coffee culture

I know many friends of mine who drink coffee regularly but do not know that coffee exists in different forms other than instant coffee. There are many who swear by Nescafe Classic or Bru Gold, which they consider premium coffee. I may sound offensive but instant coffee is not the only way; in fact it’s a very bad way of making coffee! Instant coffee cannot match up to brewed coffee’s flavour nor does it have Arabica beans. It uses Robusta beans that are lower in flavour. Don’t know the difference?! Read on…

Is that plant a genius?

That plant might be a genius! It created a chemical that would keep pests away. Fortunately for us and unfortunately for the plant – that plan did not work the way it intended to. The chemical might have averted a few pest attacks, but attracted far greater threat – human beings. The plant I am talking about is coffee and chemical is caffeine.

To begin from the beginning – coffee is from a more mature part of the tree – the seed – unlike other stimulants. The ripe berry is picked and de-pulped leaving us with a seed called ‘green bean’ or ‘green coffee’. Green bean is uncharacteristically bland with a taste nowhere close to that of coffee, but it is valued for its higher antioxidant levels.

It’s an interesting phenomenon to see how this bland green bean turns to a flavourful coffee bean. Coffee bean is a seed and like any other seed is rich in proteins, fats and all necessary ingredients for giving birth to a new plant. When exposed to heat, the fats and carbohydrates in the bean turn into essential oils, which give the characteristic taste and aroma to the coffee bean. The degree of roasting depends on the need or purpose of use.

Grind – These beans are ground so that the surface area of the bean is increased, which makes extraction easier. The bean can be ground or crushed but making the particles uniform will ensure equal extraction, or else the smaller particle will get over extracted and the larger one under extracted. Hence, the burr grinder is used to ensure that the coffee bean gets ground in a uniform way in which all particles are of similar sizes.

Pause – Does under extraction give a lighter coffee and over extraction a stronger one? No. For a lighter or stronger coffee less or more coffee powder has to be used. Why? Under extraction will not get all the flavours of the coffee as the water runs too quickly. It will not get what you want – It will taste sour. Over-extraction will bring out all unnecessary flavours rendering the taste bitter.

Resume –There are numerous ways of converting ground coffee powder to the coffee we can drink. Let’s look at a few of those popular ways:

South Indian Filter

Coffee Filter | Courtesy: Mukesh_Thiru
Coffee-Filter | Courtesy: Mukesh_Thiru
  • – This is a versatile piece of kitchen equipment, but we restrict its use to making only one type of coffee. It is a simple four-piece equipment – a bottom vessel, a top-perforated vessel that fits on top of the bottom one, a plunger-cum tamper that goes into the top vessel and a lid. Fix up the top and bottom vessel; put grounded coffee (1-2 teaspoons) tamp it down with a plunger. Pour hot water on top. The plunger separates the coffee and water from getting into direct contact with each other. This will regulate water flow and prevent over-extraction. Gravity does the act of pulling water to the bottom vessel. Time consuming process but the decoction is strong and flavourful.
  • French Press – A beautiful piece with a cylinder, plunger and lid. Put in coffee ground and pour hot water. Fit the plunger and push it down after 2-3 minutes and enjoy the coffee. Coffee grounds come in direct contact with hot water so it has to be at the right temperature. French press is not capable of giving a strong decoction as it does not utilise gravity or pressure to extract it in a concentrated way. So only black coffee!
  • Espresso Machine – Put coffee grounds into the brew basket. Tamp and fit the brew basket to the machine, and switch it on. The water from the machine’s tank heats and turns to steam. This steam is pressurized and pushed through the tamped coffee grounds. The hot pressurized steam extracts the coffee and flows out. There are different versions of coffee machines – steam-based espresso machines (common) and real espresso machines that pressurize steam (rare).
  • Instant Coffee – Instant coffee is made by freeze drying decoction extracted from coffee grounds in a factory. Why is it bad? – Generally, low-grade Robusta beans are used as the better quality beans are exported or sold. Freeze drying kills all the essential oils and the coffee flavour. So it is made up with either artificial flavours or other methods. So it mainly has caffeine but loses much of its taste.

Apart from the coffee making process, there is a difference in the type of coffee bean too. Instant coffee uses Robusta beans, while brewed coffee mainly uses Arabica beans. Arabica has a milder, more aromatic taste, while Robusta possesses a stronger, harsher flavour. Most of the brewed coffee varieties we get in the Indian market are blends of Arabica and Robusta.

Specialty Coffee

These are high quality coffees that differ from normal coffee in terms of visual quality or taste. It is a type of coffee that is specifically grown in specific conditions such as altitude, climate, soil, shade grown, plant type, etc. Since all the best conditions come together we get a better tasting coffee and the taste is consistent unlike in blending. Obviously, it is costly too. Categories of specialty coffees are:

  • Single Origin Coffee – Coffee grown at a single geographical location or estate. E.g. Dark Forest by Coffee Day
  • Organic coffee – Coffee grown without using chemicals and pesticides are in great demand
  • Variety Coffee – Certain varieties are known to possess good inherent quality due to the genetic make-up of the plant.

Coffee making is very enjoyable act personally to me and I believe it would be to you too. Take it up and try it. I am sure you would love the buzz, the excitement in the making of a cup and everything else.

Factfile –
http://www.indiacoffee.org
http://www.coffeebeansblog.co.uk
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com