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All Ground Up

Some one thousand one hundred sixty years ago, an Ethiopian goat herder noticed one of his goats acting unusually.  He watched the animal eating red berries from a bush. The goat herder tried some of the berries himself and had an exuberating feeling.

He took his discovery to the nearest monastery and showed them to the monk, who promptly tossed them in a fire as something so mystical it must be from the devil himself.  Soon, however, the aroma of roasted coffee beans wafted through the air, and before they knew it, a Starbucks appeared on the monastery courtyard! Well, the Starbucks part isn’t true, but the discovery of a simple goat herder has the entire world jittery!

Even today, Ethiopian coffee is the pick of the crop.  Yirgacheffe coffee (pronounced yir-ga-keff) is still picked from wild coffee trees and is usually quite expensive at $18-20 per pound.  In 1983 while in Mombasa, Kenya, I fell head over heels in love with Kenyan coffee. I was staying at a Savannah Lodge in Nguluni, and I was introduced to Ethiopian coffee prepared in a cold-pressed fashion.  OMG, it was turbocharged with caffeine, which at first sent me into a state of disorientation. That is to say, I was buzzed but not aware of what was happening to my eyesight and my senses. I began to sweat. From that point, I had it prepared “Americano” style (with water mixed in) so it wasn’t so intense.  I enjoy an “Americano” to this day.

In modern-day Ethiopia, there are over a thousand varieties of coffee!  Somewhere about fourteen degrees north and south of the equator is the best part of the world for growing coffee.  Some coffees are stronger while others are weaker. Somewhere in between the two extremes is the coffee you and I like best.  We’re all familiar with Colombian coffee, but did you know a google search of “varieties of Columbian coffee” will yield over five million results?

Coffee beans from around the world are blended and roasted using jealously guarded witchcraft-like recipes.  Take the Arcadia Valley Roasting Company, for instance. Part owner and a barrister himself, Wade Buckman explained the process of roasting beans starts long before you put them in the roaster.  First, it’s good to select the region of the world where the beans are grown. Then you’ll narrow your selection down to an area within that region. Wade also pointed out that he wanted to pick a plantation that was in sync with his business practices and ethics.  Thus, the search began. It led him to the farm of Manuel and Yesenia Centeno in Nicaragua.

He took his discovery to the nearest monastery and showed them to the monk, who promptly tossed them in a fire as something so mystical it must be from the devil himself.  Soon, however, the aroma of roasted coffee beans wafted through the air...

The picking and handling of coffee beans are as labor intensive as you might suspect.  Pickers harvest only certain colors of bean. These beans are brought to a mill for processing, which involves another hand-sorting.  The beans are spread out on drying tables to prevent the fruit from fermenting much like a bag of apples would. Once the beans are dried, they’re inspected again and placed into sixty-eight kilo (one hundred fifty pound) burlap bags.  These bags are transported to ports where they are placed on ships for distribution around the world. Wade’s coffee supplier notifies him when his order is placed on a ship then tracked to New Jersey. Once in New Jersey, the order is offloaded onto trucks for distribution.  Finally, these tiny beans wind up in Ironton, Missouri. interprets what we smell and taste in coffee: “Aroma also provides a subtle introduction to various nuances of acidity, taste, and flavor: Bitter and sweet tones, fruit, flower or herbal notes and the like.  Acidity is the bright, dry sensations that enliven the taste of coffee. The darker the coffee is roasted, the less overt acidity it will display.”

Since we’re in an area with a plethora of wineries, we’re aware of the even crazier number of varieties of wines: white, Red, sweet, semi-dry, dry, fruity, table wines. There’s even a variety of wines made from different fruits.  It’s dizzying, amirite? Coffee is the same way!

The fruity taste, the roasting level, the region, the country, the plantation, the way the beans are handled, OMG!  There’s even a Periodic Table of Coffee Varieties which lists the major international cultivars. Yes, there’s a difference between cultivars and varieties.  Cultivars are cultivated varieties while varieties grow and reproduce naturally. You can make the exploration of coffee flavors as interesting as wine tasting without the threat of being arrested afterward for DWI.  Coffee is so much safer!

Never having seen the process of roasting coffee beans, Wade explained the almost mystical process. Roasting in small batches of six to seven pounds at a time, the beans must be kept at a strictly-controlled temperature.  Roasting too quickly or at high temperatures ruins the batch. The flavor of a batch can be controlled by roasting for shorter or longer periods and lower or higher temperatures. Each flavor has a different descriptor. Delicate, mild, nippy, piquant, tangy, tart, bitter, sweet, and sour are all words to describe coffee flavors.  Furthermore, the aftertaste, referred to as the finish, has its own descriptors.

We’ve all smelled coffee brewing, and oftentimes we’re smelling the same old Folgers or Maxwell House brew. But we’re missing out!  A discerning nose can pick out those nutty, fruit-like, creamy, and chocolate notes present in all coffees. In any event, there’s a coffee with your name on it— there’s one you like best, your go-to coffee that you hold while curled up on the couch and wrapped in your robe.  The steam rises, and you pull the dark chocolate, fruity scent of a fresh brewed Arabica from Sumatra into your nostrils. Your brain lights up, your taste buds dilate, and the dopamine produced in your brain releases euphoria and pleasant feelings. Feelings we crave. Viva coffee!

The 573 has several shops that prepare coffee with the care and pampering a true aficionado can appreciate.


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