Millions rely on a cup of steaming coffee in the morning, that hot elixir that rouses you from your sleep and prepares you for another day in the world. The aromatic lure of fresh roasted coffee beans wafting through the air is almost heavenly. Coffee is employed not just as a morning pick-me-up, but throughout the day, as a continued stimulant or just as a flavorful beverage.
Since its modest beginnings as a simple beverage to a veritable billion dollar market consisting of countless brands of regular and gourmet flavored coffees, its safe to say that the unassuming drink has a deep hold on us, but despite our everyday familiarity with coffee, many of us don’t know or don’t appreciate the process that brings it from the coffee plant to our waiting lips.
Coffee derives from two species of coffee plant, Coffea arabica and Coffea robusta. The former is the plant traditionally used, claiming a superior flavor, the latter containing twice as much caffeine and powerfully bitter. Robusta is more commonly used to make the unquestionably strong espresso.
The fruit of the coffee plant (berry or cherry) is harvested, and the seeds or beans are removed and dried. A mixture of unripened and ripened berries is used to ultimately produce cheaper brands of coffee, while only mature berries are utilized for more expensive coffees, superior in flavor and aroma.
Companies use slightly different process for producing their coffee, resulting in different flavors. The most commonly utilized process is the dry process, which consists of allowing the harvested crop to completely dry, whereby the beans are then removed. Afterwards, the beans are typically roasted, and either sold as whole beans or ground to different levels of consistency.
Depending upon the type of coffee, there are several specifics to the grinding process, as overall flavor can be determined from how finely the beans have been ground.
Finally, the coffee is brewed, which is the simple process of adding a proper ratio of water to the coffee grounds and straining it through a filter. Then it is simply a matter of making sure you don’t burn yourself when you drink deep of that fine cup of coffee.
The powerful espresso is made slightly differently. The roasted beans used for espresso can range from light to extremely dark, but the medium to darker roast is normally preferred.
Whether it originates from the coffea arabica or coffea robusta, the trick is in the brewing process. Hot water, measured at a specific temperature for optimum flavor, is powerfully forced through the grounds under high pressure, resulting in a slightly thicker, but significantly stronger coffee. The high-pressure process serves to produce a deeply concentrated flavor, and imparts a brownish foam atop the liquid. This foam, labeled crema, consists of protein and sugar.
Espresso is the daily coffee consumed in Italy and much of Europe, subsequently rising in popularity in America after frequent introduction in coffee shops, and is commonly ordered as an after-dinner coffee in restaurants.
The popular cappuccino first originated in Italy, but has also gained favor as an after-dinner beverage in America, though in Italy is is drunk primarily during the morning hours. Made from equal parts espresso, steamed milk and foam, this simple variation on the standard cup of coffee is quite delicious, due to the enticing blend of the three parts.
To prepare a proper cappuccino, the focus should be on the milk. The steamed milk and its subsequent foamy counterpart, created by shooting tiny bubbles of air into the liquid, is added to quality espresso. Steaming the milk improperly will not achieve the desired effect, producing something more akin to a typical American coffee.
So perhaps the next time you order a coffee or its tasty European relations, you’ll savor it a little longer, appreciating the process and its fine flavor. With a history as rich as its taste, coffee is far from being an ordinary beverage.