There’s nothing better than sipping on a warm, delightfully aromatic, perfect cup of coffee. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a devoted coffee-lover. The smell, the taste, and sensation of warming the soul has me drinking a cup of coffee almost daily. Those of you who share in this same obsession will love learning a bit more about what you’re consuming. So for coffee-lovers everywhere – Lesson Five: Coffee.

Coffee connoisseurs will tell you, the true flavor of coffee can only be experienced by grinding fresh coffee beans right before brewing. Think of coffee as you would black pepper. It’s a spice, and like most spices, the essence is more strongly delivered when it has been freshly ground right before use. You see, the special flavor of a spice is derived in part from compounds that oxidize when exposed to air. So if given a choice between purchasing whole or ground coffee beans (and if your wallet allows for it), opt for the former. If you don’t own a coffee grinder though, buy small batches of beans from your local coffee shop and have them do the grinding right then, just beware of beans set out in open bins, where light and air can degrade the quality. Then store them properly in an airtight canister or in the freezer. Personally, I choose to store my coffee in the freezer. The cold temperature not only keeps out condensation, it extends the age of your coffee beans. Just avoid temperature fluctuation when transferring coffee in and out of the freezer, as the enemy moisture will surely creep in. I think the freezing temperature preserves the aroma of the coffee too. Not sure if this is scientifically proven, it’s probably a fact of my imagination, but I believe it actually does preserve the aroma at least a little bit.

When it comes to brewing, I’m really not the best person to be giving advice. I have an automatic coffee maker at home. And in my haste to get to the office, I measure my coffee out, pour some water, put a filter in, and press start. Coffee experts are probably shaking their heads right now. Well, even if I cannot provide advice for refined coffee brewing, I can provide you some basic tips I picked up in the kitchen. One thing I absolutely disagree with, is pre-setting your coffee pot the night before for a ready-to-go cup in the morning. Not only is your water just sitting stale in the pot unrefrigerated, so are your whole or ground coffee beans. Remember what happens when they’re exposed to air. Prepping your coffee cup in the morning takes an extra 5 minutes of your time. You can certainly free up time for this. Next, make sure you’ve added enough coffee for the amount of water you want to use. It’s a popular belief that brewing with less coffee will give you a lighter brew. Lies. Brewing with less coffee, results in bitter, altogether awful tasting coffee due to over-extraction of the bean. The golden ratio: 2 Tbsp ground coffee for every 6 oz of fresh water. If you prefer weaker coffee, brew properly, then cut the strength by adding water to your cup later. And lastly, do not let a brewed pot of coffee just sit on the heating element. Have you ever tried coffee that has been sitting on heat for several hours versus one that has been freshly brewed? There’s a world of difference. Burnt coffee is like drinking tar. Terrible.

The stuff we purchase in markets and coffee shops is the end product of a long and skillful process of cultivating, harvesting, and roasting. Coffee, of the genus Coffea, is a shrub that grows best in tropical and subtropical climates. When the coffee cherries ripen, identified by a deep burgundy color, the cherries are picked for harvesting. The coffee bean is the pit of a cherry-like fruit. So, the fleshy pulp that surrounds the bean will be first removed. Then the beans are dried and milled, which will remove any hardened layers that surround the bean, and then roasted. Now, here’s where different roasts from the same coffee shrub can be produced. The beans are gently rolled in a heated drum, and after a brief period, the initial green color of the coffee bean will begin to darken. The longer the beans are roasted, the more starches are broken down into sugar, causing caramelization, and the darker the bean becomes. Here’s a nifty little information chart.

Light roasted beans brew with a light body, bright acidity, and full flavor. Medium roasted beans brew with a deeper robustness than the light roast. Dark roasted beans (French, Vienna, Continental) are slightly shiny, and brew with less aroma but with a flavor that is a bit sweeter than lighter roasts. Darkest roasted beans have reached a point where very few actual coffee flavors remain, the beans are oily, which is necessary for fast-brew methods like espresso.

Anyone who has ever heard of coffee, knows that it contains the natural stimulant, caffeine. One tidbit some may not know however, is that caffeine levels drop as the roast level darkens. Consuming too much caffeine can lead to undesirable physiological changes, such as headaches, jitters, or a feeling as if your heart is beating out of your chest. Even decaffeinated coffee has trace amounts of caffeine since the decaffeinating process cannot remove all the caffeine completely. So, if you know you’re one who reacts unfavorably to caffeine, perhaps pass on coffee.

Although 40% of the world’s coffee is produced in Columbia and Brazil, the tropical climates of Hawaii has allowed coffee farming to thrive, placing Hawaii high up as an international favorite. All along the Kona (western) side of the Big Island, Hawai’i, one may find hundreds of coffee acres dispersed about. Coffee beans grown exclusively in these parts are considered worthy of the famous and highly coveted brand, Kona Coffee. Regardless of how rich the farmer is or how large he or she’s parcel of cultivated land is, if it’s grown in Kona, one can call it Kona Coffee. Although the coffee shrubs in Kona originally descended from Guatemala, the nutrient-rich volcanic soil and frequent afternoon rain showers have transformed this plant species to produce decadent, rich coffee flavor. Unlike other parts of the world where disease-resistant coffee hybrids are essential to its survival, the isolation associated with being on an island, has allowed coffee to flourish naturally (knock on wood) without the application of pesticides or genetic modification (knock on wood, again). In the months of March through May, Kona locals and curious tourists have the fortunate opportunity of witnessing the blooming of thousands of tiny white blossoms all over the coffee shrubs, a spectacle known as Kona Snow. Eventually these blossoms form fruit, the coffee cherries.

Earlier last week, we shared a delicious recipe for Cinnamon Iced Coffee. Besides coffee drinks, the coffee flavor can be utilized in many different ways through cooking. Here are some coffee recipes I’m eager to try. Hope you enjoyed learning about coffee.

COFFEE ICE CREAM

recipe

COFFEE TOFFEE

recipe

COFFEE CREPES W/RICOTTA & CHERRIES

recipe

TIRAMISU WITH BERRIES

recipe

Images: coffee bean feature, coffee with milk, coffee roasts table, kona coffee farms, coffee harvesting.

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