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Coffee
- Where would we be without it

It is the world's most popular drink and the favorite beverage of Johan Sebastian Bach who was so impressed that he wrote apiece of music - the Coffee Cantata - in its favour.

Java, a programming language has been named after it.  How many programmers and web designers have staved off sleep and met impossible deadlines with their chosen method of caffeine delivery?

Lets face it we are talking about a drug habit or even perhaps an addiction! - Are we making you feel guilty? Is it really that bad for you? And if so How bad?,  Should we give it all up or go over to decaff ?  

Coffee Beans on Plate

Enough of the depressing stuff,... how did it all start, how can we brew it properly, what are the different varieties of bean and how many different ways can it be served up

The Selection

Hot water is forced thru compressed, finely ground coffee and a delicious and fragrant dark brown, almost black liquid is produced, For the first minute or so it is covered with a creamy, extremely fine froth called the Crema.

If you go in to your favorite coffee bar you will see the "baristas" using small amounts of concentrated coffee from the machine to make up a wide variety of different drinks. In most establishments the coffee part of the drink starts off as an espresso. 
 

Espresso: The undiluted liquid from the machine. It should be served in a small plain white cup.
Machiatto: An Espresso with a trace of steamed milk and froth. 
Restretto: Even more concentrated than an espresso, the first tablespoon or so that comes thru the machine.
Latte:
An espresso shot with a good portion of heated milk, served in a tall glass.
Cappuccino: Espresso that has frothed milk added, served in a medium cup.
Americano: Mixed with water and served in a medium cup.
Mocha: Usually this is a chocolate flavored coffee, but it can also simply be made with the Mocha variety of bean.

If you go to Starbucks you will find that they have their own name for the different measures. Small, medium and Large becomes Tall (12 oz), Grande (16 oz and Venti (20 oz). It is also possible to ask for and get a Short at 8 ounces but it seems to depend on the branch and barrista. Other cafes will have their own names for the sizes, some even stranger than Starbucks, but none serving the 200 to 300 milliletres which is what would be offered to someone asking for a coffee in some European countries.

Varieties of Coffee Bean

Robusta, Arabica, Mocha, Java, Sumatra, Jamaican Blue Mountain, Kenya Peaberry

Tips

  • Beans or ground coffee can be kept in the freezer, make sure that the container is airtight. Kept dry this way it is OK for several months.

  • When buying your freshly ground coffee you should specify whether you want it ground coarse, medium or fine. A good supplier will ask you what you prefer.

  • If using a Blade Grinder, use short bursts otherwise the high temperatures produced can damage the coffee and affect the taste.

  • Never reheat coffee.

  • Out of the freezer, ground coffee will only last for two weeks at the most. If vacuum packed it can last for up to a year. 

  • Distilled, or very low mineral content water enhances the flavour (in our opinion).

Preparation

There are several stages in the preparation. :-

  • Cultivation

  • Roasting

  • Grinding

  • Infusion

The end user usually has little involvement in more than the very last two processes, the grinding, and the infusion to do herself. A good coffee merchant will allow you to select the varieties of bean, the blend, and the degree to which they are roasted. 


History

Ethiopia in Africa is believed to be the source, then to Arabia, Yemen to be precise. 

Coffee still grows wild in Africa, in some of the drier southern parts and Ethiopia. It was the Arabs who first traded and promoted Coffee drinking. The once-thriving port of Mocha gives its name to a well known variety.

Some say that the reason  why the bean was first roasted was to prevent the customers of the Arabian traders from growing it themselves, however the roasting produces such lovely aromas and enhances the taste, that there must be some doubt over the explanation.

The  Bedouin and many Saudi Arabs drink coffee from unroasted beans flavored with cardamom, the pot used to brew it is called an ibriq, however in the Kingdom the traditional is giving way to the Turkish style of roasted coffee. In fact this is the most common way that coffee is served in most Middle Eastern countries.

By the latter part of the 17th century there were coffee houses all over Europe. The first beans to reach Europe were traded by Venetian merchants and coffee houses existed in Venice before the 1700s.

Dutch traders managed to smuggle a live tree to Holland in 1616 where they cultivated it and introduced it to their colonies, first Malabar in India, then Java and Sumatra  then the Americas and then to Southern Asia. 

Ethiopia is aware of its heritage and is conserving and protecting three varieties; Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe.

Health 

"Caffeine is good for you and coffee has nutritional properties"! "Caffeine is a poison and kills brain cells"!. Tests using identical twins showed that, when given to children caffeine slightly slows down the growth of the liver and the brain, however there is no evidence to show that moderate coffee drinking is harmful to healthy adults. 

Interestingly it has evolved in plants as a weapon to stop other plants encroaching on their space, in other words it is a herbicide. --  

Coffee and Tea. Coffee should be used intelligently, Lots if you have a task intensive day ahead, little or none if you want a day devoted to planning and reflection. Varying your intake in this way will also reduce your dependancy/addiction. It is a well proven fact that randomizing your usage of addictive substances works to prevent dependancy. Having a cup of tea can neutralize some of the 'jaggers'caused by excessive caffeine, even though it will increase the caffeine level. Chocolate too will exert a calming effect. It has been suggested that the reason for this is that both tea and chocolate contain theobromine.

More Facts:

The shrub is the from the Rubiaceae or Madder family, genus Coffea, the common varieties are Coffea Arabica, Coffea Canephora and Coffea Liberica.

What is a Peaberry? This is a very special and costly coffee, it comes from a plant that has one seed instead of the usual two per berry.

The Latte culture came from the USA, Seattle, to be precise.

The active flavor is an aromatic oil called "Caffeol".

A weather predictor? If, before adding milk the bubbles float outwards toward the rim of the cup, atmospheric pressure is low and bad weather can be expected. If the bubbles congregate in the center, the pressure is high and fair weather can be expected. 
  

Famous Aficionados:

Voltaire, 1694 - 1778 is reputed to have drunk 50 cups of coffee per day!!

Johan Sebastian Bach, mentioned earlier, wrote his Coffee Cantata about a worried father who was concerned at his daughter's "addiction" to the bean.

Napoleon Bonaparte was another Frenchman (Of Corsican origin) who could not do without his daily infusion.


Your own machine!

The King of the coffee making machines is the Gaggia, however most of their production ends up in cafes and restaurants, however they do make a small machine; the Gaggia "Evolution"

There are several other machines on the market that you can install in your home or office kitchen and have a constant supply of delicious real coffee. Others companies making machines for domestic use are: Delonghi, Dualit. A German offering is the Krups

We hope that this short primer will have taught you something you didn't know about our daily cuppa. Writing this little article has given me a bit of a thirst and I am off to quench it with - guess what - ? ~~ Alex Kelso

Photograph - Arnaud Gaillard

 

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