make a lot of money doing what they're trained to do. A Barista that really knows their stuff can be a massive draw to a specialty coffeehouse, bringing in caffeine connoisseurs and aroma aficionados for miles around.
But how do you become a true Barista? Is there a course you can take? And how can you tell a quality Barista course from a dud?
A lot of things can tarnish a cup of coffee - cleanliness of equipment, quality of the beans being used, freshness of the roaster, quantities of ingredients, but in amongst all the stuff you can detect pretty easily is something you can't - Barista training. Generally, when a new employee joins a coffeehouse, the owner of the establishment, or a manager, will handle the training. That will usually mean teaching them how to make a cappuccino, how a mochachino differs, and how to ring up a sale on a register. Not exactly the most in-depth artistry assistance.
There is more to being a top quality coffee jockey than just learning to grind, dose, and tamp a certain way. You've got to feel it down deep.
Some specialty coffee establishments certify their staff as baristas after a detailed and punishing training course that measures their ability to handle espresso, milk-based and iced drinks, regular, skim, and soy milks, rosetta decoration, serving in the right cup, using the right saucer and spoon, grinding the exact amount of coffee, steaming milk to the perfect temperature, tamping with 30 pounds of pressure, drying the portafilter, timing shots, tasting, adjusting the grind, and much more.
So how do you get trained? Well, for starters you can look for any professional schools dealing with coffee making in your neck of the woods. Chances are there's at least one barista training program close to you, but if there isn't, there are plenty of how-to's you can find online to help further your knowledge in the field.
But in the end, if you really want to learn how to make a devastating drop of caffeine, you need to find the best coffee house in town and get a job with them. There's simply no substitute to working alongside a true coffee-master if you want to learn all the tricks, and learning them first hand, in the middle of a busy workplace, is the only way to see what really works. Back to top
History of the Coffee Break
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently made a discovery that strongly suggests that coffee breaks - or at least, breaks from activity - are a necessary part of the learning process. The researchers wired rats so that they could view the electrical patterns firing in their brains while they ran through the maze-like tracks. What they found was that as the rat runs the track, their brain cells fire in a particular sequence - and that precise sequence is repeated every time the rat runs the maze. Much more surprising though, when the rat takes a break immediately after running a track, that precise sequence of electrical activity replays in its brain - in reverse, repeatedly, at about twenty times the speed. MIT thinks that the replay helps the rat to internalize the experience they've just had.
Of course, we didn't really need MIT to tell us that the coffee break, that time revered workplace tradition, is good for business. Good employers have always known that a break from work increases productivity. No one is quite sure when that break became associated with coffee, but the story of the invention of the espresso machine gives us a hint. It happened in 1901, when an Italian factory owner named Luigi Bezzera was looking for a way to speed up his employees' coffee break time. Figuring that if he could brew the coffee faster, his employees would drink up and get back to work more quickly, he hit upon the idea of using steam pressure to force hot water through the ground coffee. His idea worked far beyond his wildest imaginings - at least in terms of the machine. Bezerra's idea of forcing water through ground coffee under pressure launched a whole new way of making coffee. No one is quite sure if it actually shortened the coffee break time of his workers.
It was at just about the same time that a Buffalo, New York company made coffee break history. In 1902, the Barcolo Manufacturing Company - the company that eventually became Barcalounger - officially made a coffee break part of the benefits enjoyed by its employees. According to old newspaper stories, the employees negotiated for a short break in the workday in the morning and afternoon, and one of the employees volunteered to heat up coffee during those times on a kerosene fueled hot plate. Of course, the designation of 'first official coffee break' is contested. Another Buffalo company shows a 1901 ledger entry for free coffee for its employees.
It wasn't until 1964, though, that the coffee break became a national issue. In June of that year, Time Magazine reported on the negotiations between the United Auto Workers and the Big Three. At issue - a fifteen minute shutdown of machines for workers to enjoy a coffee break. Said UAW vice president Leonard Woodcock, "You have coffee breaks on assemly lines all over the world. Only the U.S. has no coffee breaks on the assembly line." While other issues at those historic negotiations included health insurance, retirement benefits and a 5% raise, it was the coffee break issue that nearly brought about a strike. Time reported in September that 74,000 workers at Chrysler were poised to walk off the job in less than an hour when the company gave way and agreed to a 12 minute daily coffee break.
Today, most employee contracts specifically grant at least one coffee break in an eight hour shift, and many companies have found that providing free coffee for their employees during that break is a valuable, low cost benefit. Back to top
The Buzz about Caffeine
It has long been mostly a mystery to those who enjoy its bite, but scientists have got the buzz about caffeine down to a fine art. Through testing and research, we basically have learned all there is to know about why coffee makes our bodies react as it does.
Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance found in the leaves, seeds and/or fruit of over 63 plant species around the world. What it comes right down to is caffeine is an alkaloid.
Cola nuts, coffee, tea and cacao beans contain three major compounds: caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine, and each of these has different biochemical effects on the human body. The taste, effect and look of each variety of coffee beans come down to how much of each of these compounds the coffee cherries have.
As you probably know, coffee contains caffeine, which acts as a stimulant in the human body. Consciously or not, the human body craves more caffeine when it is exposed to it for a long period, and because people usually start drinking coffee either as a means of staying awake (studying for an exam, for example), a diversion from work, or in a social situation, those cravings don't take long to form in most people.
Coffee dependence sometimes follows, and kicking the habit can be a real drag. Government authorities in the US say that two cups a day of coffee should be about the limit for people, with anything more than that being more harmful to the body than helpful. Many people drink decaf instead of their usual coffee as a means of reducing this negative impact. Decaf is coffee that has most of the caffeine removed through the use of either water or trichloroethylene on the beans.
Not everything about the coffee bean has been exposed by science, however. Scientists hypothesize that an unknown chemical agent who stimulates the production of cortisone and adrenaline, two stimulating hormones in the human body, is present in coffee, however these two hormones aren't particularly harmful in themselves, at least in coffee sized doses.
Coffee has a variety of helpful uses for humans. Gardeners use the grounds as fertilizer to great success, while others say that coffee increases the effectiveness of pain killers, and can even help fight asthma, possibly due to the enhanced adrenal effect from the caffeine. In women, scientists have shown that coffee reduces suicidal tendencies, while it may also prevent gallstones and gallbladder disease in men, and reduce the incidence of diabetes by some 40%. Lastly, coffee's stimulant effects and fat burning potential sees some quarters of the medical industry pushing it as a means of lowering the incidence of heart disease.
How much of this is real and how much is hokum stemming from wishful thinking in coffee drinkers remains to be seen. But one thing we can be sure of, it tastes great! Back to top
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