Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Coffee 101

I love coffee, I love tea
I love the java jive and it loves me
Coffee and tea and the java and me
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup …

Slip me a slug of the wonderful mug
an Ill cut a rug just as snug in a jug
Drop a nickel in the pot joe
Takin it slow
Waiter, waiter, percolator…

As a high school senior I was an employee of a certain evil coffee company, and as a result I attended coffee classes. At the time I thought this was an absurd waste of time; why would I ever need to know how to use a French press, let alone how to best expedite pastries, or how to “tamp” the coffee in the espresso wand. (Note; Tamping is when you pack the coffee into the wand just tight enough to make the espresso shots pull right. This is the only complex part of espresso making that was retained when the evil coffee company purchased their newer model machines. )

Surprisingly enough, I actually retained some interesting information from coffee class. While some people master the art of sommelier, and learn wine, I learned to taste the difference between coffees from different regions of the world. Here’s the lesson I learned. Hope you enjoy it:

How to Taste Coffee:
When tasting coffee, it is best to brew it through a French press. Take your French press coffee, and there are three steps:
1) smell the coffee.
2) Take a sip. Swirl the coffee in your mouth. Swallow
3) Describe the coffee

Some adjectives often heard at coffee tastings: flavorful, smooth, smoky, fruity, chocolatey, spicy etc.

Around the world in 30 cups…

Coffee grows primarily in three regions of the world:
South America and the Caribbean

Beans from each of these areas tend to take on flavors in the soil. Because of this you can identify the origin of coffee by taste:

South America and the Caribbean coffees have fruity undertones. They are often described as berry-like, but taste like tomato to me.
Asian coffees are spicy, with hints of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Spicy.

African coffees have earthy nutty undertones. They sometimes have hints of nut and taste a bit gritty.

Non-European coffee blends are named after the region in which the beans were grown, i.e. Java is from Java, Colombian coffee from Colombia etc.

European coffee (my favorite) is a whole different bag. In fact it is kind of a misnomer, seeing as no coffee beans really grow in Europe. European coffees are named after coffee roasts (the process beans go through for flavor enhancement) and different European regions have distinctive roasting styles. French roast and Italian roast are the darkest, while American roast is light. While it is universally known that Italian roast is dark and American is light individual coffeehouses have different standards for what constitutes dark roast vs. medium or light. For instance, Starbucks’ is the darkest around, while Dunkin Donuts roasts are medium, and many street vendor coffees seem to be really light. My favorite coffee place in Brooklyn, Ozzie’s has an excellent darkish hazelnut blend that’s great, while the other excellent coffee place in the ‘hood tastes darker and earthier so I think its made from dark roasted African beans.

So you see, a cup of jo can actually be quite complicated, super mega jumbo mocha latte aside. Next time you go to grab a cup or buy some beans, I hope you’ll be able to make a more educated decision to find something you like. Coffee lesson 2 will be about fair trade beans. Drink up.

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