For most people coffee isn’t really enjoyed in the way that say you might enjoy a glass of red wine. Hence the popularity of Tim Horton’s -which I totally still drink, so I’m not trying to be judgemental. I’m just saying, it’s usually a means to an end, or part of a daily routine. It can be dark and bitter and only pleasant with cream, milk or sugar.
But there is so much more to it than that, and there is so much variety in the kind of coffee you can find. There are some types that I thoroughly enjoy on their own – as in black and unsweetened - because they have such smooth unique flavours – and I’m a milk and sugar girl regularly.
If there is one thing that will change how you think about your daily cup of coffee, it is definitely the quality of the beans. If there is one thing you do differently going forward– it should be to STOP buying your beans from a grocery store, or somewhere where it has likely been sitting on the shelf or some warehouse forever.The flavour of coffee is ideal 5 days after roasting and good for about three weeks after that. The stuff on the shelf could literally be a year old or more! No good.
We’ve spoken about making sure you have an effective grinder here– but that is only half of the equation. The beans are important! And it would be better to have fresh quality beans professionally ground than old store beans that you grind at home.As you learn about coffee you’ll start to be able to distinguish different flavour profiles, and maybe even start to identify growing regions- if that’s your thing (It’s not really mine). For now though let’s just cover some of the basics about beans.
Coffee is grown in most countries that are within 1000 miles of the equator. This is the coffee growing sweet spot. The top producers of this legal addictive stimulant are Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, Columbia and India. Ethiopia is likely were it originated, the coffee plant is thought to come from its mountains. The beans are the seeds of the berries that come from this plant.
There are 3 main types of beans. You’ve probably heard the names without really thinking about what they meant.
- Arabica: Native to Yemen, these are considered to be the higher quality bean. They only grow at high altitude, which affects the flavour profile. You will sometimes find the altitude written on packages of high quality beans as it is considered to be a factor because higher grown beans mature more slowly which makes them denser and richer in flavour. Thus Arabica are thought to have better aromatic characteristics and subtle flavours.
- Robusta: Typically grown at lower altitudes, these are the easier to grow beans. They produce a high yield and are therefore considered ideal for people trying to get as much coffee out as possible in as short a time, ie; Quantity vs. Quality. Interestingly they contain almost twice the amount of caffeine of Arabica and because of this are sometimes used to add some punch to espresso blends and instant coffee. They generally provide a more bitter flavour, however, there are some premium Robusta coffees that are excellent and give more of a kick than traditional Arabica.
- Peaberry: This is not a type of bean like Arabica and Robusta , but a condition of the beans. It happens when two seed halves fuse into a sphere. Some people think these are more flavourful, however, they can ruin a regular batch of beans because they roast at higher temperatures and burn easily. So if you use Peaberry it should be 100%.
That’s a pretty thorough description, however it’s important to note that just because you buy coffee that says 100% Arabica does not guarantee its quality. Like wine, there could be lots of variation depending on the country it was grown in, how it was roasted etc. Arabica beans are further categorized into 11 sub categories!! Based largely on location, I wont go into details but thats pretty CRAZY right? Don’t let that deter you, those sub categories are not as important as just making sure they are quality, and fresh.
How Height affects your coffee
As I mentioned earlier, the height at which it’s grown is often considered one of the most important factors in quality coffee. The lack of oxygen and light common at higher altitudes forces the beans to grow more slowly, which makes them denser with more pronounced flavours. Here is an example of how height affects the flavour profile(* from the coffee lovers handbook);
- 2,000-3,000FT: Subtle, Mild and grown in Hawaii
- 3,000-4,000FT: Smooth and Sweet and grown in Brazil
- 4,000-5,000FT: Citrus, Nuts and Chocolate and grown in Costa Rica, Java, Sumatra, Nicaragua and Mexico
- 5,000 and Up: Fruit Berries and Spice with Floral Notes, grown in Ethiopia, Kenya, Guatemala, Colombia, Sulawesi, Papua New guinea.
The last technical aspect to know is that all commercially grown coffee is graded. I wont go into the details here – because again its not the most important thing, but generally they are; AA, Excelso, Altura, Strictly Soft Bean, Supremo, Hard Bean, Strictly Hard Bean (signifies that it’s grown at 4,500FT or higher).
On top of all of this variation in region and altitude there is also variation in how its processed, there are wet and dry methods as well as how it's roasted which can affect the flavour dramatically! I realize this is a lot of information, but it’s just designed to give you an idea of the massive variety you can find in coffee, and how like wine – the process is a bit of an art, so I encourage you to try and find some freshly roasted, good quality beans from a place that specializes in coffee and give them a try and see if it doesn’t change your mind! Our fave is James Coffee Company, they are located in California but you can purchase online here. There are lots of options pretty much anywhere though, and I'm sure you can find something local if you prefer.
French Press and Mexican Coffee
Mexican coffee contains cinnamon and is slightly sweeter, it’s more of an afternoon drink, since it typically contains, Kahlua, Tequila or another form of alcohol.
- Step 1: Heat some water and warm up both the mug and the French press, this is just a way of ensuring smooth brewing, so there isn’t a large shift in temperature that can affect the way the coffee is extracted.
- Step 2: Combine your ground coffee beans (Grind should be slightly coarse, like table salt) with desired cinnamon, I usually add about ½ teaspoon for every 2 cups. The bean to water ratio is up to you, there are various rules for the ratio but you will ultimately find your own. Peter uses a scale, using 17g of coffee per every 300g of water. I tend to eyeball about 2 tbsp per cup.
- Step 3: Pour a little bit of your water (right off the kettle is a pretty good temp) over the beans, just enough to soak them slightly, but stop there. Wait 30 seconds. Give the mixture a quick stir.
*note – when you use freshly ground coffee you will notice that the beans rise and expand. This is called a “bloom” and usually helps you to recognize the freshness. No bloom, no go.
- Step 4: Pour in the rest of the water and place lid over top – set a timer to 4 minutes.
- Step 5: Plunge gently please! I hate watching people do this like theY are a contestant on a game show and they are trying to hit the buzzer as fast as possible.
- Step 6: Pour your cup, and add some sugar and a shot of desired alcohol – my favorites are tequila mixed with Kahlua or recently discovered amaretto. Some people add whipped cream to this as well. Whatever remains in the French press, remember to pour into a decanter – it will become bitter the longer it sits in the press.
This coffee is also great without the alcohol; I enjoy the cinnamon flavour for a little bit of a change up from my regular cup!
This coffee is delicious and the cinnamon adds a nice warmth to it that would be nice as a fall treat for your guests.
I hope this post didn’t overwhelm you guys! I know it’s a lot of info but the only thing I want you to really take away is that the act of buying fresh roasted beans will change how you feel about your regular cup every day!