So what is coffee? Originally from Ethiopia it has, over the last 500 years become one of the most popular beverages in the world. It grows mainly around the equator regions, but extends as far south at southern Brazil and Madagascar, and as high north as Mexico and Nepal. It grows on an evergreen bush which, if left un-pruned, can reach 10 meters tall.
Robusta vs. Arabica
There are generally two types of coffee that are cultivated. These are Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is considered to be higher quality and makes up most of the world coffee production. Robusta exhibits a more bitter taste due to the higher amount of Pyrazine in the bean. As a result Robusta is sometimes used in lower quality coffees to give that distinctive, strong, bitter flavour. Robusta also has a higher caffeine content of about 2.5% – 2.8% to Arabica’s 1.4% – 1.7%. Robusta also has higher yields and will grow in harsher conditions that Arabica, making it perfect for cultivation in dryer conditions, or where pests are more prevalent. Most of the Robusta is grown in Vietnam, Africa, and Brazil.
Almost all specialty coffee is Arabica. The flavour is smoother, more refined, and has greater complexity. With most high quality Arabica coffee being grown in shaded areas, the bushes yield less fruit, but with greater flavour.
How much coffee is produced?
Over 60% of the worlds coffee is produced in just 4 countries, these are Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Colombia with 34% of all coffee in the world coming from Brazil alone. Coffee is second only to oil as the biggest traded commodity in the world, with over 100 million people in developing countries dependant on the trade of coffee.
Other countries that produce coffee are places such as India, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Peru and Papua New Guinea to name a few.
Coffee develops on the bush as a berry, with a seed inside, the seed being the coffee bean. Once picked, the fruit of the berry is removed and the seeds washed before being laid out to dry. Some beans are then further scrubbed to clean them further. What you are left with is a green coffee bean which must then be roasted.
Roasting is usually done on a commercial scale with very large roasters able to roast hundred, if not thousands of kilograms an hour. However, most specialty roasting is done in smaller roaster with a capacity anywhere from 1kg to 100kg, this way smaller quantities can be roasted and it enables the roaster to have a finer degree of control over the operation.
It can take many years to become an expert roaster and it requires a very good knowledge of not only coffee, but also what roast works for a particular bean. Some beans will roast differently from others. They can have different sugar levels, humility levels, densities, or size. These are just some of the things a roaster must be aware of so that they can try and extract from the bean its full potential.
Preparation of coffee is important, but perhaps most important is the grind. Too coarse and your coffee will be too weak, too fine and it may be too strong. It depends on what type of coffee you are drinking. Espressos should have a finer grind, French press a coarser. Drip filters are best avoided with specialty coffee. They are not best suited to extracting the more delicate flavours of the coffee, and usually produce a very strong, acrid cup of coffee.
Coffee and Health
There are many health benefits to drinking coffee. It has been shown to fight certain types of cancer such as prostate and liver, while improving brain function and concentration. Some studies have also shown a positive impact on heart function.
The antioxidants in coffee have been shown to stop free radicals in the body from being able to cause cell damage.
There is, with any food product, down sides. However, with coffee these play a small role. Coffee is simply not for some people. Those with some forms of heart or circulatory problems can experience heart ‘flutters’ or more serious effects. Instant coffee (which is best avoided all together) also has elevated levels of Acrylamide which can cause health problems as in large doses is toxic.
Overall, coffees positive health benefits out weigh the negative, but as with any food product, it should be consumed in moderation. Drinking 10 straight espressos is not likely to kill you, so much as leaving you feeling very nauseous. If you do feel bad side effects from consuming coffee, you really should see a doctor.
Ciao for now