How is Coffee Made?
As you sit there, drinking your favorite Kopi Luwak, you may find yourself wondering just how is coffee made?
What is it that makes Arabica taste so smooth?
What is the history of Coffee?
Why are there so many different roasts of coffee?
And why do mass produced coffees such as Starbucks taste so poor yet remain popular with the masses?
Here I will try to answer a few of these questions, starting with a little history lesson. Coffee was first used as a product in Ethiopia [http://equalexchange.coop/history-of-coffee-in-ethiopia], a country in Africa where nomadic mountain herders are known to have directly eaten ripe red coffee cherries since the tenth century.
According to legend a goat herder noticed that goats eating coffee beans cherries were full of energy and unable to sleep at night. The herder, a man named Kaldi, reported this to a local monk who made a stew out of the beans, and coffee in its drink form was born.
As people learnt of its powerful properties it became widely cultivated, quickly spreading to other parts of the Middle East, in particularly Yemen, whose ancient Port ‘Mocha’, gives name to the popular coffee that is grown in the Mountains of that country.
Coffee houses began to appear all over the Arabian peninsular [http://www.ncausa.org/About-Coffee/History-of-Coffee], and they soon became known as places of learning. Since those early days, it has spread throughout the world, becoming very popular in Europe in the early17th Century, having been bought from the Near East by spice traders. A few years later the beverage had spread to the new world, where it became very popular in the USA following the Boston Tea Party.
Trade and competition soon led to cultivation of coffee beans outside of the Near East, first with the Dutch, who began to cultivate coffee in Indonesia, and in particularly Java and Sumatra (the source of Kopi Kopi a.k.a. cat poop coffee).
Soon after, the French began to cultivate coffee on the island of Martinique, where nearly 20 million coffee trees can trace their routes back to a single coffee plant given as a gift to King Louis XIV from the mayor of Amsterdam. Since then coffee productions has spread to over 50 countries (See info graphic) in a region known as the coffee belt, with the largest producers being Brazil, Vietnam, and Colombia.
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Although there are over 100 different species of coffee only a few are grown commercially [https://www.scaa.org/?page=resources&d=a-botanists-guide-to-specialty-coffee], with Coffea arabica being responsible for over 70% of total
Coffea canephora (which is usually known as Robusta) is also popular, it is especially treasured in Italy where it is blended with Arabica to give an espresso added bite; this species of coffee is also treasured by Europeans for its greater caffeine content.
Of the two main types of Coffee, it is Arabica that has become the most popular, mainly treasured for its smoother taste; it is also a lot sweeter than Robusta (the main reason that Robusta is more bitter is the greater amounts of caffeine that it contains).
Unfortunately Arabica is more difficult to grow than Robusta, largely a result of a more limited growing range and a higher susceptibility to pests and diseases (again the greater amounts of caffeine found in Coffea canephora lead to enhanced plant defense systems); though Arabica does have an advantage in that it is self-fertile.
Although the more popular, it is not always the case that Arabica beans are of a higher quality, a lot depends upon their type, growth conditions, and on soil agronomy.
There are two main types of Arabica cultivars: Bourbon and Typica. Some of the best-known Typica cultivars include Java, Kona, Sumatran, and Guatemalan, whilst Bourbons include French Mission, Mocha, and Yellow & Red Bourbons.
There are also many crosses and natural hybrids of these two cultivars, such as Catimor, Colombia (Castillo), and Hibrido de Timor.
Now you know a little about the many types of coffee and where they are grown, it is time to move on to the next major factor that influences how a coffee tastes, the process of roasting [https://www3.epa.gov/ttn/chief/ap42/ch09/final/c9s13-2.pdf].
This process allows the flavor and aroma to be released from a natural coffee bean. A coffee bean is naturally green, and in this state it can be stored for a long time without losing flavor.
The coffee roasting process involves bringing beans up to a high temperature; this results in changes to the taste of the coffee beans through alterations of their chemical constitution. Once a bean has reached the correct roast color, it is cooled rapidly to lock in the desired flavor. As the flavor of roasted coffee quickly diminishes it is important to consume when it is freshly roasted.
There are four main strengths of roast: light, medium, medium-dark, and dark. Light roasting is seldom used, as it does not allow the full flavor of a coffee to be released.
Perhaps the most popular roast is medium as this allows for the full flavor and aromatics to be released without being oily, however because of this full taste it is important to use only very high quality beans (such as the ones from Kopi Luwak Direct) otherwise the coffee will not taste good at all.
A dark roast, such as used in French, Viennese, and Italian coffees results in a less acidic coffee that is more bitter, it is especially popular for use in stronger coffees such as espresso. It important not to over-roast a coffee bean as it destroys its flavor and leads to a burnt taste.
Over-roasted coffee beans are usually the result of mass roasting and this technique can be used to mask the taste of lower quality beans.
A good example of this can be seen at chains such as Starbucks, who use it to their advantage. You will notice that even a medium roasted bean in Starbucks is very dark, and if you were to try one of their espressos without sugar you would find it had a burnt, somewhat unpleasant taste.
However, this bitterness can be used to offset the sweetness of syrups, meaning that coffee flavored milk drinks such as Caramel Lattes can often taste nicer with burnt coffee than when using a good medium roasted coffee as the base.
There are numerous coffee brewing methods [http://lrs.ed.uiuc.edu/students/tchen3/brewing.html], some of the more common include:
Espresso – hot water is pushed through compacted ground coffee under high pressure. This results in a strong concentrated coffee rich in oils. An expertly produced espresso will have a wonderful layer of crema foam rich in color with dark striations.
Drip/Brewed – this involves pouring hot water over ground coffee and then letting the water drip through a filter. This results in a coffee with a lower level of caffeine.
French Press – This involves using a filter to plunge down through a steeped mixture of hot water and ground coffee. This results in a much more dense coffee than found in filter coffee, making it richer in aromatics, caffeine, and oils (and hence flavor).
Moka: As with espresso, steam is passed through ground coffee – but under a lower pressure. Unlike espresso, Moka does not have crema, and contains less aromatics.
It is very important to have the correct ground coffee size for the method that you use.
It is hoped that you now have a better understanding of the production, roasting, and brewing process and can now answer the question of how is coffee made.
Once you have found your favorite roast strength and brewing method, it is time to try as many different sources as possible.
A true connoisseur should be sure to try all of the more specialized coffees, such as Kona from Hawaii and our very own Kopi Luwak, produced in the Philippines using free-range Asian civet cats with fair trade to our farmers in mind.