Coffee lovers around the world cannot survive a day without their morning cup and mid-afternoon pick-me-up. This bold, stimulating, and aromatic drink has gained much popularity over time and continues to refine tastes among coffee drinkers. While there is little doubt that the caffeine contained in coffee is the stimulant that draws people to this drink, much as alcohol does to wine, the true coffee connoisseur, or even the coffee regulars can distinguish between different beans, roasts, and blends of coffee. The flavor, aroma, depth, and intensity all add up to uniquely identify types of coffee.
Roots of Coffee
History traces the origins of coffee to the Arab traders in 1000 A.D after its discovery in Ethiopia, where local tribes consumed the berries for their stimulating effects. Coffee plantations sprang up in the Arab homeland, producing beans the Arabs used to prepare the earliest known version of “qahwa” – a drink that would keep them awake. Coffee’s journey continued from there on to Turkey and then to Italy, whereas we know, it underwent a process of refinement that ultimately led to the famous Italian espresso.
The Coffee Bean
As coffee’s popularity gained momentum, its cultivation spread to various regions of the world. The genus Coffea is a tropical, flowering shrub or tree that produces the beans that are ground, roasted, and marketed. Two species of coffee — Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora, or robusta — are the source of all coffees. Arabica is grown mainly in Central and Latin American countries, whereas Robusta hails from Africa. Indonesia, India, and other Asian countries also produce coffees of both species.
The essence of a particular coffee stems from its origin. The soil and climatic conditions of the region contribute to the character of the coffee beans, imparting fragrance and depth, and the flavor it will ultimately possess, once it undergoes the roasting process. Coffees can be roasted either as single-origin or blends, which essentially means that different varieties of coffee beans from varied sources have been blended and roasted to produce a range or brand of coffee. The term “single-origin” refers to coffee beans cultivated in a specific geographic location. This may mean a particular farm, region, or a collection of seeds from one specific country. They are considered “pure” and known by names such as Kenyan and Sumatran. Pure coffees need no more than a light roasting process to develop their full-body, acidity, and aroma. Excessive roasting, which causes significant chemical and physical alterations to the original coffee beans, disguises the actual quality of a coffee.
The coffee movement has led to a significant demand for quality single-origin coffees. Coffee company representatives often travel to various coffee-growing regions to find the best coffee beans for the industry. Non-profit programs, such as the Cup of Excellence and the Coffee Quality Institute, have generated a growing awareness of coffee quality and varieties and brought the coffee-growers and consumers closer together.