Coffee is my thing. I’ve always loved it, and I’ve always drank it. I understand it well, and I’ve been trained in it extensively throughout my career. The intricacies of the coffee bean are beyond that of even wine, which is precisely why its always intrigued me. It started out as a Folger’s habit picked up in high school, developing into a daily cup of Starbuck’s in college. Seeking a career in the restaurant industry didn’t help my full blown addiction. Not only did I intensely enjoy the caffeine buzz, but I was also beginning to acquire deeper knowledge into the coffee culture. My palate became nuanced enough that I had shunned the ‘bucks altogether, replacing my daily cups with brews from local roasters, or perfecting my pour-over at home. While I’m not the maniac I used to be, over consuming cups of joe all day long, I’m still a morning monster until I can scratch that coffee itch.
Where Did It Come From And Why Is It So Special?
The origin of coffee began in Ethiopia. Legend has it, a shepherd came across the plant. Feeding it to his herd, he noticed their energy levels were higher than normal and that they couldn’t sleep through the night. Sound familiar? Once it hit the Arabian Peninsula it spread like a drug. The Dutch started planting the bean in Indonesia and Sumatra. Later, the French brought it to Martinique, and from there it found it’s way to Brazil and the rest of South America. Coffee houses began popping up all over and became the central place for stimulated conversation, replacing beer and wine as the preferred morning beverage.
So, What Exactly Is A Coffee Plant?
The coffee plant is grown in what is commonly known as The Coffee Belt, located between latitudes 25 degrees North and 30 degrees South, basically right around the equator. The plant needs a consistent temperature between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the species. The trees can grow up to 30ft high (though the best farms trim them down to concentrate flavor), and can live up to 100 years. The coffee bean, itself, is actually the seed within the tree fruit, or cherry. Most cherries contain two seeds, however, the rare peabody only has one. Many believe peabody coffee offers more complex notes in the final product, though this has been debated.
Coffea Arabica produces the majority of the world’s coffee. This is a descendent of the original Ethiopian coffee plant, and produces a finer cup of coffee that many deem far superior. Arabica is a more delicate plant that can be temperamental, growing in mostly high elevation regions.
Coffea Robusta is the other species of coffee, producing a much less expressive cup with almost 50-60% more caffeine than the Arabica. The trees are heartier making them easier and cheaper to cultivate. These beans are mostly found in your run-of-the-mill instant coffees.
What Happens After The Beans Are Harvested?
There are two major processing methods coffee cherries can go through. The more traditional method is dry processing. This is more heavily used in areas with little access to water. The cherries are spread out on a large sheet, and allowed to sun dry until most of the moisture is gone. During this process, they are raked and turned to prevent rot.
For the wet processing method, the pulp and skin from the cherry is removed after harvesting. The beans are then separated and put in large tanks to ferment. Once fermentation is complete, the beans are laid out to dry until, again, most of the moisture is gone.
Beans are typically roasted by the importer since it’s important to consume coffee not long after it has been roasted (typically around a week after). This is the process that turns green coffee beans into the aromatic brown beans we know and love. During this time, a fragrant oil is released from the coffee bean which is what we connect as the flavors and aromas we experience.
The Pour-Over Brewing Method – Chemex
My preferred method of brewing coffee at home is with a Chemex. I find that the it gives me a little bit of a cushion for mistakes while pouring, yet still provides a stellar end product with all of the delicate notes I want. And let’s be honest, I’m not at my most attentive when I first wake up, so this is perfect for me.
What You’ll Need
- Fresh coffee ground to a medium course texture (burr grinders are excellent for precise at-home grinding)
- A Chemex (I use the 6-cup coffeemaker)
- 1 Square Chemex Paper Filter
- A Gooseneck Water Kettle (or this Handblown one)
First, make sure the Chemex is clean – it won’t taste very good with day-old coffee inside. Open the filter into a cone with three layers of paper on one side. Place the filter in the Chemex with the thicker side against the spout (this will prevent the filter from ripping). Fill the kettle with water and pour it around the edges of the empty filter to rinse off any unwanted paper flavor. Once all of the water has drained through, pour it out from the spout.
Ok, now you’re set to make some coffee. Add about 1tbsp grounds for every 5oz. cup of coffee (or 40g of grounds) to the Chemex. Bring just over 2.5 cups (600mL) of water to a boil, and let rest a minute before pouring. If you’re using a thermometer bring the water to 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit. If the water is too cold it will produce flat, under extracted coffee. If it’s too hot, the coffee will taste burnt and the quality will be lost.
Once the water has hit the right temperature, it’s time to bloom the grounds. Starting from the center of the grounds, pour a small amount of water in a circular motion until all of the grounds are wet. Wait about 25-30 seconds for the bloom.
Blooming: When coffee is roasted it takes on carbon dioxide. Blooming the grounds helps release any excess carbon dioxide from the coffee to allow more space for water. You’ll notice the bloom begin as soon as the hot water touches the grounds. They start to puff up and bubble.
Once the bloom has finished, begin your first pour with the same circular motion, this time beginning at the edge of the grounds touching the filter. Continue pouring the water, spiraling into the center of the grounds and back out until the water level in the Chemex has reached just about an inch from the top. Allow the water to filter through. When just about all of the water is gone (make sure there is still some water left), begin the second pour in the same way as the first. When it has completely filtered through, throw out the grounds and filter, give the pot a quick swirl, and you’re ready to drink!
Adding Cream or Sugar
I typically add a little almond milk or coconut cream to my coffee because I like a little bit of fat. However, depending on the roast and origin of your coffee you may or may not want to add anything. I always suggest to taste the coffee black, and then determine what to add based on the coffee’s flavor and mouthfeel.
Sugar typically brings out more of the sweet fruit components – making tart strawberries ripe strawberry flavors.
Cream tends to add a richer mouthfeel, almost creating dessert-like flavors especially if combined with sugar – strawberries turn into a strawberries and cream dessert