Brewing Techniques

History of Coffee

Coffee history is full of legends. The oldest legend dates back to about 600 AD. It is about an Ethiopian goat herder, Kaldi. Legend says that the Kaldi noticed his goats eating berries from a tree that made them dance around, full of energy. Kaldi ate some of the fruit himself, and was amazed at the sense of well being and alertness that occurred. Sometime after, a wandering imam came upon Kaldi and noticed his unusual behavior. Kaldi shared his secret with the holy man, who refined the process by drying the fruit and then boiling it. The resulting drink was used to stay awake during nightlong religious ceremonies. In another legend, the dervish Omar was condemned to wander the desert outside of the port of Moka. At midnight Omar was awakened by the spirit of his dead mentor, and guided to a coffee tree, where he is instructed to pick the fruit and roast the seeds. Trying to soften them in water, he fails, and decides to drink the liquid. He, like Kaldi, is amazed at the resulting benefits, and introduces the beverage to Moka.

History of Coffee

Coffee as we know it was first brewed around 1000 AD. By the 13th century, Muslims were drinking coffee and wherever the people of Islam went, coffee went too! It is said that coffee beans were grown only in Africa and Arabia until about the 1600's. The Dutch first introduced coffee to Europe in about 1615. A coffee plant was opened in Europe in about 1616 and 80 years later the first European-owned coffee estate was founded. Paris was first introduced to this treat around 1714. Several years later a young naval officer, on leave from Martinique, requested clippings from his king's tree and permission was denied. However, the officer led a moonlight raid and legend says he took a sprout and sailed for Martinique. The sprout grew in Martinique yielding a huge forest of 18 million trees in approximately 50 years.

Brazil's emperor wanted a piece of the action and hired an agent to smuggle seeds from French Guiana.These seedlings sprouted the world's greatest coffee empire. By 1800 Brazil's gigantic harvests transformed coffee from an indulgence for the few to an everyday elixir for all the people.

Storing and Brewing Coffee

In the 1800s the cardinal rule when making coffee was to put the grounds into the water and make sure the water came to a boil. This was more about survival than taste because water was full of contaminants and boiling water was the only way to keep from getting sick. In the 1900s, however, it was discovered that the taste of coffee was much better if the water was added after you boiled it to the coffee grounds.

In a sense, this was the birth of brewing coffee in the United States. There are many elements that can affect coffee brewing and either add or detract from the final beverage. Following are some of the elements most crucial to brewing great coffee:

Storing Coffee

How you store coffee directly relates to the quality and taste of your coffee. The best scenario would be to roast your coffee and then grind it and use it immediately. However, most people don't have the time or resources for this, so the trick is to store coffee as well as possible. Keep in mind that coffee is not wine, it does not get better with age (try to use it in 2-3 weeks).

Whole bean, is of course, the best way to store coffee. If you can't drink the coffee you have purchased within a couple weeks, then it is very important that you use an airtight container. Whatever you do, do not store coffee in the freezer, unless you like your coffee to taste like last weeks' fish. Coffee will act like baking soda, and will absorb all smells and tastes of what's around it. If you must store your coffee in the freezer, take it out the night before use and at least store it whole bean, it will absorb less.

Water

You are probably familiar with the phrase that coffee is 98% water, and it is true. You have to consider this if you want to succeed in getting great coffee at home. Water in fact is so important that it is conceivable that specialty coffee retailers should offer after-market filtration devices. Most tap water is full of unpleasant elements, reverse osmosis water has no taste and can be fairly acidic, and bottled water has its own problems in being too acidic.
The best water to use is regular tap water through an activated charcoal filter. (ie. Brita, Waterpik) Tap water has the advantage of being highly oxygenated, which overpowers the acidic aftertaste and brews a great cup of coffee!

Types of Grind

Selecting the appropriate grind for your gourmet coffee beans depends on the method of coffee preparation you use. Generally, coarse grinds require the coffee to remain in contact with the water longer. Finer grinds require only brief contact with water to release essential elements of fragrance, aroma, and flavor.

For instance, finely ground coffee in espresso requires only 20 to 30 seconds of brewing. The flat-bottom filter method needs a medium grind and much longer contact with water to extract the essence of the coffee, usually around 3 minutes.

The following is a list of typical grinds and the brewing methods they should be used for:

Coarse - Percolators and French Press (plunger pots) work best with this grind, giving the grains maximum contact with the water.

Medium - Electric drip coffee makers with basket-type or flat bottom filters require longer water/coffee contact to produce the richest coffee with this grind.

Fine - Cone filters make superb coffee using a fine grind.

Extra-Fine - For a rich dark espresso or Turkish coffee you should always use an extra-fine grind. It is strongly recommend using a burr grinder for extra-fine grinding. Blade grinders do not offer the consistent grind needed to fully extract good espresso.

Different Brewing Methods

There are a couple types of brewing for the home and business consumers. The two most popular are:

French Press
If you like the true taste of coffee, this is an excellent method. The only drawback is the brewed coffee will cool faster than on a traditional heating element, drip brewer. You can buy French Press jackets that will extend the life of your brew.

This method is pretty straightforward. Hot water is poured on top of ground coffee and then the filter is plunged to separate grinds from final brew. The most common mistakes made in French press brewing are the failure to pre-scald the container, and failure to clean the pot. If you pour boiling water into an unheated container the temperature will immediately drop about 20 degrees. This seriously affects the extraction and the final cup.

Electric Drip
While there are a few good models out there, there is one basic problem with electric drip. The machines simply don't get the water temperature high enough. The proper temperature is 195-200F. Most machines out there only get up to 160-170F. The best thing about Electric Drip makers is they are easy to use and most people are pretty familiar with how to use them. My only complaint with them is the heating element tends to cook the brewed coffee, giving it a burnt aftertaste.

The Art of Espresso

Espresso coffee is prepared by a special extraction method, which produces a very concentrated, strong coffee in a short amount of time. Espresso coffee is favorite coffee of Canadian Casino Maple Leaf team. This method takes water at a temperature of 90-95 degrees Celsius and forces it through finely ground and specially roasted coffee at a high pressure (about 9 atmospheres). The contact between the water and the ground coffee varies from 15 to 25 seconds. The amount of ground coffee used for this is between 6.5 to 7 grams. The coffee beans must be roasted to a medium to dark color, and usually blended with other beans to develop the proper extraction. All of this, practiced together in perfect harmony, will produce the perfect shot of espresso.

In review, the following four factors are the most important factors to brewing good espresso:

- Infusion Time
- Water Temperature
- Pressure
- Espresso Blend