For sure! Maybe. Not really 😜 However, what kind of world would be one without coffee?! We cannot even imagine such a tasteless and lethargic world, and we know that at least one billion coffee drinkers consuming over 2.25 billions coffee cups each day (yes, 2 250 000 000 cups every day) would definitely agree with us.
But no matter how much we like drinking coffee, how invigorating we find it or how much we know about it, there are always a few things about coffee that might be able to surprise us or, better yet, might help us improve the experience. Let’s find out a few!
Coffee is a brewed drink prepared from roasted coffee beans, which are the seeds of berries from a plant called Coffea – a member of the family Rubiaceae. But, while almost everyone recognises a roasted coffee bean, you might not recognise actual coffee plants. They are shrubs or small trees native to tropical and southern Africa and tropical Asia, now intensively farmed all around the Globe, between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn.
The two most important species grown are different varieties of Coffea Arabica (called Arabica) and Coffea Canephora (called Robusta). There are others, like Liberica an Excelsa, but they do not represent an important percentage in the global coffee production. Robusta accounts for about 20% of the world production and Arabica for over 75%, but it’s important to mention that Arabica has many different varieties, each with unique characteristics.
Arabica plant is, on average, a large bush with dark-green oval leaves. The berry fruits, or cherries, are rounded and they mature in about 7 to 9 months. These fruits usually contain two flat seeds – largely known as coffee beans (despite the fact that they are not scientifically beans).
Robusta is a robust shrub or small tree that can grow up to 10 metres in height. The fruits are also rounded and may take up to 11 months to fully mature. Their seeds are more oval in shape and smaller than Arabica seeds. Generally speaking, farmers prune the coffee plants to maintain a lower height, for easy harvesting.
Ideal temperatures range between 15 to 24ºC for Arabica coffee and 24 to 30ºC for Robusta, the latter being able to flourish in hotter and harsher climatic conditions. Coffee generally needs a lot of rain (ideal annual rainfall of about 1500 to 3000 mm/m²), with Arabica needing less than other species. Whereas Robusta coffee can be grown between sea-level and about 800 metres, Arabica does best at higher altitudes and is often grown in hilly areas.
The top 20 coffee producers are, orderly (as of 2016 production data): Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Honduras, India, Uganda, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Nicaragua, China, Ivory Coast, Costa Rica, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania and El Salvador. But virtually all countries inside the “tropical belt” have some coffee production.
A special mention has to go to Brazil – the world’s largest exporter of coffee for more than 150 years. Till late in the 1920s, it supplied around 80% of the world’s coffee, but that figure has fallen to somewhere around 35%.
As coffee is most often grown in hilly/mountainous areas, widespread use of mechanical harvesters is not possible and common. So, the ripe coffee cherries are usually picked by hand, with the main exception being Brazil, where the more flat landscape and huge size of the coffee fields allow for regular machinery use.
Coffee trees yield an average of 2 to 4 kilos of cherries and a good picker can harvest 45 to 90 kilos of coffee cherry per day – resulting in 9 to 18 kilos of coffee beans.
Coffee is harvested in one of two ways: strip picked (meaning all the cherries are stripped off of the branch at one time, either by machine or by hand) and selectively picked (only the ripe cherries are harvested and they are picked by hand – a much more time consuming, labour intensive and costly approach, primarily used for the finest Arabica beans).
While coffee production is concentrated mostly in “developing countries” and in some of the countries known as “emerging economies”, consumption is far larger in well developed regions.
Data differs somewhat if we take into account litres of coffee drank per capita or kilograms of coffee beans used per capita, because different nations have different habits and preferences for coffee strength or for cup size. Nevertheless, European countries are dominating the consumption statistics every year, with USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea not falling very far behind.
If we look back in time, the earliest credible evidence of coffee-drinking (as we know it) appears in the Sufi shrines from the south of the Arabian Peninsula (the area occupied by Yemen today). In the middle of the 15th century, it was here in Arabia that coffee seeds were first roasted and brewed in a similar way to how it is presently prepared.
It seems that the coffee seeds were brought here from East Africa, as the Coffea plant is thought to have been indigenous to Africa. Traders took coffee back to their homeland and began to cultivate it and use it as a drink. Driven by the unique taste and the stimulant effect it has on our brains (because of the high caffeine content), by the 16th century, it reached Persia, Turkey and North Africa, then it spread to Europe and the rest of the world.
Today, more than one in seven people on earth drink coffee on a regular basis, the number going way up in Europe and other developed areas. A study published in 2017 by Euromonitor states that there are almost 315000 cafés and coffee focused shops in Europe alone.
And, as sort of a conclusion, we can definitely say that coffee is well beyond being just another trading commodity or even just another stimulant drink. It’s a social phenomenon, a beloved custom and a cherished moment for an incredibly large number of people. For some, like us, it’s a passion.
The term “Specialty coffee” was first used in 1974 by Erna Knutsen in an issue of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. This term describes beans of the best flavour which are produced in special microclimates. According to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), coffee which scores 80 points or above on a 100-point scale is graded “specialty”.
The term specialty coffee has extended to include all steps in coffee handling and preparation from growing and harvesting to roasting and brewing. Specialty coffee beans need special treatment and handling in order to offer the consumer the best experience.
So we are not talking about “quality”, “premium” or “rare” coffee, words that might describe a good coffee or they might be just marketing terms with golden price tags – all these are only statements. Specialty coffee has to go through some evaluations, it has a standard behind the words and needs an exceptional treatment from planting to serving. Specialty coffee means “best of the best”.
The most important steps assessed in the specialty coffee chain are:
Make sure that all your tools used in the process are thoroughly cleaned after each use.
Rinse with clear, hot water (or wipe down thoroughly), and carefully dry with an absorbent towel. It’s important to check that no grounds have been left to collect and that there’s no build-up of coffee oil (caffeol), which can make future cups of coffee taste bitter and rancid.
Great coffee starts with great beans. The quality and flavor of your coffee is not only determined by your favorite brewing process, but also by the type of coffee you choose. There can be a tremendous difference between roasts, so check out our roasting types guide.
Some of the flavor elements include:
• The country and region of origin
• The variety of bean – arabica, robusta – or a blend
• The roast type
• The texture of your grind
While there are a lot of choices, remember that there’s no right or wrong. Have fun trying different mixes.
Purchase coffee as soon as possible after it’s roasted. Fresh-roasted coffee is essential to a quality cup, so buy your coffee in small amounts (ideally every one to two weeks).
If you buy whole bean coffee, always grind your beans as close to the brew time as possible for maximum freshness. A burr or mill grinder is best because the coffee is ground to a consistent size. A blade grinder is less preferable because some coffee will be ground more finely than the rest. If you normally grind your coffee at home with a blade grinder, try having it ground at the store with a burr grinder – you’ll be surprised at the difference!
The size of the grind is very important to the taste of your coffee. If your coffee tastes bitter, it may be over-extracted, or ground too fine. If your coffee tastes flat, it may be under-extracted, meaning your grind is too coarse.
If you’re having the coffee ground to order, tell the professionals where you purchase your coffee exactly how you will be brewing it. They will grind it specifically for your preparation method.
Coffee Grind Size for the Major Brewing Methods
• Turkish Coffee, (Greek Coffee) – the finest grind, powder (flour size)
• Espresso – second finest (table salt size)
• Drip coffee – medium-fine to medium and medium-coarse
• French press, percolator, cold brew – coarse grind size
How does the Grind of Coffee Affect Extraction Rate?
The coffee extraction rate increases with a larger contact area. Finer ground coffee has more surface area, hence a higher extraction rate. This translates in a higher concentration, (stronger coffee). The brewing parameters also need to be adjusted accordingly. With a higher extraction rate, we need less brewing time. At the same time, a finer grind will reduce the flow rate and as a result, the contact time.
How does the Grind Affect the Taste of Coffee?
Considering the extraction rate, coffee can be under extracted, if the grind size is too coarse, and it will taste sour, underdeveloped and weak. Coffee will be over extracted if we grind too fine, and it could taste bitter and too strong.
The water is very important to the quality of your coffee. Tap water has too much minerals. Distilled water has no minerals and will render your cup too flat. Filtering your water before brewing is a great choice or use bottled water the key is to have a good balance of minerals. Use filtered or bottled water. Water is essential for drip coffee quality.
As a general guideline use “Golden Cup Standard” coffee-to-water ratio, which is 55g/L +/- 10%. This can be adjusted to suit individual taste preferences.
Check the cup lines or indicators on your specific brewer to see how they actually measure. And remember that water is lost to evaporation in certain brewing methods.
Safety first! Take all necessary precautions when working with hot water.
Your brewer should maintain a water temperature between 92 to 96 degrees Celsius for optimal extraction. Colder water will result in flat, under-extracted coffee, while too hot water will reduce the quality in the taste of the coffee. (However, cold brew does not need any heat.)For a pour over drip, use an electric kettle with temperature control, and set the water temperature to 96 degrees Celsius. This will result in a slightly lower temperature at the time of pouring, somewhere around 93 degrees, which should be perfect.
If you are brewing the coffee manually, let the water come to a full boil then turn off the heat and allow the water to rest a minute before pouring it over the grounds.
The amount of time that the water is in contact with the coffee grounds is another important flavor element.
In a drip system, the contact time should be approximately 5 minutes. For French Press, the contact time should be 2-4 minutes. Espresso has an especially brief brew time — the coffee is in contact with the water for only 20-30 seconds. Cold brew, should steep overnight (about 12 hours).
If you’re not happy with the taste of the final product, you’ve probably:
• Over-extracting – the brew time is too long
• Under-extracting – the brew time is too short
Experiment with the contact time until you get the right balance for your taste.
Espresso is prepared by pushing hot water through a layer of compacted ground coffee, contained in a port-filter. Espresso is a very concentrated coffee, with a lot of body, aroma, and flavour. The most distinctive features of espresso are the foamy layer on top, and the low volume of the drink.
Turkish coffee is a method of infusing finely ground coffee in nearly boiling water. The grind size is the finest possible, almost a powder. Turkish coffee has the fullest body of all brewing methods.
Drip coffee or filter coffee is a popular preparing method. It involves pouring hot water over ground coffee beans. The brew is strained with a paper filter, or a metal or plastic mesh. The coffee from a drip brewer is clear and clean, with a high ratio of caffeine extracted per spoon of ground coffee. The brew is good, if you use a good coffee machine, but it’s only average with cheap equipment.
French press, or press pot, is a very simple coffee brewing device with a beaker and a plunger/filter. The preparing technique consists in pouring hot water over coffee grinds and let it steep for a few minutes. After the steeping is over the plunger/ filter is pressed down, to separate the grinds. French press coffee has a medium body, less than espresso but more dense than drip. These brewing techniques deliver an intense aroma and flavour.
Moka pot is a device that uses steam pressure to push water through coffee grinds similar to espresso method, but with much lower pressure. The pressure in a Moka pot is about 1 bar compared to a 9 bar espresso machine. The coffee made in a Moka pot is very bold, it resembles espresso but lacks the cream and has much less aromatic oils. It is a decent espresso alternative.
Cold brew is the favourite way of preparing coffee for people with stomach problems. The brewing method implies steeping coffee grinds for extended periods of time, (12 to 36 hours), then straining it and serving it cold or hot. Because it takes so long to brew, people prepare large batches and store it in the fridge for several days.
There is no consensus about single serve coffee machines being a distinctive brewing method. However, single serve provide you a clean cup, with decent aroma and flavour, and minimum effort. It is one of the most convenient devices, reducing the operator’s manual intervention to zero.
Aeropress is a manual coffee making device that allows you to use pressure to brew a cup. The method involves a two steps process, with a few minutes steeping followed by pushing the brew through the coffee grounds under pressure to extract even more solids and caffeine. Aeropress coffee is strong with body, and resembles a lot with espresso. The method is most known for its versatility. You can brew from the mildest cup of hot brewed coffee to a strong cup with bite.
Hario V60 is one of the best manual coffee drippers. What makes it special is the profile inside the drip cone. The ridges in the cone are shaped and directed perfectly to allow coffee to seep through the whole filter and not only at the bottom. This allows a uniform extraction and will allow finer grinds.
Chemex’ jug it’s an elegant and stylish looking glass pot with a wooden collar to protect from heat. It comes in different sizes and styles. The Chemex brewers come with thick paper filters, which allows for that clean, smooth and flavourful cup so specific to drip brewing.