Reprinted with permission exclusively for Food Fare
Coffee is "lifeblood" to many people, myself included. I cannot imagine starting a day without several cups. It's not just the fact that it gets me going, but I actually love the taste of it. I have also become addicted to coffee-flavored yogurt, but this is another story. I've told friends and family that if I'm ever rushed to the hospital for any reason, just have the nurses put coffee in my IV and I'll come out just fine. Make that coffee with Coffee Mate - no sugar - and miraculous events can occur.
Coffee spots and designer coffees are the latest trend these days, and I have to admit I've tried a few of the various flavors. My favorite alternative to regular coffee has become a Java Freeze, which I buy at a local convenience store. The concoction is similar to a slurpee made with coffee and flavored with mocha. It is a bit of heaven. Then there are the cappuccinos, espressos, lattes and Starbucks Frappuccino - the list goes on. While I like toying with new flavors and types, my preference remains a plain, hot cup of coffee with powdered Coffee Mate. Nothing beats it, and nothing else satisfies like it.
This article is my offering about coffee - with little bits of history and timeline trivia, the coffee bean, the roasting process, types of coffee, tips on making coffee, a few coffee recipes and some exceptional coffee links.
According to one historical account, the effect of coffee beans on behavior was noticed by a sheep herder named Kaldi from Yemeni. As Kaldi tended his herd, he saw the sheep become hyperactive after eating the red "cherries" from a particular plant. He tried a few of the "cherries" himself, and was soon as alert as his herd. The legend also relates that a monk also happened by and chastised Kaldi for "partaking of the devil's fruit."
While I find the account quaint, I'm not convinced of its truth. However, in other historical text, it is said coffee was consumed as far back as 800 BC in Arabia, when people were drinking a mysterious black and bitter beverage with "powers of stimulation." The fact remains that the coffee plant was initiated in Africa within the Ethiopian region of Kaffa. The Galla tribe from Ethiopia at first did not use coffee as a drink - they would wrap the bean in animal fat as their early source of nutrition while on raiding parties. The Turkish people were the first country to adopt coffee as a drink, and they often added spices such as cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and anise in the liquid.
From there coffee spread to Yemen, Arabia and Egypt, where it developed quickly and became part of daily life. In the late 16th-century, the first traders were selling coffee in Europe, which soon brought the beverage into Western culture. The majority of coffee exported to Europe came from Alexandria and Smyrna. Because of the popularity of the drink, other countries soon tried cultivating their own coffee: the Dutch in their Batavia and Java colonies, the French in Martinique, and later in Britain, Spain and Portugal. In the 18th-century, Brazil started to grow their own coffee crops. Within twenty years, the development of the coffee bean began in America.
The coffee percolator originated in England, while the term "drip pot" has been used in America since the late 19th-century. In 1878, James Sanborn and Caleb Chase produced the first commercially available ground coffee in sealed cans (known as Chase & Sanborn). Nine years later, grocer Joel Cheek names his popular blend "Maxwell House" after the hotel in Nashville, Tennessee where it was served. Hills Brothers launched in 1900, followed by Sanka in 1903. The first "instant" coffee was invented by a Japanese-American chemist named Satori Kato in 1901.
Captain John Smith helped found the first US colony of Virginia at Jamestown - it is believed he introduced coffee to North America (1607).
The first coffee house opened in Italy (1645).
The first coffee houses opened in England and are dubbed "pennie universities" for becoming forums for learned groups of people, and because a penny was the price of a cup of coffee (1652).
Coffee replaced beer as New York City's favorite breakfast drink (1668).
The Boston Tea Party decreed drinking coffee was an American patriotic duty (1773).
During prohibition, coffee sales boom (1920).
Nestle invented freeze-dried coffee and developed Nescafe, introducing it to Switzerland (1938).
The United States imported 70% of the world's coffee crops (1940). During World War II, US soldiers were issued instant Maxwell House coffee in their ration kits (1942).
Achilles Gaggia perfected the espresso machine in Italy (1946).
Starbucks opened its first store in Seattle, creating a boom over fresh-roasted whole bean coffee (1971).
*Trivia stats courtesy Mr. Cappuccino
The coffee plant has been classified as belonging to the Rubiacee family, which also includes gardenia. The naturalist Linnaeus gave it the name "Coffea." Nowadays, only ten species of the plant are cultivated in different parts of the world. The plants with the best results are grown in altitudes of three thousand feet. The higher elevation produces more elegant, complex flavors in coffee "cherries" which contain the beans. Depending on the growth stage, leaves of the plant are typically deep green, light green or bronze yellow. The clustered flowers are white and have a sweet scent similar to Jasmine. The flowers soon give way to a dark red berry, resembling a big cherry in size and color.
The berry is coated with a thin film (esocarpo) containing a sugary mucilaginous flesh (mesocarp). Inside the pulp are seeds in the shape of two beans, which are in turn coated with a golden yellow resistant parchment. When peeled, the real bean appears, coated in turn with another thin silvery film. The bean itself is blue-green, almost bronze, in color. For each bean species there are several varieties, each one distinguished by its own size and color. However, the principal coffee species grown today are Arabica and Robusta.
Arabica represents three-quarters of the world's coffee production. It originates from Arabia. Some of the better-known sub-varieties include Bourbon, Columnaris, Maragogipe, Moka and San Ramon. The Arabica coffee produced in Brazil uses the collective name of "Brazilian Coffees" also called "milds" from Columbia, Venezuela, Peru, Guatemala, Salvador, Haiti and Santo Domingo. Arabica is also grown in Africa, which produces a full-bodied coffee sharp in taste with lower caffeine content. Arabica beans are elongated with green-blue shades.
Robusta beans were discovered in the Congo in 1898. The species is hardy and more resistant to disease than the Arabica bean. Robusta is especially grown in Africa, Indonesia and Asia, where the climate is unsuitable for Arabica. Robusta represents about one-fourth of total world coffee production, and has a higher content of caffeine (twice as much as Arabica), often used in specialty blends. Overuse and improper processing can result in bitter-tasting coffee with a heightened "wood" flavor. The Robusta beans are smaller, rounded and yellow-brown in color.
Harvesting coffee beans is undertaken during different months of the year, depending on where the plants are grown, but follows certain stages as the coffee berry matures. Ripe "cherries" can be taken by hand, picked with small rakes or brought down with long poles. Subject to the terrain of the crop, harvesting can also be accomplished with the use of automated machines. A typical, healthy plant can produce 400 grams and two kilos (Arabica) or 600 grams and two kilos each (Robusta).
DRY PROCESS: The dry method produces "natural" coffees and is used mainly in Brazil and Western Africa. The berries are exposed to the sun on land expressly used for the purpose. They are continually stirred to expose all sides to the rays of the sun for fifteen to twenty days. The coffee can also be put into drying rooms, where it is dried by the heat of a burner between 45 and 60 degrees.
WET PROCESS: The wet method is more expensive and difficult. The berries are cleaned, macerated and the pulps removed. Afterward, the cherries are fermented, desiccated and peeled. The final step is designed to remove any impure residue and to give a glossy sheen to the berries. From the "wet" process, washed and mild coffees are obtained, typically utilized in Central America, Mexico, Columbia, Kenya and Tanzania.
Following specific roasting methods, the beans are sacked (about 132 pounds per bag) and stored in sheltered rooms. From there, they are packaged and shipped to consuming countries.
Most commercial coffee companies use Arabica and Robusta in their blends. There are several types of the brew available:
Regular Roast (American): The coffee beans are medium-roasted, resulting in a brew not too light or too heavy in flavor.
French Roast: Heavily-roasted beans that are a deep chocolate brown in color, producing a stronger coffee.
Italian Roast: Used for espresso; glossy, brown-black and strongly-flavored.
European Roast: The coffee is 2/3 heavy-roast blended with 1/3 regular-roast.
Viennese Roast: Coffee beans are 2/3 heavy-roast blended with 1/3 regular-roast.
Instant Coffee: A powder made from the heat-dried freshly brewed coffee.
Freeze-Dried Coffee: Brewed coffee frozen into "slush" before the water evaporates; more expensive than other "instants" but has a superior flavor.
Decaffeinated Coffee: The caffeine is removed from the beans before roasting, either using a chemical solvent that disappears when the beans are roasted, or the Swiss "water" method which steams the beans and then scrapes off the caffeine-encrusted outer leaves.
There are also variations of coffee that are popular in coffee bars and the "Java" roadside stands, as well as some definitions of coffee-related terms. I have provided a few of them below:
Americano: Two shots of espresso poured into a glass filled with hot water.
Caffe Americano: Espresso cut with very hot water to fill an over-large cup.
Cappuccino: Drink gets its name from the Italian order of Catholic Capuchin monks whose hooded robes resemble the drink's cap of foam in shape and color. Made from espresso and frothed milk, the proportions for cappuccino are typically 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 frothed milk on top.
Demitasse: A small cup used for serving espresso (translated from French as "half-cup").
Espresso: A brewing method which extracts the heart of the coffee bean. It was invented in Italy at the turn of the century, using a pump-driven machine that forces hot water through fine coffee grounds at nine atmospheres of pressure. It takes about twenty seconds to extract a shot of espresso, producing about one ounce of the rich liquid. The taste is sweet, thick and smooth.
Espresso Macchiato: Simple espresso with a minimal amount of steamed milk on top.
French Press: A device for brewing coffee whereby the coffee is steeped in water. The grounds are then removed from the coffee liquid by means of a filter plunger, which presses the grounds to the bottom of the pot.
Froth or Foam: Milk which has been thickened and then made foamy by aeration with hot steam.
Latte: A shot or two of espresso poured into a cup filled with steamed milk and topped off with a 1/4" of foamed milk.
Ristretto: The most concentrated of espresso drinks, made with half the amount of water but the same amount of coffee as a regular espresso.
Solo: A single shot of espresso.
Varietal: A term used for the coffee that comes from a geographical region.
There are several ways to brew coffee. Each method will change the flavor of the coffee the brewer happens to be using. Filters can also determine the quality and taste of coffee, which are utilized to separate used grounds from the freshly made brew. There are three types of filters: paper (which makes the grounds easy to dispose of), cloth and metal. Individual preference will determine the filter type used for coffee brewed.
Below is a list of the brewing methods, with a brief explanation of each. I prefer the drip system myself:
Ibirk: The original coffee brewer from Turkey; consists of a brass (or copper) container that is slender at the top, and wider at the bottom. A long handle and grooved lip is used for pouring the finished brew. The Ibirk holds several cups of water. After the water is heated, fine ground coffee is placed directly into the water and brought to a boil. The result is a strong beverage because the coffee is unfiltered, but sugar and cardamom are traditionally added for more flavor. The Ibirk method is still used in the Middle East.
French Press (or Plunger): Method is preferred by many Europeans, which is starting to gain acceptance in the United States. The plunger consists of a glass cylinder with a metal rod extending through the center. At the top end of the rod is a protruding handle, and at the bottom end is a filter that fits tightly around the insides of the glass cylinder. Coffee grounds are placed in the cylinder and boiling hot water is poured over the grounds. After steeping, the plunger is pushed down, separating the grounds from the beverage. The method also adds a heavy body to the flavor of the coffee, and is considered an attractive way of preparing and serving coffee in the same container.
Drip Coffee Makers: Coffee is made while water is dispenses through a reservoir. The water drips through the ground coffee and into a carafe below for serving and keeping warm. There are two types of drip-coffee systems: electric and manual. In the electric-drip brewers, water is heated in a separate container and then dripped over the coffee grounds; in the manual-drip brewers, heating is not automatic and water has to be hot enough for proper extraction (just slightly below boiling).
Neapolitan Drip Pots: The Neapolitan is a three-section coffee maker, similar to other drip pots except the water is poured into a spout-less section of the maker. Coffee is added to the filter basket, and a filter lid is put in place. The spouted portion is placed on top until the entire unit is heated. When water comes to a boil, it is removed from the heat. The pots are inverted and the hot water filters through the coffee into the pouring section.
Espresso Machine: Espresso coffee makers are "quick" coffee-makers. The method consists of forcing hot water and steam (under pressure) through the coffee grounds.
Vacuum Method: Brewing method consists of two glass (or metal) bowls; heat causes water to rise into the upper coffee bowl. When the heat under the glass bowl is removed, the reduced pressure causes a partial vacuum that draws the hot water through the coffee grounds and into the lower glass bowl. The particular method is used for brewing at the dining table.
Percolator: Perhaps one of the most popular coffee-brewing methods, mainly because of its efficiency and convenience. The percolator forces heated water up through a pump tube, and into a filter basket that contains regular ground coffee. The end result is brewed coffee which flows to the bottom of the pot; the process is repeated several times.
For years, my preference has remained a hot cup of plain coffee, deluged with copious amounts of liquid Coffee Mate. I use a Black & Decker drip system, with Folger's Breakfast Blend. What could be simpler? Yet everyone has their own preference and it all boils down to one thing: there is nothing quite like the taste or feeling of a good cup of coffee first thing in the morning (or any time of day, for that matter) - however you like it.
There are some very useful sites about coffee online. A few of the better ones are listed below:
There are certain foods and snacks that go perfect with a good cup of coffee. For example, Arabica goes well with simple cakes, cookies or fruit-filled pies. Coffees from Indonesia are full-bodies and somewhat smoky in flavor, complimented by chocolate truffle and trifle. Espresso is a chocolate-lovers heaven when paired with mousses, cakes and tortes. Personally, I like freshly baked banana or pumpkin bread with a cup of coffee. There is nothing quite like that taste.
Hundreds of recipes are available for making variations of coffee, along with food dishes made with coffee as an ingredient.
Select from our recipes:
Coffee Talk is also available in e-book format at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo Books. The e-book edition contains a brief history of coffee, including the roasting process, types of coffee, brewing methods, recipes using coffee and resources for further study. "Coffee Talk" is also offered in Adobe Digital format.
"Coffee Talk" by Deborah O'Toole was written for entertainment purposes only and expresses the sole opinions and observations of the author. This article is not meant to be a historical essay about coffee, but rather a short piece about the generalities of popular myths.
Reprinted exclusively for:
Trivia: This article was originally titled "Coffee Grounds" and first appeared on the Food Fare web site in 2004.
To send a question or comment about "Coffee Talk," click here.
Deborah O'Toole is author of the fiction novels Celtic Remnants and Mind Sweeper. Writing under the pseudonym Deidre Dalton, she is also author of the eight-part Collective Obsessions Saga, released by Club Lighthouse Publishing.