Coffee

Coffee beans will vary in color; darker shades have been roasted longer and will be stronger in flavor, but not in caffeine.

Coffee is produced from an evergreen bush or tree that grows in most subtropical regions. The two beans within each cherry-like fruit are hand-harvested, dried, and then roasted to varying degrees to achieve that favorite wafting aroma.

History

It is suggested that the first coffee tree was discovered in Africa. The caffeinated properties were relished by slaves who carried beans during transport through the Arabian port city of Mocha. It was in Mecca that coffeehouses gained cultural significance in early times. The Dutch, however, are responsible for the widespread use of coffee.

Today, Brazil and Columbia are the major exporters of coffee beans followed by Vietnam and Indonesia.

Varieties

Arabica and robusta beans are most widely used. The former is of higher quality, but the two are often ground together. Robusta beans, with their higher caffeine content, are generally used for canned, off-the-shelf coffee while Arabica beans are offered in specialty shops.

Most coffee – regular and decaffeinated – is packaged in jars, cans, and vacuum-sealed bags.

Instant crystals are produced by freeze-drying freshly brewed coffee. These are convenient, but may not have the intense, full-bodied flavors of a fresh brew.

Flavored coffees are delicious and satisfying. While many aficionados shun these additives, flavorings add a fun twist for everyday use or special occasions.

Buying Tips

Coffee is similar to wine in its array of descriptions for taste, texture/body (mouthfeel), and smell. Specialty coffees abound that will allow you to experiment in small batches. Selections are arranged by country of origin, the occasion (breakfast or after-dinner, for instance), and by the length of roasting time.

The lightest roast is called “cinnamon,” followed by “city/American,” “full city,” “Italian,” and “French.” The term “Viennese” refers to a blend of French and mild-medium roasted coffee beans.

Surprisingly, the highest caffeine concentrations are found in lighter roasts while darker beans are stronger in flavor. This can be confusing when it comes to espresso, but the “kick” is in the compaction of the grind and the reduction of liquid.

The best coffee comes from fresh roasted beans. When purchasing at specialty shops, always make sure the beans were roasted within the past 24 hours – and preferably ground while you wait.

by BigOven editorial team
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