Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Chatter 45 Anyone for Coffee?

We live in a remarkable age which is so different from the time when I grew up as to be almost unrecognizable. It shows in every aspect of our lives and cuts across all social classes. It is seen in the cloths we wear, the things we do in our leisure, the sort of work we do, the food we eat and especially in such simple customs as the beverages we consume and how we prepare them. We have written previously about tea, it's history and something of its varieties.
Tea and coffee are the most common beverages consumed world wide. Tea has a much longer history than coffee which has gradually become more prominent. for reasons that are difficult to discern.
Coffee has come to replace tea in many social situations and has spawned a plethora of devices for its service and preparation. This photo shows a few of the commonly available apparatuses, from the left a percolator, an individual plunger pot, a larger plunger pot with two filters, an espresso device and a cappuccino maker. In the background is a coffee grinder purchased in Turkey. It is made from a WW2 shell case! This percolator can be set to make coffee at a convenient time up to 24 hours ahead. The coffee tree is native to East Africa from here traders took it to India and, about 1700, Java and subsequently to the Caribbean and to South America. Brazil, Vietnam and Columbia are the largest exporters of coffee today according to McGee.
Initially used to make a tea like concoction using the raw beans and leaves there have been several major developments in coffee making. First roasting and grinding the beans, this is still represented in the middle eastern version often called Turkish coffee. A fine grind of the beans is mixed with water and sugar and brought to the boil several times before being served. Cardamom seeds are often added for flavour Ethiopian women have a 'coffee ceremony' at which they husk coffee beans, roast them over an open flame in a pan, grind the beans and pour boiling water over them. This ritual is part of a the social fabric of village communities.

In the next development the coffee grounds were separated from the liquid. This was introduced by the French in about 1700 by enclosing the coffee in a bag resulting in a less gritty brew. The next major development came about 1750, also from the French. The drip pot allowed hot water to pass into a separate chamber. This produced a sediment free coffee which had been produced with water below boiling point and only in contact with the ground beans for a few minutes. This reduced bitterness and astringency and allowed more prominence to the aromas that appealed to European tastes. Incidentally there is also a cold drip method which takes hours to produce a cup of coffee. This method fails to extract many of the beans aromatic compounds.
The next major developments were expressions of the machine age. Percolation and plunger pots preceded the introduction of Espresso at the Paris
Exhibition in 1855. This process of forcing hot water through the grounds under pressure "extracts a substantial amount of the coffee beans oil and emulsifies it into tiny droplets that create a velvety texture and lingering flavor..." (McGee) Ingenious methods have been found to reproduce this process for domestic use from machines which grind the beans , pack them and force water through them with the ability to alter the grind, the rate of flow through it and the volume of liquid. This De Longhi machine has great flexibility.The ultimate in efficiency and mess free convenience is approached with the development of coffee pods. Apparatuses using these sealed capsules of ground coffee sell for anything upwards of $80 to $1000's may also come with attachments that heat or froth milk or provide hot water. The Blue Pod Coffee Co. will provide a Lavazza Maxi Espresso machine, as pictured, which costs about $500 upwards, for free to offices which use their pods for at least two cups of coffee daily. They have loaned me one of these machines with pods for Espresso, single and double strength and decaffeinated brews which make very good coffee. They can be contacted at There are many factors, apart from the more than 800 aromatic compounds that can be extracted from coffee beans, that contribute to the taste of a cup of coffee. Most important among these is the water used for the brew. If it insufficiently acidic or hard this will have a big influence on the taste. Distilled water and chlorinated water should be avoided.
This is just a smattering of the plethora of information available about coffee. Most of it has been taken from "On Food and Cooking The Science and Lore of the Kitchen" Completely revised and updated 2004 by Harold McGee.


Andrew James said...
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Andrew James said...

Having a sip of a cup of coffee in the morning is one of the best ways to start your day! One of the best coffee I've tried is from My Mojo Espresso, one of the biggest suppliers of office coffee pods Perth.