Coffea Arabica is what you’ll most likely be drinking. There are different varietals of this species of coffee with names like Bourbon, Catuai, Pacamara, Typica, etc. These varietals are grown between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn in Africa, Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Oceania.
The Coffee Bean
Coffee grows on a shrub as a cherry-like fruit with a bean (what we end up drinking) in the center. These cherries, when mature, are picked, sorted, and processed. Processing methods include letting the cherry sun-dry on the bean (natural processing); partially pulping the cherry and then allowing the remaining mucilage to sun-dry on the bean (honey or pulp natural processing); and using wet fermentation to remove the fruit from the bean (washed or wet processing). These methods and other processing variables vary from country to country and farm to farm, but familiarity with the main three processing methods will help you notice their effect on the cup.
Coffee is roasted for roughly seven to twenty minutes to a finish temperature between 400°F and 460°F. “First crack” happens between 355°F and 400°F as the beans expand, release moisture, and make a sound much like popcorn popping. At this point Maillard reactions have taken place and browned the coffee (think of searing a steak) and sugar caramelization begins. Roasting can be completed at any time past this point. “Second crack” happens at 449°F as the cellular structure of the bean breaks down and carbonizes. In general, “French Roast” or “Italian Roast” refers to coffee that has been roasted into the second crack. I tend to stay away from anything roasted into the second crack – the roast notes are too dominant and the coffee’s terroir is all but unnoticeable. Roasted coffee generally has a shelf life of 14-17 days unless frozen.
Keys to Good Brewing
When brewing coffee, three things are helpful (besides using excellent fresh coffee) – a burr grinder, a scale, and very hot water. We want our coffee to be freshly ground – used literally as soon as possible. We want to weigh both the coffee and our water when brewing for precision. Stick to a ratio of 55g-65g of coffee per 1000g of water. We want our water to be just off the boil, in the 205°F-210°F range. Whatever coffee brewing method you choose, stick to these three principles and you will see your coffee improve dramatically. Other variables can be tweaked as needed. Brewmethods.com is a very helpful resource if you need to find out more about your particular brewing method.
Coffee is a Conversation
Hopefully your coffee knowledge has improved after reading the above treatise. These are the basics that will help you understand coffee and appreciate it more thoroughly. If you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole, just ask us. We’ve been there for a while.