A few days ago I commented on Facebook that everything in life could be solved by one of three things; coffee, Guinness, and exercise. Today I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about item number one on that list. Coffee is not something I drink it’s a passion for me and something I love. I haven’t always been obsessed with good coffee. Before 2005 I never drank it, in fact it wasn’t until a short stint as the manager of a gourmet coffee house and cafe in Williamsburg, VA that I even knew the difference between good coffee and bad. Hey it’s amazing the things you pick up along the way.
Right now I’m drinking Ethiopian coffee from the grocery store. It’s a higher priced brand and single-source. What this means is that the beans have been certified to come from where the package says they did and often from just one farm there. It’s also organic and fair-trade certified. Fair-trade simply means the farmer belongs to a nation or association that has guaranteed fair market value for the coffee product instead of pennies on the dollar that many third world growers receive. Coffee is a multi-billion dollar a year industry second only to Tea in consumption and market. If you haven’t looked for fair trade certified coffee before I highly recommend it. These farmers work hard to bring us our fix and deserve maximum reward for their labor.
Along those lines I’d also recommend you buy organic whenever possible. First off it’s better for the environment and for the local people who live around these plantations. Second it’s better for you. Most Americans drink drip brew coffee and most drip brew sold in the US is lightly roasted to preserve maximum caffeine content and prevent bitterness. The darker a bean is roasted the more imperfections and contaminates are burned off by the roasting oven. Espresso which is one of the darkest roasts also spends less time in contact with water while brewing so less contaminants and pollutants are leached out. Buy organic and this won’t matter. Consequently espresso also has the lowest caffeine content of any coffee roast, shocking isn’t it? In fact 3 shots of espresso contain roughly the same caffeine as one cup of drip brew coffee. Espresso was invented in Italy to speed up the brewing process not concentrate the caffeine so next time you order that triple shot thinking it will give you more of a buzz; it’s not.
Should you go for Light Roast over Dark Roast? As we just learned in the paragraph above Light Roast has more caffeine in it. Light roast also has the highest concentrations of healthy antioxidants and flavanoids along with acids and oils. These natural acids and oils are what tend to irritate people’s stomachs and cause that usual morning coffee enema about 9am or so. This is also why Dark Roast is considered a dinner coffee in most parts of the world; low acidity, oil, and low caffeine and intense taste equal pleasant smooth coffee. Me, I drink dark roast almost exclusively from Central America, and Indonesia.
This brings us to kinds of coffee. There are only two types of beans grown in the world; Arabica, and Robusto. Arabica as the name suggests was developed in Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Coffee as we know it today actually comes from the Arab world as was introduced to the west during the Crusades. Robusto beans are usually grown in Africa or Brazil and are the type used in cooking, instant coffee, and commercial blends found in most restaurants and gas stations. Beyond these two types of bean, most coffee gets its name either from the region it was grown or the type of roast used. For instances French and Italian are popular types of roasts in Europe. The beans are actually Arabica and grown in Brazil along with almost 70% of all coffee in the world.
I drink my coffee black and black only. I enjoy the occasional creamer usually around fall when the Pumpkin Spice one comes out but these creamers are high in sugar and unhealthy fats. The only way to truly taste and appreciate the differences in coffee grown in different regions is to try it black. At first it all tastes bitter but I promise you after a while you start to pick up the subtle flavors in different styles. For instance the Ethiopian coffee I’m drinking now is well-known for its slight mocha chocolate flavor. No there is no chocolate in it the flavor comes from the soil. Ethiopia is believed to be the origin of coffee and where it was first consumed. Another well known coffee growing state in Africa is Kenya. Both nations share rich volcanic soil and another feature common to great coffee growing regions, altitude and abundant rainfall.
The best coffee from around the world is grown at altitudes above 3000 feet and preferably 6000, on the slopes of mountains that receive abundant sunshine and moisture. Most are in areas known for volcanic soil and jungle. For instance Central American coffee like Costa Rican, Colombian and Nicaraguan beans are all mountain grown. The same goes for Jamaican, Sumatran in Indonesia, and Kona in Hawaii. Kona is a region and also a brand and is the only Coffee grown in the United States. California is too dry, and Florida too flat and lacking volcanic soil. Brazil does not feature the elevation of most coffee producing regions but its rich soil and perfect temperature and rainfall more than make up for it and help make it the largest coffee producer in the world.
So there you go a short lesson on coffee and another example of why I’m glad I’m a Modern Savage and not a cave man. If you’re looking to try some great coffees I’ve included a list of my favorites below. Try them out and remember drink slow savor the flavor and be thankful you live in an age where we have coffee.
Costa Rican La Amistad
Columbian Dark Roast
Sumatran Reserve or Java
Jamaican Blue Mountain