Ever wondered about the history of coffee, or how to make and store it? The Main Street Trolley in Jefferson, Maryland, is excited to be offering our own exclusive Dublin Roaster’s blend of gourmet coffee. We’re so excited, in fact, we thought we would tickle the taste buds with a little coffee history and some hints and tips for getting the most out of your brew.
The Legend of the Dancing Goats
Consumers today can find coffee beans that are grown all over the world. No matter where they are grown, they all trace their roots to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau, where coffee trees still grow to this day.
Legend has it that a goatherd named Kaldi once noticed that the goats who ate the berries from a certain kind of tree became so lively that they didn’t want to sleep at night. He called them his dancing goats. Curious, he tried the berries himself and felt their energizing effect, too. One version tells that Kaldi showed the beans to monks at a local monastery. The monks embraced the drink, for it kept them awake for prayers. Another version says that Kaldi related all of this to a local monk — who disapproved. He threw the berries into the fire, but the enticing aroma caused him to quickly retrieve the beans, grind them up, and brew them into the first ever cup of coffee.
While we will never know what is true or not, coffee lovers the world over appreciate the smell of fresh-roasted beans, and the taste of this delicious drink.
Coffee Comes to the Colonies
We do know that coffee gradually spread eastward from Ethiopia to the Arab peninsula. It was the Arab people who were the first to cultivate and then trade coffee beans. By the 15th century, coffee was grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia; by the 16th century, knowledge of the “wine of Araby” was common in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey.
Coffee was enjoyed in private homes and public coffee houses throughout the Near East. The popularity of the coffee houses was such that they evolved into noteworthy places for conversation, music performances, and games of chess. They became so important in the exchange of information that they became known as “Schools of the Wise.”
Pilgrims to Mecca came from around the world, spreading word of this delicious beverage upon their return home. By the 1600’s, coffee had made its way to Europe, and from there soon spread across the continent. Coffee arrived in Venice in 1615, where the local clergy declared it the “bitter invention of Satan.” Fortunately for modern coffee lovers, Pope Clement the VIII was asked for his opinion on the subject. Before deciding, he tasted it — and immediately liked it so much, he gave it Papal approval.
It is thought that coffee beans were brought to the Americas by the Dutch to New Amsterdam in the mid-1600’s, where they were sold at market. The earliest reference we have for the drink is from 1668 in New York and it tells of a beverage made from roasted beans and flavored with sugar or honey, and cinnamon. Tea however, not coffee, reigned supreme in the Colonies until 1773. It was when the Colonists revolted against the heavy tax on tea that patriots changed their preferred drink to coffee.
Beans and the Roasting Process:
How is coffee made before it reaches you? Roasting is the process that takes the green beans and turns them into the lovely aromatic gems that we love so much. Beans are added to roasters at about 550 degrees Fahrenheit, while a mechanism keeps everything moving to prevent burning. Then the beans are heated until their internal temperature reaches 400 degrees, at which time they start to turn brown and release internal oils. When the process is complete, the beans are quickly cooled by air or water.
There are three general areas of origins for beans: Latin America, Arabia/Africa, and Asia/Indonesia/Pacific Islands. Each area imparts certain flavor characteristics that are not changed by the roast or brew methods.
Beans originating in Latin American generally have lighter body and higher acidity. Beans from Arabia/Africa are medium bodied. Those coffees grown in Asia/Indonesia/Pacific Islands have lower acidity and heavy body, with earthy, hearty flavors.
Coffee is roasted to light, medium, medium-dark, or dark.
Coffee Roasts and what they mean:
- Light roasts – light body, no oils on bean surface, yield high acidity, no obvious “roast flavor.” This is an ideal roast for tasting the origin characteristics.
- Medium roasts – no oils on bean surface, increased body and lowered acidity levels, and a more balanced flavor, aroma, and acidity. Medium-roasted beans lose the grainy taste common to light-roasted beans.
- Medium-dark – richer color and some oil begins to show; yields heavier-bodied coffees.
- Dark roasts – oil sheen on surface is evident, roast flavors are clearly evident over origin characteristics. May have bitter, smoky, or even burnt taste.
Brewing Tips (AKA how to brew coffee):
Start with clean equipment. Oily residues may cause rancid or bitter flavors. It is the method of brewing that determines the best grind of coffee. Generally the finer the ground, the more quickly the brew process should be (e.g. espresso = very fine grind). If your coffee tastes bitter, the coffee may be ground too finely. Try a slightly courser grind next time.
Not everyone is inclined to grind their own coffee, but doing so will give you the best results. Beans should be ground just before steeping.
Pro Tip: Burr-style grinders are considered superior to blade-styles, as they grind the coffee to a consistent size.
The general rule-of-thumb is to start with 2 tablespoons of ground coffee for every six ounces of water. Once you have a baseline for your coffee, add or subtract a little until you find what tastes best. Remember the best coffee is the one you like, made the way you like it.
Some coffees are better for stronger brews; other less so. Have fun discovering the individual characteristics of artisan coffees!
Pro Tip: Use cold water to brew. Avoid distilled or softened water.
Keep beans and blends away from excessive air, moisture, heat, and light (in that order).
Beans keep better than pre-ground coffee.
Do not freeze or refrigerate your daily stash of coffee. Exposure to moisture will cause the flavors to deteriorate. Instead, store in air-tight containers in a cool, dark location.
Want to freeze in bulk? Coffee stored in air-tight bags may be kept frozen for up to one month. Once removed, do not refreeze, but move them to air-tight containers and keep in a cool, dark locations.
Remember: Coffee beans that have been roasted have a short lifespan of 1-2 weeks. Unless you are going to freeze your beans, be sure to use them before they lose their flavor.
Love coffee? Further Reading: http://en.ilovecoffee.jp/ (Full of lots of lovely tidbits and info graphics about our favorite drink!)