Some of the greatest discoveries of humankind have been made by accident –this is called serendipity. One of the first of such important accidents of the 20th century may be the accidental discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming. Another much more ancient but accidental discovery for many connoisseurs in the world is discovering the coffee plant.
All historians agree that the birthplace of coffee is the Abyssinian region of Kaffa. The legend of the discovery of coffee is as follows. An Abyssinian shepherd called Kaldi discovered the coffee plant when his sheep became very stimulated and excited after consuming a particular shrub’s cherries. This is the most popular version of its discovery of the coffee plant. However, coffee does not derive its name from the region where it was first discovered. It gets its name from the Arabic word qahwah, which means plant beverage. The word coffee encompasses the plant, the cherry, the roasted blend, and, finally, the beverage. Two plants from the same botanical family but with different natures produce coffee. They are Coffee Arabica and Coffee Robusta. The production of Arabica is more worldwide, accounting for about three-quarters of world production compared to Robusta. There are marked differences between the two plants, their seeds, and the beverage-coffee, which is the final result.
Humankind all over the world consumes it though different cultures have different methods of preparation. Coffee making is both an art and a science. Every processing and production stage is important to get the ultimate-an aromatic, strongly flavored cup of coffee. Coffee is made by using the seeds of the coffee plant. The coffee beans are removed from the fruit, and the rest of the cherry is discarded. It goes through a long process before it reaches you in the form of a stimulating and refreshing beverage.
The quality of green coffee is not very obvious; hence it is good to taste various blends before buying them. When required in large quantities, green coffee could be sifted using an electronic sorting machine. This machine rejects fermented or unripe beans, which may be the cause of spoiling an entire batch of coffee. Hence the first step in getting an excellent blend is using good quality and consistent Arabica coffee beans. After selecting high-quality beans, the next process is slowly roasting the coffee beans using optimum temperature and procedures to ensure that every bean develops a full-bodied flavor and its typical brown color. The roasted beans are then “air-cooled” and packed immediately in pressurized containers to prevent oxidation. This helps in maintaining the quality of the bouquet of the blend for years.
Now that the coffee beans have been roasted to perfection and stored in airtight containers, the next step would be to prepare an excellent coffee cup. There are many methods to prepare a good cup of coffee. One of the best and perhaps the most popular method is the espresso method.
This method was invented in Italy. This method combines physics and chemistry principles to achieve the maximum intensity of taste and flavor. Using the espresso method, both the soluble substances, which are flavourful and insoluble substances (the oils and colloids), which give body and aroma, are released. Two dimensions, which add to the flavor of espresso, are the body and the aroma. When the coffee is finely ground, the surface area of its contact with water increases. Hence the extraction of soluble compounds also increases, and this adds to its final flavor.
Storing coffee is not a problem for a busy restaurant or a coffee house. The domestic consumer shouldn’t store coffee in large quantities, as it is quite perishable. However, the domestic consumer is attracted by low prices for large quantities and often regrets his decision later. The coffee, especially the foreground, loses its flavor in a short while of home storage. It is better to buy small quantities of freshly roasted ground blends at a time. Ideally, it is best to buy whole beans and grind small quantities as and when needed.
To grind fresh coffee, one can use a small burr type espresso grinder. These machines give a uniform grind and do not over roast the coffee beans. This is necessary for proper extraction by the espresso machines.
Different coffees from the various regions of the world require different degrees of roasting. The blending of both Arabica and Robusta also varies all over Italy. In Northern Italy, a higher percentage of Arabica is used. This leads to lighter espresso roasts. In the South, a higher percentage of Robusta is used. This not only leads to darker blends but also stronger coffee. When compared to Arabica, Robusta has higher caffeine content.
The strength of a coffee is different from its bitterness. When the coffee is poorly packed, or the beans are low quality, or over roasted, then the resulting coffee is bitter. The beans should not be too oily or black but have a deep brown color for optimum quality. The best way of obtaining freshly ground coffee is to live next to a coffee-processing unit. However, this is not practical for everyone, so the best option is to buy vacuumed packed coffee, which slows down the flavor decrease to a bare minimum. The best coffee roasters in the world use the technique of nitrogen flushing in their cans or bags. In this process the air is removed from the container, and nitrogen, which is an inert gas, is flushed in. This decreases oxidation to such a low level that the product remains fresh for a very long period of time. However, once you open the bag, the coffee will start aging; hence airtight containers as temporary storage jars are advised. Hence it is always advisable to buy small quantities of coffee. When stored in a cool place away from light and moisture, whole beans may be stored for a period between 10 to 15 days. Preground coffee should last for a period of 3 to 7 days under similar conditions. Coffee blends or whole beans may be stored in the refrigerator in airtight containers. If you need to store coffee in the refrigerator, this is a sure indication that you are buying excessively.
It is said that four M’s are the key to unlocking the treasures of a good cup of coffee. They are Miscela (blend), Macinazione (grind), Macchina (machine), and Mano
Homemade coffee in Italy is an art. There are various methods of preparation. Some of them are:
In this method, a stovetop pot is used. The bottom section is filled with water. A filter section filled with the coffee blend is in the middle. An upside covers this down pot. When the water boils, the pot is overturned to let the water filter through the middle’s coffee. This brew is quite mild though the flavor is robust. A very dark, quite finely ground roast is used.
This is also a stovetop method. A three-section stovetop is used in this method. Water is boiled in the bottom section. When the water boils, it expels the air above it through a valve. The resulting vacuum forces the hot water in an upward direction, and hence it travels through the middle section where the coffee blend has been put. Finally, it reaches the upper section through a tube, and the coffee is poured out from this section. Many Italian families use this method to give an aromatic and full-bodied coffee, which comes close to a real espresso’s flavor.
Home Espresso Machine
Although this is a scaled-down model of professional espresso machines, it does give a fairly good cup of espresso coffee. The higher-end models duplicate the professional ones to a great extent. They use an electric pump to force highly pressurized water through a heat exchanger or a heating element and then through the finely ground coffee and finally into a cup. Milk is frothed in for a cappuccino through a separate steam nozzle. When an espresso machine is used at home, it is advisable to have a small burr type grinder to get an optimum coffee cup.
Italians consider the making of coffee as an art form comparable to their renaissance masters. Those who perfect the art of making an excellent cup of coffee are called baristas. Many of these accomplished baristas use a prewarmed demitasse to make a good cup of espresso. The art of making a good cup of espresso is called “pulling a shot “ and most baristas develop their own techniques as a cup of espresso is quite fragile and loses its flavor quite rapidly. It is also advisable not to transfer the espresso to another container; hence many baristas use the demitasse to serve espresso. The art of making an espresso is a science by itself. The time used, the extraction rate, the pressure used the blend used are some of the various factors that need to be controlled before you get that excellent cup of espresso in your hand.
Espresso is also the foundation of other drinks such as lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, and macchiatos. These are also popular varieties among coffee drinkers though the original coffee in Italy is the espresso. So the next time you reach out for a refreshing coffee, cup preferably an espresso, you can spend a few seconds dwelling on its origins and its complexity before being overwhelmed by its flavour, which will lift your senses to new heights.