Do you Know Beans about Beans?

The story of coffee as we know it does not begin with the mythical figure Juan Valdez from Columbia, it begins long ago in Ethiopia.  If there is one coffee bean that bids fare to be the original coffee bean it is Ethiopian– Ethiopia’s Yergacheffe bean (also spelled other ways).  The story is told about Ethiopian goat herds who noticed that their goats got more bounce to the ounce when they ate the beans off certain bushes.  So being smart goatherds, they tried the beans as well, roasting them over a fire, to the same effect, and then they got really smart and began trading with the beans or selling the beans to local Ethiopian monks.  It was those monks in the desert, which is freezing cold at night, who roasted and crushed the beans, and apparently first brewed the beans and voila— coffee, the first Christian beverage.   But that is not all.

The art of making coffee was something that was passed on from monastery to monastery, and there were various refinements– for example in Italy.  Did you know that the term capuccino comes from the color of the Capucchin monks robes which is like the color of the beverage?   Yes indeed. And the association was a natural one since those monks had been brewing beans for some time.  Now of course it is true, that travelers on the spice road and merchants in the Middle East also got hold of Ethiopian coffee beans and exported them north, and east ,and west.  Turkish coffee is certainly one of the earlier forms of the beverage as well, and it was this form of coffee that became more widely known in Europe due to both the spread of the Ottoman Empire, and its later contacts with and negotiations with such Western powers as Great Britain and France.  But what about coffee in America?   Well that is a sadder tale.

The rise of widespread coffee drinking in America can be attributed to the Great Depression, where it was the cheap beverage of choice served to those in the breadlines. And of course the rise of coffee drinking in America paralleled the rise of the industrial revolution and the mass producing of things.  And here is where the story of coffee in America goes horribly wrong.   Originally, coffee was a beverage you got in grand hotels.  The mass producing of coffee might be what led to the distruction of good coffee in America, and the conditioning of Americas to drinking bad coffee, any coffee so long as it was hot, strong, and caffeinated.   This is still a problem.

Coffee beans like any other product loses their freshness and flavor over time.  And if one roasts, grinds, and packs the beans in cans to sit on shelves for who knows how long, you are simply asking for mediocre flavorless coffee at best, and bad bitter coffee at worst.  Ever seen a bitter coffee face— I bet you have. Here is something few Americans seem to know— coffee beans are not inherently bitter. Indeed if they are roasted and ground and brewed when they are fresh, the coffee is indeed semi-sweet. The Turks knew this, and to this day if you drink real Turkish coffee you will discover it needs no added sugar. The ground pulp of the bean is sweet enough.
There are in fact many ingredients that go into having as truly good and flavorful a cup of coffee as is possible.

• You need to have beans that are as fresh as you can get, with as little time between the roasting and your consumption as possible.  The vacuum packed bags are helpful, but still coffee has a shelf life.
• It is always best to grind your own beans.  Yes often it is a bit messy but the coffee is much more flavorful.
• Use a good filter to filter the grounds.
• Use filtered or bottled water.  Some waters have a high limestone content.  Special filtering of the water to makes a better cup of coffee.
• You must thoroughly wash all the components of the coffee machine between pots of coffee. This is especially so when it comes to washing the pot itself.

Then, of course you need to know what you are doing in picking out beans. This is personal preference but here are a few things to keep in mind:

1) decaf not only leeches the bean of a good deal of its caffeine, it also leeches it of its natural flavor as well. Decaf, does not however mean no caf!

2) flavored beans are just that– beans with flavor added.  But there are so many wonderful different natural flavors of coffee beans that you should try them first

3)  you will have heard the terms dark roast, and small roast etc. perhaps This has to do with both how long the beans are roasted, and in what quantities.  All other things being equally, small batch hand roasting seems to produce a more consistent batch of similarly tasting beans.  The darker the roast, the bolder the flavor, but this does not necessarily mean the stronger the coffee!   That of course has to do with a variety of factors including degree of caffeine.

4) You may also have heard terms like free range coffee.  This is an attempt to make sure the beans are grown naturally and properly and picked when they are ripe, and also there are attempts to be sure to support the small coffee farmers all over Latin America, Africa, Asia, Hawaii and elsewhere that produce coffee the right way.

5) Drink coffee while it is hot or warm.  If you let it sit and get cold over a long period of time, you lose flavor and it does become more bitter.

6) Despite the hype there is not more caffeine in espresso than in regular coffee. It is simply this….the grind is finer and the cup is smaller!

The four European blends from Mokk-a are totally different in body, aroma and taste.  Give them a try and let me know which one you prefer!