Black gold, Texas tea, nectar of the gods, survival juice, “coffee is the lifeblood that fuels the dreams of champions” (From Kicking and Screaming). I love love love my coffee and have a pretty sweet collection of coffee cups too. Sure, I started out with cafe au lait as a kid (cajuns start young, what can I say) and moved on to the fru-fru drinks as a teen. But, now that I’m older, I have come to appreciate a good cup of coffee. What makes a good cup of coffee? Where did we get the drink we know today as coffee? How do you brew the perfect cup of coffee? Read on for all the info, friends….
History of coffee
Coffee trees are native to east Africa. The coffee tree was taken to India and then to Java before being taken to the French Caribbean. In the beginning, coffee was brewed and consumed in the same cup. So, you’d probably drink a fair amount of coffee grounds. The French were the first to use the drip-pot method for brewing coffee. The drip-pot very simply has a container with coffee grounds. Hot water is poured over the coffee grounds and then the grounds are filtered out in some way. Today, we have the luxury of coffee filters, filter baskets and k-cups. Why was the drip-pot such an important step forward for coffee lovers? Water was kept at a cooler temperature (no more pouring boiling water and coffee grounds together), the time the coffee and water interacted was more limited and the cup of coffee you would drink would not have coffee grounds left in it. These are key things to keep in mind when brewing your own coffee because it minimizes the bitterness of the coffee and keeps the coffee grounds out of your cup, which would presumably add more caffeine to the drink as it continued to brew. Caffeine is one of those things that actually contributes to the bitterness of coffee. After the drip-pot, espresso came to be. Espresso is coffee brewed under high pressure. Brewing coffee under high pressure allows one to extract oils from the beans, leading to a unique flavor.
Where do coffee beans come from?
Arabica beans come from the Coffea arabica variety of coffee. These beans have less caffeine, more oils and sugars and overall a better flavor profile. Another, less popular variety of beans comes from the Coffea canephora plant. The flavor profile of this plant is less desirable due to an increase in natural products that function in plant defense. So, whereas the beans may not taste as good as arabica beans, the plant itself is more hardy and can survive attack from diseases. Yes, plants catch viruses and infections too.
Why are coffee beans roasted?
Unroasted coffee beans are green and taste about as awesome as sawdust or paper or some other thing you really don’t want to eat. Roasting the beans brings on a chemical reaction (Maillard reaction). The proteins, sugars and other chemicals in the bean breakdown and react with each other. This is how the lovely brown pigment appears. Once roasted to the appropriate brown color and appearance, the beans are shocked with a cold treatment to cool the beans immediately. Roasting is a bit of a delicate balance though. If the beans are underroasted, the sugars are broken down into acids leading to a bitter and astringent coffee. If the beans are over-roasted, the unique flavors of some coffee beans are masked and taste more generic in flavor. This means you miss out on a potentially great cup of coffee because the beans weren’t roasted properly.
What makes the perfect cup of coffee?
These 4 things will influence the kind of coffee you drink.
- Water: the quality of the water you use really will impact the taste of your coffee. I use filtered water, because it’s a simple and inexpensive way for me to dramatically improve my coffee.
- The Beans: Well, yeah, this is a no-brainer, right? Beans roasted properly and roasted as fresh as you can get them will taste the best. The longer roasted coffee sits in a bag or canister, the more the flavor profile will change. The grind is equally important. For espresso, you want a very fine grind on the beans. Compare that with your standard coffee maker where a coarse grind is the way to go.
- Temperature: Remember, the temperature of the water will change the taste. Water that’s too hot will pull more acids out of the coffee. For machine-brewed coffee, ideally you want the water to be around 180 F. So, maybe ordering your coffee extra-hot isn’t the best way to go. Trust your baristas…..they should know what the right temperature is for your beverage. You could always ask them too.
- Time: The time to steep/brew the coffee will influence the flavor too. The longer the water interacts with the coffee, the more chemicals will be extracted from the bean. A short brew could mean too many acids will be pulled out and not enough of the sugars and other chemicals that give coffee its great flavor. Too long of a brew time means too many chemicals will be extracted and the coffee will taste vastly different. For my not fancy coffee-maker, the sweet spot would be about a 1 minute time frame for the water and coffee to mix and mingle. Manual filters may need as long as 4 minutes for the ideal cup of coffee.
Want to know more about coffee and all the wonderful ways you can use coffee in your home? This is the first post in a series on coffee, so stay tuned. Follow me on my Facebook page and IG for more coffee tips, recipes and humor this week.