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  Just the Coffee Basics Please...

Coffee's Humble Beginnings    Short Coffee History    Coffee Today    Where Coffee is Grown    Coffee Harvesting    Coffee Processing     How Coffee is Roasted    Grind Your Own Coffee    How Long to Grind Coffee    How to Store Your Coffee   Make a Great Cup of Coffee    How Coffee is Decaffeinated

  Coffee's Humble Beginnings

There have been books written about the history of coffee. It has a long and somewhat interesting history. Here's our short version.

There is a legend that a long time ago (some have it around the year 800 BC, others around 500 AD), an Ethiopian goat herder by the name of Kaldi, noticed that some of his goats were frolicking about much more than they normally did. He saw that they had been eating something from a bush with dark shiny leaves. Upon closer inspection, he saw that they had been eating the red berries from the bushes.

Kaldi ate some of the coffee cherries himself, and, being amazed at the stimulating effect that they had, brought some to the local monk.

The monk boiled the cherries and made a beverage that was strong and bitter. Like Kaldi, the monk felt the effect of the caffeine in the drink and liked it very much.

The beverage soon became popular as the monks found that it helped keep them awake during long hours of prayer.

  Short Coffee History

In coffee's early history, it was not consumed in the same way that we do today. Since the pulp of the coffee cherry was sweet, it was first eaten alone or with the seeds (beans). In some places, the green unroasted coffee beans were ground up and mixed with animal fat.

This mixture was then pressed into small lumps and was used by travelers for energy.

The Arabs were the first to use the green coffee beans alone. After removing the pulp and skin, they would crush the green beans and mix them with water to make their coffee drink.

It was not until the 14th century that the current method of roasting coffee became popular. And even then, for many years, the drink and the grounds were consumed together.

  Coffee Today

Today, coffee is enjoyed in every country in the world. In terms of trade, coffee is second only to oil in dollars traded.

It is grown in more than 50 countries world wide with about 30 of those countries producing more than 5,000,000 tons of coffee each year. For many of these countries, their economic success pivots on the success of their coffee crops.

Brazil is by far the largest supplier of coffee today. Columbia is second with about 2/3rds of Brazil's production.

Americans consume more than 1/3rd of the total coffee grown in the world. The green coffee beans come in to our country through New York, New Orleans and San Francisco and from there are shipped to coffee roasters around the states.

Hawaii is the only place in the USA where coffee is grown.

  Where Coffee is Grown

All coffee is grown between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. These names represent two imaginary "lines" that circle our globe approximately 23 degrees north and south of the equator. Here in the "middle of the world", the climate is warm and humid - necessary conditions for growing the sensitive coffee plant.

Although there are more than 60 varieties of coffee that grow in the world, only two are commercially cultivated. These are Arabica and Robusta.

Arabica coffee is a higher quality coffee. It is naturally lower in caffeine than Robusta and grows at elevations of 3000 to 6000 feet and above, where frost is rare. The Arabica tree is not as hardy as the Robusta, and a single Arabica tree typically yields only 1 - 1 pounds of green coffee beans per season. Gourmet coffee companies purchase the highest grades of Arabica beans.

Robusta coffee plants are more resistant to disease and drought than the Arabica and are grown from sea level up to 2000 feet. Robusta trees yield twice as many beans per tree per season, but produce a coffee that is of lower quality. Most Robusta beans are blended with Arabica coffees and used by large commercial coffee companies for canned and instant coffees.

  How Coffee is Harvested

Coffee is really a fruit. Coffee branches form delicate white, jasmine-like blossoms that last for a little more than a day. These blossoms give way to coffee "cherries" that are red and round and very much resemble our own native cherries. It takes 3 to 5 years for the plants to begin producing and that is possible only with the proper combination of climate, rain, sunshine and shade.

Arabica coffee plants do best in rich, volcanic mountain soil. The higher elevations cause the coffee bean to grow more slowly, which in turn leads to a more aromatic and flavorful coffee.

Harvesting is done either by handpicking or by machine stripping. When done by hand, cherries are picked off the tree or from the ground. Since only the ripe coffee cherries are picked, each tree can be picked numerous times during a season. The stripping method strips the tree of all its cherries at once and is done when most of its cherries are ripe. Most coffee is still picked by hand.

But the cherries are not what the coffee farmers are seeking. Rather, the prize is the twin coffee beans inside the coffee cherry.

  How Coffee is Processed

Coffee cherries must be processed soon after harvesting to prevent the pulp from fermenting around the bean. There are two types of processing known as dry and wet processing.

Dry processing is sometimes called "unwashed" or "natural" processing. Cherries are spread outside for 15 to 20 days. The cherries are exposed to the sun and stirred regularly to help them dry evenly. The dried cherries are then hulled by hand or by machine, removing the dried out pulp and parchment. This is the way coffee has been processed for centuries.

The other type of processing is known as wet or "washed" processing. A few hours after the cherries are harvested, the pulp is removed from the cherries. The beans are then washed in a process that involves cycles of fermentation and rinsing. Small amounts of fermentation don't hurt the bean but softens the remaining pulp and skin, making them able to be easily rinsed off. This is a better type of processing because it causes less damage to the bean than dry processing.

Once the coffee beans have been processed, they are sorted by size and looks, then bagged ready for shipment. Coffee beans that don't make the "grade" for export are normally used on a local basis.

  How Coffee is Roasted

The most important step in getting coffee into your cup is the roasting. Roasting coffee is both an art and a science, requiring years of experience and the right type of roasting equipment.

Green coffee beans are roasted at temperatures ranging from 370 to 450 degrees for up to 20 minutes. During this time they lose 18 to 23% of their weight and increase in size by 35 to 60%. They change color from a light straw green color to medium brown or dark brown, depending upon the degree of roast. The bean splits open and brings out the rich aroma of the coffee.

Roasting is merely the "cooking" of the bean. How much the bean is roasted is what is called the degree of roast. The less it is cooked, the "lighter" or "milder" the roast. There are different terms used for the degree of roast. Some use the words Mild - Mild-Medium - Medium - Medium-Dark - Dark.

Today, another common naming of roasting is after countries -- American roast, French roast, Italian roast, Turkish roast. These all go from light to dark, from mild in taste to downright burnt tasting.

  Grind Your Own Coffee

Although there are differences of opinion as to how long it takes for coffee to lose its flavor, everyone agrees that it does.

We believe that fresh beans, if properly stored, will last up to 3 weeks and retain most of their fresh roasted flavor. On the other hand, ground coffee, once open from a can or vacuum pack, will last only about a week before it losses its fresh flavor. It's just plain and simple, whole beans stay fresher longer.

When you grind your own beans, you are treating yourself to one of life's simple, little, inexpensive, and wholesome pleasures.

  How Long Should You Grind Your Coffee

The type of coffee maker you use should determine the length of time that the coffee is in the grinder. Less time in the grinder means a "coarser" ground coffee. If the grind isn't right for your type of maker, it won't make coffee that tastes like it should. In some cases, the maker may even become clogged.

For normal drip makers (the kind most people have), do a medium grind of about 15 to 20 seconds. Gently shake the grinder a few times to make sure all the beans get ground.

For espresso machines the grind should be between a medium and fine grind, or 20 to 25 seconds in the grinder. Too long and it may get clogged, to short and the espresso will be watery and weak.

The best grind for coffee makers with a cone filter is a fine grind. Grind the coffee for at least 25 to 30 seconds. A fine grind is also used on vacuum pot coffee makers.

If you have a French Press, grind the coffee for approximately 10 to 12 seconds for a coarse grind.

  How Should You Store Your Coffee

The question always comes up - How do you store your coffee? In the freezer? In the refrigerator? In the sock drawer?

We wish we could tell you, but no one seems to agree on this one (although the fridges have the freezers out numbered 2 to 1). Common sense tells us airtight and out of the light is very important.

We suggest keeping your fresh North Coast Coffee beans in the airtight, tin tie bag that they came in. After each use, roll down the bag as much as possible to minimize the amount of air in the bag and put it in the cupboard by the coffee grinder/maker.

Keep it simple!

  How to Make Great Cup of Coffee

Great coffee starts with great water. Use fresh, cold water. If your tap water doesn't taste good, don't use it. Use bottled or spring or filtered water (not distilled water).

Just as important as the water is the coffee. It has to be fresh and it has to be stored properly. Grind only what you need for the coffee you are about to make. Make sure that the coffee pot, filter holder or whatever it is you are using to brew your coffee is clean and rinsed well.

How much coffee is a matter of taste. Start with 2 level tablespoons for each eight ounces of water and go from there. (If you really like strong coffee, start with 2 tablespoons). If you really don't want to mess with measuring, you may want to try what we do. We simply fill your coffee maker to the top of the metal basin and the ground coffee that results is perfect for a 10 "cup" drip maker.

After brewing, always remove the grounds immediately to keep the next pot from tasting bitter. Serve the coffee as soon as it brews. If you plan on having more later, pour the coffee into a vacuum bottle to keep the fresh taste. Coffee that sits on a warmer will soon become stale and bitter.

  The Decaffeination Process of Coffee

Caffeine, which is found in coffee and other foods (cocoa, tea), is that substance that keeps us awake, both when we need it and when we don't want it. Unfortunately, to some people this and other side effects of caffeine are not welcome.

Decaffeinated coffee or "decaf" is coffee that has had most of the caffeine removed. By weight, the amount of caffeine found naturally in coffee is only about 1% for the Arabica and 2% for the Robusta coffee beans.

When you read "97% Caffeine Free", 97% of that 1% or 2% has been removed.

There are currently two methods used commercially that remove caffeine from coffee, the European method and the Swiss water process.

The European Method of Decaffeination: Most decaf coffees are made using a chemical process first used in Europe. This process involves soaking the beans in water and then "washing" them in ethylene chloride to absorb the caffeine from the bean.

After this, the beans are rinsed clean of the chemicals, dried and shipped to the coffee roasters. The advantage of this method is that it provides decaf coffee with more flavor than the Swiss water processing.

Although there is virtually no trace of any chemicals left in the bean after roasting, some people are uncomfortable knowing that the coffee they are drinking was chemically processed.

The Swiss Water Method of Decaffeination: The second method is known as "Swiss water processing". This process uses no chemicals, but rather hot water and steam to remove the caffeine from the coffee.

The "life" of the bean is taken into the water, and then the water solution put through activated charcoal filters to remove the caffeine. Once the caffeine is removed, these same beans are then put back into the decaffeinated solution to reabsorb everything except the caffeine.

The beans are then dried and shipped to the roasters. The disadvantage is that the water processing removes more than just the caffeine. Some of the oils from the coffee bean are removed as well, making it less flavorful.

The best thing to do for those who really want this kind of decaf is to start out with a high quality, Arabica bean. Even though some of the flavor will be lost, there will still be a lot left to enjoy.

Be sure to visit our friends at Coffee Facts for even more coffee information!



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