A Brief History

The most common story of coffee's origin is as follows: Once upon a time in the land of Arabia Felix, Ethiopia, lived a goat herder named Kaldi. Kaldi was a sober, responsible goat herder whose goats were also sober, if not responsible. One evening, Kaldi's goats didn't return home and in the morning he found them dancing in abandoned glee near a shiny, dark-leaved shrub with red berries. Kaldi soon deduced that it was the red berries that caused their eccentric behavior and it wasn’t too long before he was dancing with them!

Finally, a learned imam, or monk, from a local monastery came by, sleepily, no doubt on his way to prayer. He saw Kaldi and the goats dancing around the shiny, dark-leaved shrub with the red berries. Being more analytical than the goats or Kaldi, the imam subjected the berries to various experimental examinations - one of which involved parching and boiling. Soon neither the imam nor his fellows fell asleep at prayers. The use of coffee spread from monastery to monastery throughout Arabia Felix and, from there, to the world. We'll never really know if Kaldi or his goats dropped from exhaustion or if they learned to control their habit. We have learned, however, how to make the perfect cup of coffee and how to select just the right beans.

The Nature of Coffee

The coffee plant is a shrub that belongs to the family Rubiaceae, genus Coffea.  Some dozens of species of the genus Coffea are known, but only two are significant in economic terms:  Coffea Arabica and Coffea canephora (also known as Arabica and Robusta, respectively), being the only two that are cultivated on a large scale.  Each of these two species comprises several varieties; some derived from natural mutations and some the results of genetic engineering.   Robusta coffees do not have the fragrance or flavor of the best Arabica coffees but they are more resistant to disease and grow at lower altitudes.

The coffee plant grows in countries that lie between the two Tropics, in zones where there are no seasonal climatic changes:  there it is always summer or something between spring and summer.  Plants are therefore evergreen and bear fruit in a continuous cycle.  Coffee plants are no exception and lacking rising spring temperatures to prompt flowering, as is the case with plants in our part of the world, they depend on rainfall to this end.  This means that following every rainfall, after about two weeks the plant will flower:  if it rains ten times in a year, the plant will flower ten times.  Therefore, if the rainfall is distributed throughout the year, you find plants simultaneously bearing flowers, ripening fruit and full ripe fruit.

After the flowering period, which lasts only a few days, the ovary of the fertilized flower rapidly develops into a fruit that is initially green in color; by 6-10 weeks the berry has already reached its full size.  During the final weeks the berries change color, becoming first yellow and eventually bright red, with the exception of a few varieties such as Yellow Bourbon whose ripe fruits are yellow.

One interesting fact to remember about coffee:  Each coffee tree yields, on the average, one pound of beans per year.

Coffee Processing

Harvesting is one of the most important factors in how coffee tastes.  As has been stated, coffee berries do not always ripen uniformly.  Therefore, the conscientious grower who wants to get a high price for his coffee will pick the berries selectively; he will go over his trees again and again picking only ripe berries.  Where coffee is carelessly harvested, the berries are stripped just once from the tree, ripe, unripe, and overripe all together.

Once it is picked, coffee can be prepared either by the “dry” method which produces what is called “natural” coffee, or by the “wet” method, which produces “washed coffee”. The “dry” method, which is the older, more primitive method, simply involves drying the berries in the sun or in a mechanical dryer, and later stripping the hard, shriveled husk off the bean, either by modern machine or with a grindstone or mortar and pestle.

The wet method removes most of the covering from the bean before it is dried.  Since the moist bean is liable to damage if treated roughly, the covering must be removed gingerly, layer by layer.  First the skin and pulp are gently stripped off by machine.  This leaves the beans covered with a sticky gluey substance, which if removed mechanically, would damage the bean.  Instead, the beans are soaked, and natural enzymes literally digest or ferment this slimy layer off the bean.  This step is called “fermentation.”

Next, the coffee is gently washed, and finally dried, either by the sun in open terraces, where it is continuously turned and stirred by workers, or in large mechanical driers.  This leaves a last thin skin covering the bean, called the “parchment” or “pergamino.”  Some coffee is sold and shipped in its parchment cover but most often a last machine called a “huller” is used to remove it before shipping.  The huller is also designed to polish the coffee, giving the flinty, dry beans a clean, glossy look especially important to specialty roasters, who sell their coffee in whole bean.

Wet processed coffee is not necessarily better than dry-processed coffee.  Wet processed coffees generally bring higher prices in world markets.  Such coffees tend to be more finely flavored for several reasons:  generally, the better coffees are prepared by the more costly wet method; only ripe cherries are picked for preparation by the wet method whereas coffee produced by the dry method often includes immature and over-ripe cherries; also, allowing the beans to ferment for a short time after the pulp has been removed is said to enhance the flavor.  Processed with care, however, natural coffees can be as good or better than washed coffee. 

Dry processed arabicas are often used as the base of espresso blends then enhanced with wet processed Arabica for flavor and a small amount of robusta for body.  The wet processed Arabica must not be used in too high a proportion for two reasons:  their characteristic acidity is heightened in the preparation of espresso coffee, and their consistency is often very hard and tenacious; after grinding, the particles are still highly homogenous.  To encourage the development of body in the coffee it is better to have particles of different sizes in the ground coffee, as occurs with the dry-processed arabicas.

Espresso

Espresso is the base and heart of our Specialty Coffee drinks.  We have created a Northern Italian style of espresso.  That is to say, it’s not French roasted.  Our espresso is light, sweet, and features a naturally processed Brazilian coffee.  It produces a smooth, citrusy-sweet cup.  This lighter, more delicately roasted espresso can only be perfectly extracted by an astute trained Barista.  The darker the espresso, the smaller the margin for error on the part of the Barista, and so, it is with great care that our Baristas are trained and educated, not to mention their experience level and natural affinity for creating the best espresso shot possible.

High pressure and high temperature water are forced through finely ground, tightly, evenly packed espresso in the portafilter in just about 20-30 seconds.  The result is 2 ounces of espresso.  The perfect cup, served straight, or combined in any number of special ways with milk creates most any drink on an espresso bar menu.

Espresso as a Lifestyle:  Brewed on the Spur of the Moment

One of the meanings of the word espresso (express) is that it is made for a special purpose, on the moment, on order, therefore made for the occasion on express request, extemporaneously rather than fast.  This concept is clarified by the saying “the consumer not the espresso must wait.”  As a direct consequence, once brewed, espresso cannot be kept, and must be drunk just after having been served.  If it is not drunk immediately, the foam shrinks and collapses, breaking into patches on the surface.  After a while, the surface of the liquid is completely free from foam, which has dried out on the walls of the cup above the liquid.

If an espresso is kept waiting, smoothness of taste is lost and perceived acidity increases with time regardless of cooling.  Furthermore, if the cup cools down, and unbalanced saltiness becomes noticeable.