Monday, August 27, 2007

All About Coffee

It is possible that we owe coffee to Abyssinian or Arabian goats, which to the great astonishment of the goatherds, became unusually lively as soon as they nibbled the leaves and berries of a shrub known as kif or koffe. It was suspected that the animals' energy derived from the fruit of this plant. The shrub spread from the high plains of Ethiopia as far as Sudan and the Yemen, where experiments with the red capsules began. The Arabs finally developed a process to harness the stimulant effect in a form that was palatable. They released the seeds from the seed pod, roasted them - in the same way that nuts were treated - ground them in a mill, and finally poured boiling water on the powder. The very first cup of was ready!

Types of Beans

The two main types of coffee beans grown for consumption are called Arabica and Robusta. The general differences between the two are taste and the conditions under which they grow. Arabica beans are delicate and require cool subtropical climates, they are vulnerable to cold and must be grown at a higher elevation of 1,900 to 6,500 feet. Robusta beans grow from hardier plants that can withstand tougher climate conditions, and are capable of growing well at low altitudes of 650 - 2,600 feet. The taste of
beans ranges from sweet-soft to sharp-tangy, with a roasted scent of fruity notes and sugary tones. The Robusta taste range is neutral-to-harsh and is often described as tasting grain-like, with a roasted scent similar to that of raw peanuts.

Different Coffee Bean Roasts

Coffee beans in their raw state (green) are subjected to heat for varying periods of time to achieve the different types of roasts, this is known as the roasting process. There are many different roasts of beans available on the market but the following guide lists the main categories and their common names.

Dark Roasts (14 minutes)
The darkest roasts such as Italian Roast are also known as "Heavy Roast". Beans are roasted to almost jet black giving a smoky well roasted taste. This masks the natural flavors of the coffee bean.

Medium Dark Roasts (12 to 13 minutes)

Medium dark roast is when the beans are roasted at a high enough temperature to bring the natural oil of the coffee to the surface. Examples of this are Espresso Roast and Kenyan.

Medium Roasts (9 to 11 minutes)

Medium roasts balance body with flavor. Some examples of medium roast coffee are American Roast (not as dark as any of the European roasts, but with good flavor), Columbian Narino, Guatemala Antigua and Serena Organic Blend (these last three being Starbucks offerings).

Light Roasts (7 minutes)

A light roast gives a very subtle flavor. The surface of the bean is usually dry with no oils present and flavor is light-bodied. Many Breakfast Blends are lightly roasted beans.

How to Store Coffee:
Roasted Beans
Roasted coffee beans gradually deteriorate after they have been roasted and are best used within six months, but they must be properly stored. Some people suggest storing beans in an airtight container in a freezer for up to 12 months and using them in small quantities as and when required. However, there is a debate about the effect this has on the beans when they defrost, and when I checked on my Starbucks bag of coffee beans, they simply suggest storing in an airtight container and using within one week of opening, and this would be my choice. If you roast your own beans, it is suggested that you only roast one week's worth at a time.

Ground Coffee

Ground coffee deteriorates very quickly. Ideally, you should grind the coffee immediately before use, but if you choose to buy it ready-ground, then it is best to buy it in very small quantities and use it as quickly as possible.

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