More authoritative sources than I have noted that caffeine and computer geeks just seem to go together. We seen to especially need the extra energy for the brain boost to finish that all-night coding run, crawl through that 1000-page Unix manual (also makes a handy weapon!), or finish that web design project before deadline. ThinkGeek even has a whole section devoted just to caffeine.
Well, you’re welcome to go snarf the Wikipedia entry on coffee, but really I figured to condense all the vital information about our favorite beverage (besides beer!) into a few paragraphs. Know all of this, and you will be to coffee what a sommelier is to wine.
Coffee beans start out on the tree and take from three to four years to ripen, signified by the fruit turning deep red. The beans are actually “cherries” at this stage, since the bean is actually the seed of the cherry. So they smash up the pulp and use the cherry for fertilizer, while the coffee beans are (a) soaked in cool water to stimulate a brief fermentation process, (b) spread over mats to dry in the open air, and (c) removed from their shell. Now you have green (!) coffee beans.
Most of the species of coffee plants are either the Arabica or Robusta species. Arabicas produce higher-quality beans, but they’re harder to grow. Robustas are easier to grow, but the beans aren’t as rich. Ain’t that always the way?
Want to sound like a real coffee snob? Use these terms to discuss the character of the coffee:
- Body – the thickness of the flavor, and its texture on the palette. The heavier the body, the thicker it is.
- Aroma – the smell, both of the beans and of the brew. The ground beans release their natural oils as aromas.
- Snap – the acidity of the brew. Coffee with very little acid will be very bland and perhaps too smooth; snap, then, is a judge of how much ‘kick’ the flavor has.
- Strength – not to be confused with body, strength is simply how strong you made it. Add more water for less strength – espresso has the lowest concentration of water.
About 90% of the coffee beans you will encounter in your life will be one of these varieties:
- Indonesian which make the heaviest, most full-bodied coffee. They come from Java and Sumatra, and the brew has more body but less aroma. It is a good dessert coffee and is very suitable to flavoring with milk and sugar.
- Hawaiian, also known as Kona, which is some of the most expensive in the world. Kona offers average snap and body but is in huge demand worldwide because of its powerful aroma and high concentrations of caffeine.
- African makes a coffee of about medium aroma and body with a sharp, tangy snap. Those who like more flavorful coffees will like those from Kenya and Tanzania.
- South American is what they serve in the United States because, well, these people will eat hamburgers and french fries all day, so why not? South American beans are average to blah in every way. Most of it comes from Columbia.
By the way, just so nobody else mentions it: there’s some kind of scam out there to sell people coffee beans plucked from monkey crap (monkeys, civets, whatever). If you are sucker enough to pay 10x market value for it, you’re welcome to it. The rest of us know you’re getting scammed.
Now that we know what variety of beans there are, there’s the matter of roasting styles:
- American roast produces something between swamp water and mud, so as not to shock the palette after those fistfuls of greasy french fries. Legend has it that they just stick them in the microwave.
- Brazilian roast is a slightly darker roast than American. The coffee has some flavor to it.
- French roast makes the roasted beans the color of dark chocolate, and is the most popular world-wide. This roast produces a deep, hearty brew and a touch of the bean oil should be visible on the coffee’s surface.
- Espresso roast is the darkest, where the beans are roasted until they are nearly burnt which gives the roast its distinct, sharp flavor. The very finest espresso roast prepared well will have an almost creamy body, and be sweet all by itself.
All coffee is best bought in the form of whole roasted beans, since the very instant that the beans have been ground, their flavor diminishes. Store whole beans frozen, which will keep them fresh for months. Store ground beans in an air-tight container in the freezer for seven days.
On the eighth day after grinding beans, throw away the ground beans that you have not used. It is stale. Store-bought ground coffee that is more than seven days old is also stale. Freeze-dried ground coffee in a jar that is older than seven days is stale. Little foil packets of coffee grounds at your office which have been setting in boxes in a warehouse for two years are stale. the rule is, better to grind one bean at a time than grind too many and have to store it until it’s dried-up dirt.
There, that’s your ten-minute coffee expert! There’s of course more, which I did not forget, but merely left out, because this is not Wikipedia.
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