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Coffee home - Coffee articles - Some Coffee Facts And Real Brewing

Some Coffee Facts And Real Brewing

Some Coffee Facts And Real Brewing
Coffee is the prince of drinks, second only to water.

Americans imbibe an average of 3.4 cups a day, and coffee's worldwide consumption passes tea, soda or milk.

It's been a part of Western culture for roughly four centuries and a part of Eastern culture for much longer.

But while the drink is ubiquitous, coffee aficionados say knowledge of its history isn't. Local coffee drinkers agreed.

"Honestly, I know very little, other than it tastes good," said Melissa Forget of Derry while sitting at a Laconia cafe on a recent Thursday afternoon.

She was in town to teach a class, sipping a peppermint latte and catching up on work on her laptop computer. She said she's been a coffee drinker for 15 years.

Andrea Conway, 21, of North Berwick, Maine, has been drinking coffee for 10 years. She also said she has little knowledge of the bean or where it comes from.

"I know when it's bad," she said while drinking a cup recently at a Dover cafe.

The coffee bean as most know it is small, shiny and brown, but it begins as the green seed of a cherrylike fruit growing on the branches of coffee plants. While coffee plants, which have a woody structure, can grow to about 40 feet high, they're typically kept pruned lower - roughly the size of a large, bushy shrub - so harvesting the fruit is easier.

Making history

No one knows exactly when the coffee bean first was discovered, but botanical evidence suggests coffee first grew wild in the horn of Africa as early as 500 A.D. Present-day Ethiopia's Kaffa region, specifically, is coffee's birthplace.

One legend about coffee's history is recounted in numerous books and articles. Possibly the oldest known written reference is from 1671, written by Antoine Faustus Nairon, a professor in Eastern languages in Rome, according to a history of coffee compiled by the Netherlands' Wageningen University, a life sciences university with food technology and nutrition among its specialties.

Among the recent works referencing the legend is "Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World," by independent scholar Mark Pendergrast of Vermont.

The story involves a goatherd named Kaldi, who was looking for some of his wayward goats. He found them acting strangely after apparently eating some leaves and berries from nearby trees.

The goats were prancing and bleating excitedly, so Kaldi tried some berries. Soon, the legend goes, his eyes literally were opened to the wonders of caffeine.

He spread the word, first telling a monk, who discovered the bean made it possible to stay awake longer for prayers. The rest, as they say, is history.

Early Africans used to the eat coffee cherries whole and sometimes mixed the dried beans with animal fat to form a primitive energy snack.

Coffee, by the 15th century, was being cultivated in Yemen, where it was traded from the port of Mocha throughout most of what is today's Muslim world.

Fire-roasting the beans, grinding them and adding boiled water to make a drink called qahwa - which also means wine in Arabic - became a part of coffee-consuming cultures.

Venetian traders introduced coffee to Europe by the early 17th Century. The Dutch first cultivated coffee for the Western world in their colonies.

Counting beans

Coffee is the second most valuable commodity after oil, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, a California-based international trade association. It's the most popular beverage worldwide with more than 500 billion cups consumed each year, according to the association.

Americans alone drink more than 300 million cups of coffee daily, or roughly one-fifth of the world's coffee, more than any other nation, said Mike Ferguson, association spokesman.

Worldwide, 1.6 billion cups of coffee are served daily, compared to 1.5 billion cups of tea, said Joseph DeRupo, spokesman for the National Coffee Association, a New York-based trade group.

"The average American coffee drinker consumed 3.4 cups a day in 2006," he said. "Per capita, people in Scandinavian countries such as Finland, Denmark and Norway consume the most coffee, with Scandinavians averaging more than 4 cups a day."

The global coffee industry employs more than 25 million people.

The world's largest coffee producers are, in order: Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Puerto Rico, but there are more than 70 countries in the world producing coffee, DeRupo said. The top coffee importers are France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the United States.

Coffee growing countries make more than 7 million tons of green coffee beans a year, according to the Specialty Coffee Association. About 3.4 million tons of tea, by comparison, are made annually.

The U.S. coffee industry generates $19 billion annually, and about 167 million people in the U.S., or 56 percent of the population, drink coffee daily.

Digging deep

The plant, of which it's most common two species are Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora, grows best in stable-temperature tropical and subtropical climates, essentially an equatorial belt surrounding the world. Arabica beans account for about 80 percent of the world's coffee.

Coffee plants grow best in rich soil with a lot of rain and some shade. Coffee, especially the arabica variety, grows best at higher elevations - between 2,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level.

Coffea canephora, also called coffea robusta, is so named because it's more robust and disease resistant. It can be grown in more climates and doesn't need shade. But it makes poorer-tasting coffee with more caffeine, DeRupo said.

Ferguson, of the Specialty Coffee Association, said most specialty and gourmet coffees, such as varieties served in cafes, are arabica varieties. Robusta beans mainly are grown in Southeast Asia and Brazil, though Brazil also grows arabica beans.

Coffee plants take three to four years to bear fruit and nearly a year for a "cherry" to mature after flowers blossom. The "cherry" starts off small and green. It turns red when ripe as it swells. The beans inside stay small and green.

The fruits of their labors

In most countries, beans are hand-harvested, though some large farms use machines. Crops can be strip picked - all at once - or selectively picked so only the ripest "cherries" are taken, according to the National Coffee Association.

When harvesters use the selective method, pickers will alternate among the trees every 8 to 10 days.

"A hand-picker can average about 100 to 200 pounds of coffee 'cherries' daily, which will produce 20 to 40 pounds of coffee beans," DeRupo said.

It's no easy task, according to Pendergrast, the Vermont author. He picked ripe coffee cherries on a mountain plantation in Guatemala for his research.

"After a half-hour, I have picked half a canasta (basket), about 12 pounds of cherries that, after processing ... will produce two pounds of green coffee beans," Pendergrast writes. "I'm feeling pretty proud until Herman (the supervisor), who stands just over five feet and weighs a little over 100 pounds, shows up with a full canasta and gently chides me for being so slow."

He says pickers were paid by the weight of their day's harvest, with those who had 200 pounds earning $8 per day, more than twice Guatemala's minimum daily wage in 1997.

Cherries are processed in one of two ways. The first is the traditional "dry" method - drying them in the sun, turning and raking them to keep them from spoiling. The other, "wet" method involves removing the pulp, or outer fruit, after harvesting.

Lighter beans float to the top in the water while heavier, riper beans sink. The riper beans are passed through a series of rotating drums to further separate them by size.

The beans then are placed in fermentation tanks, a process which starts to dissolve a parchmentlike sheath covering them. The beans then are rinsed and sent to be dried.

With the parchment still on, the beans are spread on large tables or dried in large tumblers. Once dry, the beans are bagged and sent to warehouses.

The beans are hulled, a process that removes the parchment from the beans, just before export. Beans also can be polished to remove any other extra remaining plant material.

They're then graded and sorted by size and weight before being rebagged. The "green" coffee then is loaded onto shipping containers and exported.

Taste test

A person called a "cupper" will first evaluate the beans, judging their visual quality. The beans then are roasted in a small roaster, immediately ground and infused with hot water. The cupper then "noses" the brew to describe its aroma.

The cupper lets it sit before breaking the layer of grounds at the top and tasting a quick spoonful.

A cupper can test hundreds of samples a day, detecting characteristics and flaws and determining which beans would work best together in a blend.

Once the beans get to their final destination, they are roasted and sold whole or ground. Beans usually are roasted at 550 degrees Fahrenheit, with beans being kept moving throughout the process.

When the beans reach an internal heat of about 400 degrees, they begin to turn brown and the caffeol, or oil, locked inside comes out. When the beans are fully roasted, they're cooled by water or air.

The beans now are ready to be packaged - whole or ground - brewed and enjoyed.

Coffee home - Coffee articles - Some Coffee Facts And Real Brewing

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