Coffee - The Nectar of the Gods
Rise and Shine
Millions of us, each morning, wake up to the shrill cry of the alarm clock. Hitting snooze for the dozenth time, we stumble blurry-eyed to the kitchen, and with the push of a button, our homes begin to fill with an aromatic fragrance emanating from the hundreds of roasted ground beans now brewing before us.
Coffee - love it or hate it, it is one of the most popular drinks worldwide. Whether you drink it black, or with cream and sugar, or even order it half soy, half low-fat, three pumps hazelnut, upside down - our coffee can be as individual as we are ourselves.
It Started With a Bean
Many times we drink coffee for that quick pick me up. If we are up late cramming for that final, working late to land that high profile client, or chasing toddlers around the house all day, our cup of black gold kicks in that extra bit of energy we need. It is not psychological; there is a physical reaction to caffeine. When we get tired, our body releases a chemical called adenosine. The caffeine reduces the chemical giving us the much-needed perk up.
This makes the crushed beans a high-demand product. Before those beans reach our cup, there are a few factors that contribute to the final drink, the bean being most crucial.
There are three types of coffee beans:
- Blended types
The coffee plant is an evergreen shrub under the scientific genus Coffea. Arabica is the finest quality species of Coffea - being 59 percent of the world's coffee production.
Arabica has been traced to origins in Ethiopia. It typically grows at elevations between 1.25 and 1.55 miles. When Arabica is grown at higher elevations, it shows higher quality characteristics when roasting.
High-quality Arabica is incredibly fragrant, slightly sweet, with a light, pleasant acidity. Many times people say there is a hint of chocolate-caramel flavor and just a touch of mild bitterness.
Robusta beans have a harsher, more bitter taste. They can have up to three times the amount of caffeine as Arabica. These beans have been adapted to grow on relatively flat plantations and at lower elevations.
Robusta does have a stronger taste often described as tasting like burnt wood. The higher caffeine content acts as an insecticide, protecting the plant.
Robusta grown at higher elevations is a higher quality bean. Those grown at the lowest levels are reserved for the less-expensive instant coffee mixes.
Blended beans are just that - beans that are a mixture of varietals. Coffee beans can be blended before roasting. These beans come from different origins, have different qualities, and balance out bitterness, as well as sweetness and body characteristics.
Since coffee crops and harvest vary every year, there is no tried and true method guaranteed to get the same results with an exact blend.
Growth Locations for the Perfect Bean
Coffee plants grow in rich, fertile soil and mild temperatures. They also require much rain along with partial sun. Lucky for us, we have the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer that form a band around the planet. This area is called the Bean Belt.
This area is the optimal mix of soil, climate, and altitude - all of which affect the flavor and quality of the beans.
Coffee producing countries, (and one state), which fall within the bean belt include:
- Costa Rica
If you drink coffee, your beverage of choice most likely originates in one of these locations.
Fazende Monte Alegre - Brazil's largest coffee farm.
Are you a coffee lover?
Global Economic Impact
Coffee may not be a necessity for survival, (look away, pretend I did not say that,) it certainly fuels our global economy.
Annually, the coffee industry as a whole consists of a $42 billion market. Yes, the world drinks tons of the delectable brewed beverage. It is also consistently one of the most profitable, in-demand, import/export commodities, falling second only to oil.
There are on average, 25 million small producers, worldwide, who depend on coffee as their source of income.
An estimated 49 countries within the bean belt that grow coffee. The top ten being those listed earlier in this article.
In the U.S. alone, coffee touches our communities in more complex ways than we realize. Some of those highlights include:1
- Coffee industry impact in 2015 was $225.2 billion.
- Coffee related economic activity makes up 1.6 percent of the total U.S. GDP.
- Consumers spent $74.2 billion on coffee in 2015.
- The coffee industry is responsible for 1.694,710 U.S. jobs.
- The coffee industry generates nearly $28 billion in taxes, (including ancillary goods.)
Top 5 Coffee Producing Nations
Weight (in U.S. Tons)
Fair Trade Coffee
"Fair trade coffee is coffee that is certified as having been produced to fair trade standards. Fair trade organizations create trading partnerships that are based on dialogue, transparency and respect, and that seeks greater equity in international trade."
Environmental Impacts of Coffee
With many coffee growth regions being home to delicate ecosystems, the chance for damage is quite high.
With greater consumption, there is greater awareness of the issues that accompany millions of cups of Fairtrade coffee being consumed each day. Organic coffees have increased and many brands have begun attempting to provide more ethical options.
How does conventional coffee production affect the planet?
When we talk about environmental impact, damage, and destruction of our environment, most of the concern falls on the production of the bean itself. The increase in demand around the world has affected growing methods with tremendous implications on future sustainability. With coffee grown in the traditional way, under the shade of trees, it provides a habitat for animals and helps control erosion. However, with current demands, that practice has been surpassed by "sun cultivation." Dating back to the 1970s, sun-grown coffee was produced on farms and plantations, without the benefit of the tree canopies. This action requires the use of fertilizers and has caused a detrimental effect on biodiversity in these areas. Since farmers were first encouraged to start using sun-cultivation, more than 2.5 million acres of forest has been cleared in Central America alone.
One day, we will see certification become the standard norm, and that will have positive effects on our environment and sensitive ecosystems supported in these regions.
Drip-brewed coffee is brewed by hot water flowing over and through ground beans. As the water seeps through, it absorbs the oils, flavors, and different essences of the ground beans. The ground coffee is held in a filter, keeping it out of the final result.
French press - also known as a press pot, was patented by Atillio Calimani in 1929. Use of coarser ground beans keeps grounds out of the coffee when it's brewed. Coffee is brewed by placing grounds in the empty press pot and adding hot water. Normal measurements are 1 ounce of coffee to 15 ounces of water. That can be adjusted according to your own preference. After four to five minutes, the plunger is pressed down, separating the grounds and holding them at the bottom of the pot.
Cold brew is the process of steeping grounds in water ranging in temperature from cool to hot. Coarse ground beans are soaked for 12 hours or more. While usually kept at room temperature, chilled water is also another favorite choice. Once the grounds have been filtered, the result is a coffee concentrate, many times diluted with water or milk, served with ice and other ingredients, served hot, or over ice.
Percolated - is boiling or near boiling water cycled through the grounds until desired strength is reached.
Turkish Coffee - beans are ground to a fine power and immersed in water until it just reaches a boil. The coffee and desired amount of sugar are stirred until the coffee sinks, and the sugar is dissolved before boiling.
Moka - is brewed with a moka pot on the stovetop. Hot water which is pressurized by steam is forced through the ground beans at a lower pressure than an espresso maker. Due to the higher pressure, the water and steam mixture quickly exceeds temperatures of 100 degrees Celsius, causing efficient extraction of flavors and caffeine, producing a strong brew.
A Few Favorites
Caffe Americano - prepared by adding hot water to espresso. Usually a single or double shot.
Cafe Cubano - strong and sweet. Sugar is mixed with beans before brewing.
Caffee crema - an old name for espresso, and also a long espresso drink served in Switzerland, Austria, and Northern Italy.
Breve - Espresso with a steamed mix of half milk and half cream.
Cafe au lait - coffee with milk.
Cafe bombon - espresso with sweetened condensed milk.
Cappuccino - prepared with espresso, hot milk, and steamed-milk foam.
Latte - espresso with steamed milk with a little foam.
Macchiato - espresso with just a dash of foamed milk.
A Little Steam and Aaah
Now that we know where our coffee is grown, the types of beans, the effects on our global economy, and the environmental impact let's sit back and think about our choices.
Go ahead, enjoy your lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, Irish coffee, macchiato, or even something as simple as a straight up black coffee. Whichever you chose, relish in the perfectly roasted bean, and remember, somewhere out there, between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, your next cup is waiting to be harvested. There is a lot of time and effort put into our morning rituals, our pick me ups, and in our love of coffee in general. Now, I do believe I am off to get myself a cup of the nectar of the Gods.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Sherrie Weynand