Like many young people in the United States, my veins have more coffee running through them than blood. Without this elixir of life, I am left in a zombie-like state, unable to function like a normal person. Unfortunately for me, I am picky. Any cup of joe will just not do. In my opinion, instant coffee is a repulsive cup of bleh. For me, I need a good cup of coffee: strong, not too sweet, and absolutely no cream (I’m lactose intolerant).
Coffee beans are actually the seeds from a “coffee cherry” which is the fruit of the coffee shrub. There are several species of the coffee plant (over 60), but only two dominate the global coffee trade: arabica (which represents 75%) and robusta. Arabica is typically found at higher elevations and is harder to grow in large quantities. Robusta is usually grown on plantations and are thought to be of lower quality than arabica beans.
But what distinguishes the good coffee from the oh-so-very bad? A big part of what makes coffee taste delicious is the quality of the beans. How these little nuggets of flavor are grown makes a big impact on the standard of coffee you drink.
Bigger beans, better coffee?
One element that is crucial to the flavor of the beans is the level of shade they are grown in. There are a few generic methods used to grow coffee: Wild, rustic, commercial multicropping (multiple types of shade trees), single-species multicropping (only one type of shade tree), and full-sun plantations. Scientists found that growing beans in the shade leads to fruit thinning (lower yield), bigger coffee beans, and a longer growing time, all of which are associated with higher quality coffee. However, shade-grown coffee presents certain disadvantages to farmers. Fruit thinning and a longer growing time mean fewer beans, which leads to less profit. Farming in more wild or rustic shade systems is more labor intensive and requires either planting more trees or hunting for coffee beans.
But flavor can’t only be dependent on the quality of the bean, right? A couple of other things that will alter the flavor of your java are your choice of roast and brewing method.
What’s the difference between light and dark roast?
Different roasts have different flavor profiles. Before roasting, coffee beans are soft, little green pods that have little to no flavor. Different roasts are differentiated by the internal temperature they reach during the roasting process. Lighter roasts generally reach an internal temperature of 180°C – 205°C and darker roasts reach internal temperatures of 240°C – 250°C. Light roasts typically are more acidic, brighter, and have a higher concentration of
caffeine compared to darker roasts. Darker roasts develop a more bitter, richer flavor and generally are used for espresso blends (yum).
The daily grind
The grinding and brewing processes are also big contributors to the goodness of your coffee. Generally, the finer the grind, the more caffeine and flavor you get out of your beans.The common techniques for making coffee are steeping (French press), boiling (Turkish), filtering (drip), and pressurizing (espresso). Basically, the longer the brewing process, or the more heat/pressure, the more caffeine and chlorogenic acids (woo! antioxidants) you extract. Espresso gets its rich creamy flavor from oils that are absent in drip coffee because they are caught by the filter paper. However, a cup of drip coffee has more chlorogenic acids and caffeine then an espresso, because of the serving size differences. So if you need more of a jolt, you may want to skip the espresso and just go for the plain old drip coffee.
Coffee comes in a lot of different shapes and sizes. There are lots of ways to help make sure that the coffee that you need to give you life in the morning doesn’t taste like dirt. So when you go to the store, look for the best beans and tinker around with your brewing method to make sure you choose the right methods for you. Afterall, nothing is more important in the morning than getting up ready to take on the day and without coffee it is near impossible (for me at least). Cheers!
|Katherine Kruckow is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology. She is looking for a PhD program to further her passion of studying microbes. When not in the lab she loves hiking, cooking, going to all the concerts she can afford, and reading a good book in her hammock. She also plans on visiting every national park at some point in time during her life. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. More from Katherine Kruckow.|