Coffee beans are not beans at all in a botanical sense. They are the twin seeds of a red (sometimes yellow) fruit that grows to about the size of the tip of your little finger. Growers call these coffee fruit coffee cherries. Before the coffee can be shipped and roasted, the bean or seed must be separated from the fruit. Nature has been lavish in its packaging of the coffee seed, and removing the three sets of skin and one layer of pulp from around the seed is a complex process. If done properly, the coffee looks better, tastes better, and demands a higher price.
The worst preparation or processing would be as follows: The coffee berries are stripped -- leaves, unripe berries, and all -- onto the ground. This mixture is then scooped up, sifted, and dried in the sun (and sometimes in the rain, which is one of the problems with such coffees). Later the dried, shriveled fruit is stripped off the bean. Some beans may be small and deformed, shriveled, or discolored. In very poorly prepared coffee all the beans, good and bad, plus a few twigs, a little dirt, and some stones, are shipped together. The various flavor taints associated with cheap coffee -- sourness, mustiness, harshness, composty taste -- all derive from careless picking, fruit removal and drying.
Roasted Coffee Beans
The best preparation would run like this: The coffee cherries are selectively picked as they ripen. The same day they are picked, the outer skin is removed, exposing the pulp. The pulp-covered beans are then subject to controlled fermentation in tanks. The ferment-loosened, flabby pulp is then gently washed off the beans and they are dried, after which the last layers of skin, now dry and crumbly, are stripped from the bean by machine.
Between these two extremes -- carelessly picked coffees simply put out into the sun to dry and selectively picked, wet-processed coffees -- are coffees that have been dried in the old-fashioned way, with the fruit still clinging to the bean, but have been picked selectively and dried with care. These high-quality dry-processed or "natural" coffees can be superb, alive with fruity nuance.
wwww.coffeescience.org, is a service of the National Coffee Association. Although you may appreciate coffee best as your favorite way to begin the morning or as a great conversation starter with friends and business associates, new studies are revealing impressive health benefits of coffee. You're invited to use the news and information here to keep current with new findings, learn surprising facts and put the news to use in your life today. This is coffee as you've never known it before!
COFFEE AND MENTAL ALERTNESS -- NEW STUDY
According to a new study, drinking frequent, small amounts of coffee throughout the day, works more effectively to keep you awake and mentally alert than consuming a large quantity of coffee at the start of the day. Study participants who consumed caffeine hourly performed markedly better on cognitive tests and experienced fewer accidental sleep onsets. The researchers hypothesize these findings might be particularly useful for shift workers, medical residents, truck drivers and others who need to stay awake and alert for long periods of time.
6 SMART WAYS TO GET MORE OUT OF YOUR WORKOUT
As we all face special and sometimes urgent needs to get back in shape throughout the year, it's helpful to know that there are some surefire tips that will make our workouts more efficient and even increase the chances we'll stick with the program. Here are some savvy tips from Mark Mann, head trainer for the Cincinnati Reds.
COFFEE AS DISEASE FIGHTER
Some exciting work is showing how coffee may help reduce the risk of a number of diseases and ailments, including Type II diabetes, Parkinson's, colon cancer, cirrhosis, gall stones, depression and more. Major medical centers and universities are contributing to our knowledge about what components in coffee help in the disease-fighting process.
HOW COFFEE WISE ARE YOU?
HEALTHY COFFEE RECIPE OF THE MONTH:
FOOD FOR THOUGHT -- FOOD AND MOOD
most of us think of food as fuel to help
maintain our health and help us perform the
activities we need or want to accomplish,
food can have an enormous impact on how well we
think and what kind of mood we're in,"
explains Martha McKittrick, an avid cyclist and
registered dietitian with New York-Presbyterian
Hospital in New York City. Here's some handy
advice for making food and beverage choices that
may increase your alertness, memory and learning
skills, while brightening your outlook on
things. On the other hand, there are also foods
and beverages that may have a deleterious impact
on your reasoning abilities and mood.
food can have an enormous impact on how well we think and what kind of mood we're in," explains Martha McKittrick, an avid cyclist and registered dietitian with New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. Here's some handy advice for making food and beverage choices that may increase your alertness, memory and learning skills, while brightening your outlook on things. On the other hand, there are also foods and beverages that may have a deleterious impact on your reasoning abilities and mood.
Coffee -- "A number of important studies have shown that coffee may make you more alert and even boost your learning abilities and powers of reasoning. This is good news for people who might be taking a crucial exam or preparing for an important interview.
Coffee and caffeine have become the focus of complex and innovative studies to better evaluate the possible effects on physical activity, disease, cognitive function and more. While the merits and enjoyment of moderate coffee consumption are legendary, you should feel free to discuss your own questions on related issues with a health professional or nutritionist.
GROWING and HARVESTING COFFEE
To imagine an arabica coffee tree, think of a camellia bush with flowers that resemble jasmine. The leaves are broad, shiny, and shaped like an arrow or spearhead. They are three to six inches long and line up in pairs on either side of a central stem. The flowers small, white, star-shaped blossoms borne in clusters at the base of the leaves and produce an exquisite, slightly pungent scent. The white color and nocturnal aroma of the flowers may suggest that the coffee plant is pollinated by moths or other night-flying insects, but in fact the plant largely pollinates itself. In freshly roasted coffee a hint of the flowers' fragrance seems to shimmer delicately within the darker perfumes of the brew, and some coffees, Ethiopia Yirgacheffe for example, are spectacularly floral.
The arabica plant is an evergreen. In the wild it grows to a height of 14 to 20 feet, but when cultivated it is usually kept pruned to about 6 to 8 feet to facilitate picking the beans and to encourage heavy bearing. It is self-pollinating, which accounts for the stability and persistence of famous varieties of the arabica species like typica and bourbon.
FLOWERING and FRUITING
In such regions as Brazil, where one or two rainy seasons each year are followed by dry seasons, the hills of the plantations whiten with blossoms all at once. In areas with sporadic rainfall the year around, like Sumatra, blossoms, unripe fruit, and ripe fruit may cohabit the trees simultaneously. Most coffee growing regions fall somewhere between these two extremes, with a broad season of flowering provoked by rain and a longish, relatively dry season of fruiting and harvest.
The scent of an entire coffee plantation in bloom can be so intense that sailors have reported smelling the perfume two or three miles out to sea. Such glory is short-lived, however; three or four days later, the petals are strewn on the ground and the small coffee berries, or cherries as they are called in the trade, begin to form clusters at the base of the leaves.
In six or seven months, the coffee cherries have matured; they are oval, about the size of your little finger. Most varieties turn bright red when ripe; a few varieties ripen to a golden yellow. Inside the skin and pulp are nestled two coffee beans with their flat sides together. Occasionally, there are three seeds in one cherry, but a more common aberration is cherries that contain just one seed, which grows small and round, and is sold in the trade as peaberry coffee. Each tree can produce between one and twelve pounds of coffee per year, depending on soil, climate, and other factors. The plants are propagated either from seed or from cuttings. If propagated from seed, a tree takes about three years to bear and six to mature.
GROW in the SHADE or in the SUN
Coffea arabica grows wild in the mountain rain forests of Ethiopia, where it inhabits the middle tier of the forest, halfway between the brushy ground cover and the taller trees. It grows best wherever similar conditions prevail: no frost, but no hot extremes; fertile, well-watered but well-drained soil (soil of volcanic origin seems best). Heavy rainfall can cause the trees to produce too much too fast and exhaust themselves; inadequate rain prevents the trees from flowering or bearing fruit. The tree requires some but not too much direct sunlight; two hours a day seems ideal. The lacy leaves of the upper levels of the rain forest originally shaded the coffee tree.
In many parts of the world, including Central America, Mexico, Colombia, Ethiopia, and other regions, arabica coffee is traditionally grown in shade, which can range from dense thickets of native plants to careful, uniform plantings of imported shade trees. In other parts of the world -- Hawaii, the Mandheling region of Sumatra, the Blue Mountain region of Jamaica, and many other places -- coffee is not grown in shade because the weather is too rainy and wet and the trees need all the sun they can get. In other places -- Yemen, Brazil -- coffee is traditionally grown in sun.
The tendency of growers in regions where shade growing is traditional to replace shade-grown coffee groves with new hybrid trees that grow well in sun and bear quickly and heavily is controversial, since these new fields of sun-grown coffee reduce diversity and require more artificial chemical inputs than shade-grown trees.
Whereas arabica trees planted at low altitudes in the tropics overbear, weaken, and fall prey to disease, trees grown at higher altitudes, 3,000 to 6,000 feet, usually produce coffee with a "hard bean." The colder climate encourages a slower-maturing fruit, which in turn produces a smaller, denser, less porous bean with less moisture and more flavor. Beware, however, of easy distinctions. Some of the world's most celebrated coffees are softer bean, including Hawaii Kona, Sumatra Lintong, and Jamaica Blue Mountain.
TRADITIONAL and HYBRID VARIETIES
Just as there are McIntosh apples and Golden Delicious apples, Cabernet wine grapes and Merlot wine grapes, there are various botanical varieties or cultivars of Coffea arabica. Some of these varieties are long-established and traditional, the kind of varieties that gardeners call heirloom. They are the product of happy coincidence, of a process of spontaneous mutation and human selection that may have taken place decades, sometimes centures, ago. These heirloom varieties, or old Arabicas as they are called in the coffee world, include var. typica, the original variety cultivated in Latin America; the famous var. bourbon, which first appeared on the Island of Reunion (then Bourbon) in the Indian Ocean in the eighteenth century; the odd and rapidly disappearing var. maragogipe (Mah-rah-go-ZHEE-pay), which produces a very large, porous bean and first appeared in Maragogipe, Brazil. In addition, there are many noble varieties that are grown only in the regions where they first appeared. These locally-based varieties include the var. lintong, which produces the finest coffees of Sumatra; the Ismaili and Mattari cultivars of Yemen; and the almost vanished var. old chick of India.
Coffees from such traditional varieties are particularly valued in the fancy coffee world. In recent years green revolution scientists working in growing countries have produced varieties of arabica that are more disease-resistant, heavier-bearing, and faster to reach maturity than the older, traditional varieties. Two of the most controversial of these so-called new Arabicas are the Colombiana or Colombia (developed and widely planted in Colombia) and the sinister-sounding Ruiru 11 (Kenya).
Coffee professionals in the United States are almost unanimous in condemning all such new hybrid varieties for lacking the complexity and nuance of their beloved old arabicas. However, the flavor issue is much more complex than many coffee professionals would have us believe. There is no doubt that coffee from different varieties tastes different, even when the trees are grown on the same soil under the same conditions. But are the old Arabicas always better tasting than the new? Not consistently. Cup quality seems to depend on a complex, often unpredictable interaction of variety and local growing conditions. The classic Typica variety that produces the celebrated Kona coffees of Hawaii has turned out to be a taste bust when planted on other Hawaiian islands under different growing conditions from Kona. Bourbon, the traditional premium variety of Brazil, seems consistently more complex and interesting in the cup than newer varieties when grown in Brazil. But will seeds of those Bourbon trees, in growing situations other than Brazil, necessarily produce coffee with similar superiority? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I recently organized a blind tasting of El Salvador coffees in which a relatively recently developed hybrid called Pacamara scored better than a Bourbon from the same farm.
The situation is further complicated by the existance of varieties that, like the old arabicas, are spontaneous mutants, but which did their mutating at a relatively recent date in history. They include the widely planted var. caturra (1935) and var. mundo novo.
ESTATES and PLANTATIONS
The best coffees of the world are grown either on medium-sized farms, often called estates, or on peasant plots. Processing of estate coffees is usually done on the farm itself or by consignment at nearby mills. The best peasant-grown coffees are generally processed through well-run cooperative mills. The farmer grows food crops for subsistence and some coffee for exchange. The cooperatives, often government sponsored, attempt to maintain and improve growing practices and grading standards.
In parts of the world with advanced economies and high labor costs, farms may be very large so as to facilitate economies of scale and the efficient use of technology. Mainly in Brazil, but also in Australia and parts of Hawaii, coffee trees may stretch for miles in groves as perfectly tended and monotonous as Iowa corn fields. Coffees from these large farms can range from mass-produced and mediocre (many Brazil coffees) to splendid products of exquisite technical sophistication (the best Brazil coffees).
The poorest quality coffees of the world are peasant-grown coffees that are not properly picked or handled. In these cases the governments involved usually have failed to provide leadership in encouraging quality and establishing the kind of well-run processing facilities that make the small-holder coffees of Kenya and the Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia, for example, among the finest origins in the world.
Harvesting is one of the most important influences on coffee quality. Coffee processed from ripe cherries is naturally sweet and shimmering with floral and fruit notes. Coffee processed from unripe cherries may taste grassy, green, thin, or astringent. Coffee processed from overripe, shriveled cherries (sometimes called raisins) runs the risk of tasting fermented, musty, or mouldy.
Harvesting coffee is particularly challenging because coffee fruit typically does not ripen uniformly. The same branch may simultaneously display ripe red cherries, unripe green cherries, and dry, past-ripe black cherries.
In regions where labor is inexpensive or where families pick their own small plots, trees may be picked repeatedly, and only ripe fruit harvested during each pass through the trees. In parts of the world where labor is scarce or expensive, coffee may be stripped from the trees in a single picking. Ripe, unripe, and overripe cherries are all gathered together, along with some leaves and twigs. Although sophisticated sorting methods can compensate to some degree for mass picking, no expedient is quite as effective as repeated, skillful hand picking.
Machines have been developed that selectively pick ripe cherries by vibrating the tree just vigorous enough to knock loose the ripe fruit, while leaving the unripe fruit still attached to the tree. Such machines do not approach the selectivity of a good hand picker, and are used only in regions of the world -- Brazil, Australia, and parts of Hawaii -- where labor is too costly to support hand picking. Almost all fine coffee still is picked selectively by hand.
PROCESSING the COFFEE HARVEST
How the fruit is removed from the coffee and how it is dried are extraordinarily important to how it finally tastes. If the fruit removal and drying, collectively called processing, is done carefully, the coffee will taste clean and free of distracting off-tastes. Furthermore, the various processing methods -- dry, wet, and semi-dry -- influence the cup character of coffee in fascinating and complex ways.
FRUIT REMOVAL and DRYING
The Dry Method. In this, the oldest of processing methods, the coffee fruit is simply picked and put out into the sun to dry, fruit and all. It is spread in a thin layer and raked regularly to maintain even temperatures from top to bottom of the layer. Drying takes anywhere from ten days to three weeks, and, on larger farms, occasionally may be accelerated by putting the coffee into mechanical driers. The hard, shriveled fruit husk is later stripped off the beans by machine. In the marketplace, coffee processed by the dry method is called dry processed, unwashed, or natural coffee.
The Wet Method. Here the fruit covering the seeds/beans is removed before they are dried. The wet method further subdivides into the classic ferment-and-wash method, and a newer procedure variously called aquapulping or mechanical demucilaging. Regardless of which of these procedures is used, coffee processed by the wet method is called wet processed or washed coffee.
In the classic ferment-and-wash version of the wet method, the fruit that covers the beans is taken off gingerly, layer by layer. First the outer skin is gently slipped off the beans by machine, a step called pulping. This leaves the beans covered with a sticky fruit residue. The slimy beans then are allowed to sit in tanks while natural enzymes and bacteria loosen the sticky residue by literally beginning to digest it. This step is called fermentation. If water is added to the fermentation tanks it is called wet fermentation; if no water is added and the beans simply sit in their own juice it is called dry fermentation. The fermentation step is one of the main ways coffee mill operators can nuance the taste of the coffees they process. Dry-fermented coffees usually are more complex and sweet than wet-fermented coffees, which tend to be brighter and drier in taste.
After the fermentation step the coffee is gently washed and then dried, either by the sun on open terraces, where the thin layer of beans is periodically raked by workers, or in large mechanical driers, or in a combination of the two. This leaves a last thin skin covering the bean, called the parchment skin or pergamino. If all has gone well, the parchment is thoroughly dry and crumbly and easy removed. Coffee occasionally is sold and shipped in parchment or en pergamino, but most often a machine called a huller is used to crunch off the parchment skin before the beans are shipped. A last, optional step is polishing, which gives the dry beans a clean, glossy look important to some specialty roasters. Other roasters condemn polishing as pointless and detrimental to taste owing to the friction-generated heat it applies to the beans.
Machine-Assisted Wet Processing. The mechanical demucilage or aquapulp variation of the wet method is essentially a short cut approach which removes the sticky fruit residue from the beans by machine scrubbing rather than by fermenting and washing. This mechanized short cut is increasingly popular for two reasons, one admirable and one not-so-admirable.
The admirable reason: Mechanical demucilaging cuts down on water use and pollution. Ferment and wash water stinks, and communities downstream from coffee mills understandably object to having stinky water injected into their fisheries and water supply.
The not-so-admirable reason: Removing mucilage by machine is easier and more predictable than removing it by fermenting and washing. Unfortunately, machine demucilaging has been accused of limiting the taste palate of coffee by prematurely separating fruit and bean. By eliminating the fermentation step, the practice definitely robs mill operators of the most important expressive option they have at their disposal to influence coffee flavor. Furthermore, the ecological criticism of the ferment-and-wash method increasingly has become moot, since a combination of low-water equipment plus settling tanks allows conscientious mill operators to carry out fermentation without polluting.
The Semi-Dry or Pulped Natural Method. This procedure is practiced regularly in only two regions of the world: Brazil and certain parts Sumatra and Sulawesi. The outer skin is removed as it is in the wet process, but the troublesome sticky fruit residue is allowed to dry on the bean and later removed by machine along with the parchment skin.
FLAVOR and PROCESSING METHOD
If all goes well, each processing method accentuates certain aspects of coffee flavor. Generally, coffees processed by the mechanical mucilage wet method will be brightest, driest, and cleanest tasting. Those processed by the ferment-and-wash wet method will be next brightest and driest, though often a bit fruitier and more complex. Coffees processed by the semi-dry and the dry methods tend to be fruitiest, most complex, and heaviest in body owing to longer contact with fruit residue during drying.
Most fine coffees are processed by the classic ferment-and-wash wet method. A few, like Jamaica Blue Mountain and some Costa Rica coffees, are now processed by the mechanical mucilage method. A handful of coffees from Brazil and from Sumatra and Sulawesi are processed by the semi-dry or pulped natural method. Only three of the world's premium coffees are processed by the dry method: the finest coffees of Brazil and the splendid coffees of Yemen and the Harrar region of Ethiopia.
Why is the wet method used to process most of the finest coffees? Mainly because so much more can go wrong during dry-processing than during wet-processing. Since drying the entire coffee fruit takes so much longer than drying washed beans, there are more opportunities for the fruit to attract mold, ferment, or even rot. Most dry-processed coffee is also picked carelessly, which means there will always be some contamination of flavor by green or overripe fruit. Processed with care, however, dry-processed coffees can be as good as washed coffees, if not better owing to their complexity and fruit-toned sweetness.
Carelessness or mistakes during processing and drying can lead to a variety of flavor taints. A delay in removing the fruit from the bean at the onset of wet processing may cause sugars in the fruit to ferment, for example, tainting the coffee with the taste of sweet ferment. A somewhat different kind of ferment taste occurs when the fruit flesh or mucilage is not entirely removed from the bean before drying and the sweet residue still clinging to the bean ferments. Still another variant on the fermented taste may happen during dry processing when sugars ferment in the fruit before the fruit is fully on its way to drying. The ferment taste, if mild and cleanly sweet, may be an attractive sensation for many coffee drinkers, but in any degree of intensity it registers as an unpleasant rotten sensation and is clearly a flavor defect.
Another set of taints occurs when micro-organisms that cause mold or mildew are attracted by the moist fruit or beans. If the micro-organisms develop in the bean during drying, the hard, flat mildewed taste they provoke is called mustiness or, in extreme cases, hardness. If the micro-organisms develop later, during storage, provoked by dampness in the warehouse or shipping container, the resulting mildly mildewed taste is typically called bagginess, since it often incorporates the rope-like taste of the bag in which the coffee was stored.
CLEANING and SORTING
The final steps in coffee processing involve removing the last layers of dry skin and remaining fruit residue from the now dry coffee, and cleaning and sorting it. These steps are often called dry milling to distinguish them from the steps that take place before drying, which collectively are called wet milling. Removal of dried fruit residue. The first step in dry milling is removing what is left of the fruit from the bean, whether simply the crumbly parchment skin in the case of wet-processed coffee, the parchment skin and dried mucilage in the case of semi-dry-processed coffee, or the entire dry, leathery fruit covering in the case of dry-processed coffee. The machines that do this range from simple millstones in Yemen to sophisticated machines that gently whack at the coffee.
Sorting by Size and Density. Most fine coffee goes through a battery of machines that sort the coffee by density of bean and by bean size, all the while removing sticks, rocks, nails, and miscellaneous debris that may have become mixed with the coffee during drying. First machines blow the beans into the air; those that fall into bins closest to the air source are heaviest and biggest; the lightest (and likely defective) beans plus chaff are blown in the farthest bin. Other machines shake the beans through a series of sieves, sorting them by size. Finally, an ingenious machine called a gravity separator shakes the sized beans on a tilted table, so that the heaviest, densest and best vibrate to one side of the pulsating table, and the lightest to the other.
Sorting by Color. The final step in the cleaning and sorting procedure is called color sorting, or separating defective beans from sound beans on the basis of color rather than density or size. Color sorting is the trickiest and perhaps most important of all the steps in sorting and cleaning.
Color Sorting by Eye and Hand. With most high-quality coffees color sorting is done in the simplest possible way -- by hand. Teams of workers, often the wives of the men who work the fields, deftly pick discolored and other defective beans from the sounds beans. The very best coffees may be hand-cleaned twice (double picked) or even three times (triple picked). Coffee that has been cleaned by hand is usually called European preparation. Most specialty coffees, since they are whole bean and consumers see what they get, are European preparation.
Color Sorting by Machine. Sophisticated machines now can mimic the human eye and hand. Streams of beans fall rapidly, one at a time, past sensors that are set according to parameters that identify defective beans by value (dark to light) or by color. A tiny, decisive puff of compressed air pops each defective bean out of the stream of sound beans the instant the machine detects an anomaly.
These machines are not widely used in the coffee industry for two reasons. First, the capital investment to install these delicate machines and the technical support to maintain them is daunting. Second, and perhaps most importantly, sorting coffee by hand supplies much-needed work for the small rural communities that cluster around coffee mills. The vision of huge rooms filled with women and a scattering of teenage boys patiently picking through piles of green coffee may offend urbanites, but the economic suffering caused by replacing these women with machines and a highly paid technician from the city is not a comfortable alternative either, particularly in small rural communities with strong communal values.
On the other hand, computerized color sorters are essential to coffee industries in regions with relatively high standards of living and high wage demands, places like Brazil and Hawaii, for example. Readers who have seen television depictions of the slums of Rio may doubt that a labor shortage exists in rural Brazil, but it does. The main areas of coffee production in Brazil are quite prosperous, with a per capita income approximately equal to Belgium. At the other extreme of the coffee/economic spectrum is Yemen, where even the usual battery of machines that sort coffee by density and size are unknown, and hand sorting and cleaning is the only sorting and cleaning this wonderfully idiosyncratic coffee receives.
GRADING BEFORE MARKET
The last step in coffee's complex, labor-intensive trip to market is grading, the procedure whereby agricultural products are categorized to facilitate communication between buyer and seller. Approaches differ from country to country, but there are four main grading criteria: how big the bean is, where and at what altitude it was grown, how it was prepared and picked, and how good it tastes, or its cup quality. Coffees also may be graded by the number of imperfections (defective and broken beans, pebbles, sticks, etc.) per sample.
As the finest coffees move from the status of commodities sold by description to specialty products sold by specific lot, grading becomes less important, and origin (farm or estate, region, cooperative) more important. Growers of premium estate or cooperative coffees may impose a quality control that goes well beyond conventionally defined grading criteria, because they want their coffee to command the higher price that goes with recognition and consistent quality.
Even with fine coffee, however, government agencies in growing countries may impose grading standards to encourage and support quality and to attract and reassure foreign buyers. Coffee-growing countries like Kenya, for example, simultaneously promote high standards through imposing strict grading criteria while supporting growers by providing agricultural and social assistance. In many cases, governments may extend their support efforts to the consuming countries, where they promote their growers' coffees either behind the scenes or directly through media campaigns, like the famous and successful Colombian effort featuring Juan Valdez and his donkey.
ROASTING COFFEE BEANS
Since we have come to associate the word coffee so absolutely with a hot, aromatic brown liquid, some may find it hard to believe that human beings waited for several hundred years before concluding that the most effective way to get what they wanted from the coffee tree was to roast the dried kernel of the fruit, grind it, and combine the resulting powder with hot water to make a beverage. The alternative solutions are many, and some apparently still survive as part of the cuisines of Africa and Asia. The berries can be fermented to make a wine, for example, or the leaves and flowers cured and steeped in boiling water to produce a coffee tea. In parts of Africa, people soak the raw beans in water and spices, then chew them like candy. The raw berries are also combined with bananas, crushed, and beaten to make a sort of raw coffee and banana smoothie.
In Yemen, where coffee was first cultivated as a commercial crop, the husks of the dried coffee fruit are boiled with spices to produce a sweet, light beverage called qishr. It is served cool as a thirst quencher in the afternoon, much like we might serve iced tea. The key to the success of the current mode of coffee making is the roasting process, to which we owe the delicately flavored oils that speak to the palate as eloquently as caffeine does to the nervous system.
THE CHEMISTRY of ROASTING
The chemistry of coffee roasting is complex and still not completely understood. This is owing to the variety of beans, as well as to the complexity of the coffee essence, which still defies chemists' best efforts to duplicate it in the laboratory.
Much of what happens to the bean in roasting is interesting, but irrelevant. The bean loses a good deal of its moisture, for instance, which means it weighs less after roasting than before (a fact much lamented among penny-conscious commercial roasters). It loses some protein, about 10 to 15 percent of its caffeine, and traces of other chemicals. Sugars are caramelized, which contributes color, some body, and sweetness, complexity, and flavor to the cup.
Roasting is simple in theory: The beans must be heated, kept moving so they do not burn or roast unevenly, and cooled, or quenched, when the right moment has come to stop the roasting. Coffee that is not roasted long enough or hot enough to bring out the oil has a pasty, nutty, or bread-like flavor. Coffee roasted too long or at too high a temperature is thin-bodied, burned, and industrial-flavored. Very badly burned coffee tastes like old sneakers left on the radiator. Coffee roasted too long at too low a temperature has a baked flavor.
During the early part of the roast the bean merely loses free moisture, moisture which is not bound up in the cellular structure of the bean. Eventually, however, the deep bound moisture is forced out, expanding the bean and incidentally producing a snapping or crackling noise. So far, the color of the bean has not changed appreciably (it should be a light brown), and the oil has not been volatilized. Then, when the interior temperature of the bean reaches about 370°F, the oil suddenly begins developing. This process is called pyrolysis, and it is marked by darkening in the color of the bean.
At some point after pyrolysis sets in, but before the bean is terminally burned, the moment of truth arrives for the roastmaster, because the pyrolysis, or volatilization, of the coffee essence must be stopped at precisely the right moment to obtain the degree of roast and associated flavor desired. The beans cannot be allowed to cool of their own accord or they may overroast. With smaller scale equipment the cooling may be managed by fans that pull room-temperature air through the hot beans while they are stirred, a procedure called air quenching. Larger roasting machines may permit the roastmaster to water quench the beans, or kick off the cooling process with a brief spray of water. If the water quenching is done properly and discreetly, the water evaporates immediately from the surface of the hot beans and does not adversely affect the flavor of the coffee. In fact, coffee that has been tactfully water quenched often tastes better than air-quenched coffee because the cooling is more decisive.
When delivered to the roaster in burlap sacks, the coffee bean ranges in color from light brown to whitish green to a lovely bluish, emerald green. The beans are always stored in their raw, or green, state. Roasted whole beans begin to deteriorate in flavor within days after roasting, and ground coffee may taste stale within an hour of grinding, whereas green coffee, stored in cool, dry, well-ventilated conditions, remains stable for years.
The exact nature of the equipment used to roast coffee depends on the ambitions of the roaster. Most large commercial roasters resemble a gigantic screw rotating inside a drum. The screw works the coffee down the drum; by the time the coffee reaches the end of the drum, it is roasted and ready to be cooled by air or water. The temperature is controlled automatically, and the roaster includes equipment that monitors both the air temperature and the temperature inside the moving mass of beans to monitor their progress. Such roasters are called continuous roasters for obvious reasons and are inappropriate for specialty coffee roasting because they cost too much, roast too much coffee at a time, and cannot be easily stopped to reload with new and different kinds of coffee.
The average specialty roaster uses a batch roaster, which simply means any machine which roasts a batch of coffee at a time rather than the same coffee for most of the day. The most common design of batch roaster consists of a rotating drum above a heat source, usually a gas flame. Operating like a Laundromat clothes drier, the rotating drum tumbles the beans, ensuring an even roast, while convection currents of heated air move through the drum. Drum roasters may be as large as five or six feet in diameter, or as small as a small waste can set on its side.
In all cases, the goal of the technology is to offer the operator maximum control over the process, and to keep the beans from touching hot metal for anything longer than a split second at a time to prevent scorching or uneven roasting. Proponents of the various styles of batch roaster all make cogent arguments in favor of their favored system and in mild deprecation of rival approaches, but to my knowledge no conclusive comparative tests have ever been conducted to validate any of these claims and counterclaims. In my observation and experience, all batch roasting apparatus, including the oldest and crankiest, can produce outstanding coffee if used with care and knowledge.
THE TWO SCHOOLS of ROASTING
Roasters tend to fall into two schools: technical roasters, who follow a system involving precisely defined and monitored variables like time and temperature, and craft roasters, who depend mainly on eye, ear, nose, and accumulated experience.
Roasting by Instrument. The key to technical roasting is an electronic thermometer or heat probe designed to rest inside the bed of beans as they roast. Since degree or darkness of roast precisely reflects the internal temperature of the roasting beans (think of the thermometers you stick into roasting turkeys or meat), the heat probe permits the roastmaster to follow the development of the roast inside the machine with confidence. A second heat probe registers the temperature of the air inside the roasting chamber. The roastmaster, using various formulas that define the optimum relationship between these two temperatures plus information regarding air velocity inside the roasting chamber, profiles the roast, adjusting temperature ratios and air velocity to control the intensity of the pyrolysis and the length of the roast. And, I might add, profoundly influencing how the coffee eventually tastes. Because two batches of the same coffee roasted to exactly the same degree of roast but using two different profiling strategies will taste dramatically different.
Roasting by Experience. Craft roasters also profile coffees, adjusting temperature and air velocity inside the roasting chamber as the roast progresses. However, rather than on formula, their adjustments are based on long experience with roasting generally, with roasting specific coffees, and with the peculiarities of their machines.
Internal bean temperature is not the only way to tell what is going on inside a roasting machine. Roasting coffee signals its internal changes by a number of rather dramatic external signs. As well as changing in color, roasting coffee speaks to the roaster by emitting a crackling sound at two very predictable moments in its development -- the "first crack" when pyrolysis begins, and the "second crack" when the woody matter of the bean begins to transform and the beans start to enter the pungent, bittersweet realm of darker roasts. When craft roasters speak about a specific green coffee and how to roast it, for example, they speak in terms of the crack -- just before the second crack, just at the second crack, just into the second crack, well into the second crack, and so on.
The changing smell of the roasting smoke also tracks the development of the roast, starting with a bready smell before the first crack, to a fuller, sweeter, more rounded scent between the first and second cracks, to a pungent, sharper, oiler odor during the second crack. The best old time craft roasters can control the roast quite accurately based on the smell of the roasting smoke alone.
Neither technical roasters with their thermometers and formulas nor craft roasters with their eye, ear, nose, and accumulated experience necessarily produce better coffee. But both produce far better coffee than people who "just roast'em til their brown," or relative newcomers who think they are craft roasters, but are not. True craft roasting demands long training and experience. The average accountant or English major with no coffee experience who decides to open a store and roast coffee is best served by taking a seminar on technical roasting and installing a heat probe in his or her new roasting machine.
HEALTH and COFFEE DRINKING
Although coffee first appeared in human culture as a medicine, the kind we now patronize as "herbal," the modern medical establishment has viewed coffee over the years with suspicion. So much so that coffee has become one of the most intensely scrutinized of modern foods and beverages.
Why has the medical establishment chosen to focus so much attention on coffee in particular? Why not on scores of other foods, from white mushrooms to black pepper to spinach, all of which have been accused of promoting various diseases? Perhaps because coffee is such an appealing dietary scapegoat. Since it has no nutritive value and makes us feel good for no reason, coffee may end up higher on the medical hit list than other foods or beverages that may offer equal or greater grounds for suspicion, but are more nourishing and less fun.
For now, however, the coffee lover can rest easy, or at least sip easy. Despite over twenty-five years of intensive study, medical science has yet to prove any definite connection between moderate caffeine or coffee consumption and disease or birth defects. For every study that tentatively suggests a relationship between moderate coffee drinking and some disease, or between moderate coffee drinking during pregnancy and a pattern of birth defects, other studies--usually involving larger test populations or more stringent controls--are published that contradict the earlier, critical studies. It is safe to say that the medical profession is far away from slapping coffee with the kind of warning labels that decorate wine and beer bottles.
To be cautious, if you are pregnant or have certain health conditions, you should bring your coffee consumption to the attention of your physician, even if it is a moderate habit. Aside from pregnancy, health conditions that merit examining your coffee drinking include benign breast lumps, high chloresterol, heart disease, osteoporosis, and some digestive complaints. Again, nothing has been proven against moderate coffee consumption in any of these situations, but overall results are ambiguous, some physicians may disagree with certain studies that exonerate caffeine, and new studies may have appeared that complicate the matter.
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ABOUT COFFEE REVIEW
Since 1997, Coffee Review has conducted blind, expert cuppings of coffees and reported its findings in the form of 100-point reviews, much like those that exist in the wine industry. We strive to entertain and educate coffee enthusiasts with interesting articles and objective reviews from Kenneth Davids and other leading coffee professionals. Welcome and thank you for making the Coffee Review one the most respected and widely read coffee publications in the world.
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We are looking for distributors in America, Australia, Canada, Europe, and Japan. The state of the Cola market globally and in the UK is ripe for a fresh quality brand, with excellent potential for growth. According to ResearchandMarkets.com the UK drinks market is worth an estimated £53.5 billion, representing a 7% share of total consumer spending. The global soft drinks market is roughly the same percentage of total consumer spending for developed countries.
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