What don’t you know about coffee?

Aug 20, 2018 | Food and Culture

I feel comfortable saying that at this point in history coffee is powering a fairly large portion of the world. We collectively drink about ten million tonnes of the stuff a year. It is definitely powering this blog and it always has. But how much do we actually know about the stuff? Today we are going to talk all about coffee. So, let’s get into it.

Today coffee is grown in over 70 countries worldwide. Despite its modern prevalence, it is commonly believed that coffee originates from only one country or a very small region. That country is Ethiopia. There is evidence that suggests that coffee was being consumed in that area since at least the 9th or 10th century.

There is an Ethiopian legend about a goat herder who witnessed his goats eat a strange berry and then act crazy. The goat herder then took the beans to a local monastery and the monks threw the beans into the fire assuming they were evil. The smell of the roasting beans caught everyone’s attention. The monks pulled them out of the fire and put them in water to stop the cooking process. They took a sip of the liquid because we all know how good it smelled and coffee was born.

Coffee today is roasted in a similar way to how the legendary monks did it except in a much more controlled fashion. Green coffee beans don’t taste like coffee as we know it. They do have the same characteristics of coffee but the flavour that we associate with a cup a joe comes from the roasting process. The more roasted the beans, the less of the natural flavour of the coffee you can taste. I would assume that’s why darker roasts are more common. It allows for a more consistent flavour.

Lighter roasts retain more of the natural flavour of the beans. This means that the flavour is more determined by the growing conditions of the beans than anything the roaster can do. So, things weather, heat, humidity, amount of sun, amount of rain, all of this will affect the flavour of a light roast much more than that of a darker roast.

During the roasting process, coffee beans loose 15 -18% of their weight but double or triple their size. The weight loss comes mostly from liquid evaporation which in a way is actually what causes the increase in size. Think of popcorn. When you heat popcorn the little bit of liquid within the kernel turns to steam and pressure builds until the kernel expands and turns inside out. A similar but less dramatic process is happening to the coffee beans.

Another contributing factor to flavour is bean variety. There are over 100 species of coffee but we rely pretty much on just two to supply the worlds coffee needs. Arabica and Canephora which is more commonly known as Robusta. Arabica is the more common of the two making up for 60% of coffee production and consumption. Arabica is more acidic, less bitter, and slightly less caffeinated than Robusta. It is also commonly believed to be of better quality. A lot of coffee is made of a blend of the two beans to find a balance of bitterness, acidity, and caffeine.

Once the beans are roasted they are cooled and either ground or sent to the consumer whole and they grind them themselves. Choosing whether to buy whole beans or ground beans again comes down to the flavour. Once the beans are ground the clock starts to tick. The essential oils which are where the flavours come from are volatile meaning they start to go off or lose flavour fairly quickly. Coffee producers combat this with an airtight container and other packaging technologies but really fresh ground beans have a stronger, cleaner flavour the preground coffee. Again, this is because the essential oil is more intact than in preground coffee.

Brewing coffee can change the flavour as well. The ideal temperature for brewing coffee is 205°F. Water boils at 212°f so ideally, the water should be just less of boiling. The high heat of boiling water will damage the essential oils and cause them to be more bitter and off tasting.

So, there you. A whole bunch of information about coffee.

 

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