Coffee is "lifeblood" to many people, myself included. I can't imagine starting a day without several cups. It's not just the fact that it gets me going, but I actually love the taste of it. I have also become addicted to coffee-flavored yogurt, but this is another story. I've told my husband several times that if I'm ever rushed to the hospital for any reason, just have the nurses put coffee in my IV and I'll come out just fine. Make that coffee with coffee mate - no sugar - and miraculous events can occur.
Coffee spots and designer coffees are the latest "trend" these days, and I have to admit I've tried a few of the various "flavors." My favorite alternative to my regular coffee has become a "Java Freeze," which I buy at a local convenience store. This concoction is like a slurpee made with coffee and flavored with mocha, and it is a bit of heaven. Then there are the cappuccino's, espressos, latte's, Frappuccino's, and the list goes on. While I like toying with the new flavors and types, my preference remains a plain, hot cup of coffee with coffee mate. Nothing beats it, and nothing else satisfies like it.
This essay is my offering about coffee - with little bits of history and timeline trivia, the coffee bean, the roasting process, types of coffee, tips on making coffee, a few coffee recipes, and some exceptional coffee links.
According to one historical account, the effect of coffee beans on behavior was noticed by a sheep herder named Kaldi from Yemeni. As Kaldi tended his herd, he saw the sheep become hyperactive after eating the red "cherries" from a particular plant. He tried a few of the "cherries" himself, and was soon as alert as his herd. The legend also relates that a monk also happened by and chastised Kaldi for "partaking of the devil's fruit."
While I find this version quaint, I'm not convinced of it's truth. However, in other historical text, it is said that coffee was consumed as far back as 800 BC in Arabia, when people were drinking a mysterious black and bitter beverage with "powers of stimulation." But the fact remains that the coffee plant was initiated in Africa within the Ethiopian region of Kaffa. The Galla tribe from Ethiopia at first did not use coffee as a drink - they would wrap the bean in animal fat as their early source of nutrition while on raiding parties. The Turkish people were the first country to adopt coffee as a drink, and they often added spices such as cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and anise in the liquid.
From there it spread to Yemen, Arabia and Egypt, where it developed quickly and became part of daily life. In the late 16th-century, the first traders were selling coffee in Europe, and this soon introduced the beverage into Western customs. The majority of the coffee exported to Europe came from Alexandria and Smyrna. Because of the popularity of the drink, other countries soon tried cultivating their own coffee - the Dutch in their Batavia and Java colonies, the French in Martinique, and later in Britain, Spain, and Portugal. In the 18th-century, Brazil started to grow their own coffee crops, and within twenty years the development of the coffee bean began in America.
The coffee percolator originated in England, and the term "drip pot" has been used in America since the late 19th-century. In 1878, James Sanborn and Caleb Chase produced the first commercially available ground coffee in sealed cans (Chase & Sanborn). Nine years later, grocer Joel Cheek names his popular blend "Maxwell House" after the hotel in Nashville (Tennessee) where it was served. Hills Brothers followed in 1900, and Sanka in 1903. The first "instant" coffee was invented by a Japanese-American chemist named Satori Kato in 1901.
Listed below are a few more bits of "trivia" about coffee:
Captain John Smith helped found the first US colony of Virginia at Jamestown - it is believed he introduced coffee to North America (1607).
The first coffee house opened in Italy (1645).
The first coffee houses opened in England and are dubbed "pennie universities" for becoming forums for learned groups of people, and because a penny was the price of a cup of coffee (1652).
Coffee replaced beer as New York City's favorite breakfast drink (1668).
The Boston Tea Party decreed drinking coffee was an American patriotic duty (1773).
During prohibition, coffee sales boom (1920).
Nestle invented freeze-dried coffee and developed Nescafe, introducing it to Switzerland (1938).
The United States imported 70% of the world's coffee crops (1940). During World War II, US soldiers were issued instant Maxwell House coffee in their ration kits (1942).
Achilles Gaggia perfected the espresso machine in Italy (1946).
Starbuck's opened it's first store in Seattle, creating a boom over fresh-roasted whole bean coffee (1971).
*Trivia stats courtesy Mr. Cappuccino
The coffee plant has been classified as belonging to the Rubiacee family (which includes gardenia), and the naturalist Linnaeus gave it the name "Coffea." Nowadays, only ten species of the plant are cultivated in different parts of the world. The plants with the best results are grown in altitudes of three thousand feet (the higher elevation produces more elegant, complex flavors in the coffee "cherries" which contain the beans). The leaves of the plant (depending on the growth stage), are typically either a deep green, light green or bronze yellow. The clustered flowers are white and have a sweet scent like Jasmine. The flowers soon give way to a dark red berry, resembling a big cherry in size and color.
The berry is coated with a thin film (esocarpo), containing a sugary mucilaginous flesh (mesocarp). Inside the pulp there are the seeds in the shape of two beans, which are in turn coated with a sort of golden yellow parchment that is also very resistant. When they are peeled, the real bean appears, coated in turn with another thin silvery film. The bean itself is a blue-green, almost bronze, in color. For each bean species there are several varieties, each one distinguished by it's own size and color. However, the principal coffee species grown today are Arabica and Robusta.
Arabica represents three-quarters of the world's coffee production. It originates from Arabia, and some of the better-known sub-varieties include Moka, Maragogipe, San Ramon, Columnaris and Bourbon. The Arabica coffee produced in Brazil uses the collective name of "Brazilian Coffees" also called "mild's" from Columbia, Venezuela, Peru, Guatemala, Salvador, Haiti and Santo Domingo. Arabica is also grown in Africa, which produces a full-bodied coffee sharp in taste with a lower caffeine content. Arabica beans are elongated with green-blue shades.
Robusta beans were discovered in the Congo in 1898, and the species is hardy and more resistant to disease than the Arabica bean. Robusta is especially grown in Africa, Indonesia and Asia, where the climate is unsuitable for Arabica. Robusta represents about one-fourth of total world coffee production, and has a higher content of caffeine (twice as much as Arabica), often used in specialty blends. Overuse and improper processing can result in bitter-tasting coffee with a heightened "wood" flavor. The Robusta beans are smaller, rounded and yellow-brown in color.
Harvesting coffee beans is done during different months in the year (depending on where the plants are grown), but if follows certain stages as the coffee berry matures. Ripe "cherries" can be taken by hand, picked with small rakes or brought down with long poles. Depending on the terrain of the crop, harvesting can also be accomplished with the use of automated machines. A typical, healthy plant can produce 400 grams and two kilos (Arabica), and 600 grams and two kilos each (Robusta).
DRY PROCESS: This method produces "natural" coffees and is used mainly in Brazil and Western Africa. The berries are exposed to the sun on land expressly used for this purpose, and are continually stirred to display them equally to the rays of the sun for fifteen to twenty days. The coffee can also be put into drying rooms, where it is dried by the heat of a burner between 45 and 60 degrees.
WET PROCESS: This method is more expensive and difficult. The berries are cleaned, macerated, and the pulps are removed. Following this, the cherries are fermented, desiccated and peeled. The final step is designed to remove any impure residue and to give a glossy sheen to the berries. From the "wet" process, washed and mild coffees are obtained, and is typically utilized in Central America, Mexico, Columbia, Kenya and Tanzania.
After this point in either roasting method, the beans are sacked (about 132 pounds per bag) and stored in sheltered rooms. From there, they are packaged and shipped to consuming countries.
Most commercial coffee companies use Arabica and Robusta in their blends, and there are several types of the brew available:
Regular Roast (American): The coffee beans are medium-roasted, resulting in a brew not too light or too heavy in flavor.
French Roast: These are heavily-roasted beans that are a deep chocolate brown, producing a stronger coffee.
Italian Roast: Used for espresso, this is a glossy, brown-black and strongly-flavored brew.
European Roast: This coffee is 2/3 heavy-roast blended with 1/3 regular-roast.
Viennese Roast: These coffee beans are 2/3 heavy-roast blended with 1/3 regular-roast.
Instant Coffee: A powder made from the heat-dried freshly brewed coffee.
Freeze-Dried Coffee: This is brewed coffee that has been frozen into a "slush" before the water has evaporated. This type is typically more expensive than other "instants," but has a superior flavor.
Decaffeinated Coffee: The caffeine is removed from the beans before roasting, either using a chemical solvent that disappears when the beans are roasted, or the Swiss "water" method which steams the beans and then scrapes off the caffeine-encrusted outer leaves.
There are also variations of coffee that are popular in coffee bars and the "Java" roadside stands, as well as some definitions of coffee-related terms. I have provided a few of them below:
Americano: Two shots of espresso poured into a glass filled with hot water.
Caffe Americano: Espresso cut with very hot water to fill an over-large cup.
Cappuccino: This drink gets its name from the Italian order of Catholic Capuchin monks whose hooded robes resemble the drink's cap of foam in shape and color. Made from espresso and frothed milk, the proportions for cappuccino are typically 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 frothed milk on top.
Demitasse: A small cup used for serving espresso (translated from French as "half-cup").
Espresso: A brewing method that extracts the heart of the coffee bean. It was invented in Italy at the turn of the century, using a pump-driven machine that forces hot water through fine coffee grounds at nine atmospheres of pressure. It takes about twenty seconds to extract a shot of espresso, producing about one ounce of the rich liquid. The taste is sweet, thick and smooth.
Espresso Macchiato: This is simply espresso with a minimal amount steamed milk on top.
French Press: A device for brewing coffee whereby the coffee is steeped in water. The grounds are then removed from the coffee liquid by means of a filter plunger, which presses the grounds to the bottom of the pot.
Froth or Foam: Milk that has been thickened and then made foamy by aeration with hot steam.
Latte: A shot or two of espresso that has been poured into a cup filled with steamed milk and topped off with a 1/4" of foamed milk.
Ristretto: The most concentrated of espresso drinks, made with half the amount of water but the same amount of coffee as a regular espresso.
Solo: A single shot of espresso.
Varietal: A term used for the coffee that comes from a geographical region.
There are several ways to brew coffee, and each method will change the flavor of the coffee you happen to be using. Filters can also determine the quality and taste of coffee, as they are utilized to separate used grounds from the freshly made brew. There are three types of filters; paper (which makes the grounds easy to dispose of); cloth and metal. Individual preference will determine the filter type used for coffee brewed.
Below is a list of the brewing methods, with a brief explanation of each. I prefer the drip system myself:
Ibirk: This was the original coffee brewer, and it came from Turkey. It consists of a brass (or copper) container that is slender at the top, and wider at the bottom. A long handle and a grooved lip is used for pouring the finished brew. The Ibirk holds several cups of water, and after the water is heated, fine ground coffee is placed directly into the water and brought to a boil. The result is a strong beverage because the coffee is unfiltered, but sugar and cardamom are traditionally added for more flavor. The Ibirk method is till used in the Middle East.
French Press (or Plunger): This method is preferred by many Europeans, and is starting to gain acceptance in the United States. The plunger consists of a glass cylinder with a metal rod extending through the center. At the top end of the rod is a protruding handle, and at the bottom end is a filter that fits tightly around the insides of the glass cylinder. Coffee grounds are placed in the cylinder and boiling hot water is poured over the grounds. After steeping, the plunger is pushed down, separating the grounds from the beverage. This method also adds a heavy body to the flavor of the coffee, and is considered an attractive way of preparing and serving coffee in the same container.
Drip Coffee Makers: Using this method, coffee is made while water is dispenses through a reservoir. The water drips through the ground coffee and into a carafe below for serving and keeping warm. There are two types of drip-coffee systems: electric and manual. In the electric-drip brewers, water is heated in a separate container and then dripped over the coffee grounds; in the manual-drip brewers, heating is not automatic and water has to be hot enough for proper extraction (just slightly below boiling).
Neapolitan Drip Pots: The Neapolitan is a three-section coffee maker, and is similar to other drip pots except that the water is poured into a spout-less section of the maker. Coffee is added to the filter basket, and a filter lid is put in place. The spouted portion is placed on top until the entire unit is heated, and when water comes to a boil, it is removed from the heat. These pots are inverted and the hot water filters through the coffee into the pouring section.
Espresso Machine: Espresso coffee makers are "quick" coffee-makers, and the method consists of forcing hot water and steam (under pressure), through the coffee grounds.
Vacuum Method: This brewing method consists of two glass (or metal) bowls, and hear causes water to rise into the upper coffee bowl. When the heat under the glass bowl is removed, the reduced pressure causes a partial vacuum that draws the hot water through the coffee grounds and into the lower glass bow. This particular method is used for brewing right at the dining table.
Percolator: This is perhaps one of the most popular coffee-brewing methods, mainly because of it's efficiency and convenience. The percolator forces heated water up through a pump tube, and into a filter basket that contains regular ground coffee. The end result is brewed coffee which flows to the bottom of the pot, and this process is repeated several times.
For years, my preference has remained a hot cup of plain coffee, deluged with copious amounts of liquid "Coffee Mate." I use a Black & Decker Versa-Brew drip system, with Folger's Breakfast Blend. What could be simpler? Yet everyone has their own preference and it all boils down to one thing: there is nothing quite like the taste or feeling of a good cup of coffee first thing in the morning (or any time of day, for that matter) - however you like it.
There are some very useful sites about coffee on the Internet, and I have listed a few of the better ones below:
There are certain foods and snacks that go perfect with a good cup of coffee. For example, Arabica goes well with simple cakes, cookies or fruit-filled pies. Coffees from Indonesia are full-bodies and somewhat smoky in flavor, and these brews are complimented by chocolate truffle and trifle. Espresso is a chocolate-lovers heaven when paired with mousses, cakes and tortes. Personally, I like freshly baked banana or pumpkin bread with a cup of coffee, and of course these breads have to be smeared with butter. There is nothing quite like that taste.
Hundreds of recipes are available for making variations of coffee, and some particularly good dishes made with actual coffee as an ingredient. I have provided a few exceptional dishes below.
Creamy Almond Coffee
2 tsp. finely ground coffee
1/4 C milk
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 C sugar
1/8 tsp. almond extract
1/4 C finely chopped almonds
4 oz. whipped topping, thawed
Dissolve the finely ground coffee into the milk. Beat the egg whites with the salt until foamy. Gradually beat in the sugar until the mixture forms stiff, shiny peaks. Blend in the coffee/milk mixture, almond extract and chopped almonds. Fold in the whipped topping, and spoon into individual cups (or parfait glasses). Garnish with additional chopped almonds, and freeze until firm.
2 LBS lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. pepper
32 oz. (1 large can) tomato sauce
12 corn or flour tortillas
4 oz. cream cheese (or half of a small container)
1/2 C water
2 C grated cheddar or Mozzarella cheese
12 green olives, pitted and sliced (substitute black olives)
Brown the ground beef with the onion in a large skillet. Add the instant coffee, salt, chili powder, pepper and half of the tomato sauce. Spread each tortilla with the cream cheese (use more if necessary). Add about 1/4 cup of the meat mixture on each tortilla and fold over. Place the folded tortillas in a greased baking dish until mixture tortillas are used up. Spoon the remaining meat mixture over the tortillas and in the spaces between them, and pour the other half of the tomato sauce and water on top. Sprinkle the cheese and olives on top of the sauce, and cover the baking dish with foil. Bake for about twenty-five minutes at 375 degrees.
Coffee Roasted Beef Chuck
Recipe from: Luella Hanberry
2 TBS butter
1 TBS vegetable oil
4 LBS beef chuck roast
2 large yellow onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
6 C brewed coffee
2 C sliced fresh mushrooms
3 TBS cornstarch
Salt to taste
1/2 C sour cream
In a large pot, heat the butter and oil over medium/high heat. Place the roast in the pot and sear it on all sides until well browned. Remove the roast and set aside. In the same pot, saut� the onions for five minutes; scrape loose the brown roast bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the garlic and pepper and saut� for one minute. Return the meat to the pot and pour in the coffee; add the mushrooms. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to low and simmer for five hours, turning the meat over halfway through the cooking time. To make the gravy: When the roast is done, remove it from the pot. Take 1/2 cup of the coffee sauce mixture from the pot and stir in the cornstarch to make a paste. Mix well. Return the paste to the pot, stirring until the sauce thickens slightly. Stir in the sour cream then salt to taste. Makes 6 servings.
"Coffee Talk" by Deborah O'Toole was written for entertainment purposes only and expresses the sole opinions and observations of the author. This article is not meant to be a historical essay about coffee, but rather a short piece about the generalities of popular myths.
Special thanks to Joyce O'Toole, proofreader extraordinaire.
This article was originally titled "Coffee Grounds" and first appeared at the web site Food Fare in 2002.
Other articles by Deborah O'Toole:
Deborah O'Toole is the author of three fiction novels, as well as nine short stories for children ("Short Tales").