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The Origin Of The Coffee Bean
The science of coffee-making has been around for a very long time. There are a lot of stories floating around about where coffee really originated from, and who the first person was that discovered this wonderful creation.
Historians will agree that the first known account of coffee consumption was discovered in the land of Ethiopia and Yemen. Written accounts of coffee consumption go back as far as the 14th century when people would use the coffee leaves as a medicine to heal the sick.
Perhaps they had realised even back then what we are just now beginning to uncover with modern medicine: that coffee has a lot of amazing medicinal properties and has been scientifically proven to have a positive effect on the brain and the body, increase human longevity, prevent diseases like cardiovascular illnesses and even help manage mental illnesses such as ADHD because of its stimulant properties.
Between Ethiopia and Yemen, it is a question of contention which country was the first to discover the coffee plant. Each of these cultures has their own version of the story of how coffee was discovered.
You might have heard the legend of Khalid, the goat herder from Ethiopia, who was the first to discover coffee and introduce it into the Islamic world. It goes something like this:
Khalid was a young goat herder who was herding his goats on a small hill near an Islamic monastery. As they began to graze the highlands, he noticed a few of them were turning excitable and behaving erratically. They started ‘dancing’ around, bleating loudly and running to and fro, and had become difficult to herd. On investigating the area, he stumbled upon a small coffee shrub with red and orange cherries on it, that the goats had apparently eaten.
Out of curiosity, he decided to eat some of the cherries himself. As expected, Khalid felt the awakening effects of coffee himself and felt energetic and happy. In his exhilaration, he pocketed more of the berries and brought them to the nearby monastery to be shown to the monks.
The monks, however, did not have a favorable opinion of these strange berries, assuming they were similar to poppy seeds or alcohol. They told Khalid these cherries were the ‘Devil’s work,’ and tossed them into the nearby fire in disdain.
However, in the fire, the beans began to roast, filling up the monastery with the lovely aroma of the coffee beans. According to legend, the energizing aroma of the beans was enough to change the monks’ opinion. They realized that this is not a harmful drug like that in a poppy plant, and removed the roasted beans from the fire. They crushed the beans and dipped them in water to extinguish the glowing red embers.
The monks in the monastery realized over time that the awakening effects of the coffee water from the pot was a great boon for them to be able to meditate and study for long periods of time. This prompted them to grow this plant in the monastery, so they would be able to drink the beverage every morning to aid them in their study and meditations.
This is a legend that has inspired the western world for centuries, and even today you will find coffee shops and roasting companies called ‘The Wandering Goat,’ and ‘Kaldi’s Coffee.’ Although it is not confirmed by historians to be true, it has inspired many such similar stories that talk about the benefits and positive effects of coffee all over the world.
In spite of these stories circulating in most of Asia, Africa, and the Americas, coffee did not come to the Western and European world until almost the 17th century, during the beginning of colonization in those regions.
The reason the Western world was kept away from the wonders of this plant for so long is really a result of a lack of knowledge. Coffee is grown in a very specific part of the world called the Bean Belt, which is a stretch of latitudes just above and below the equator, where at specific altitudes, the temperature, humidity, and environmental conditions such as soil quality are perfect for coffee production.
However, today, the Western world ranks highest with respect to coffee imports per dollar value, with the United States at 19%, and Germany, France, and Italy following closely at 11%, 8%, and 5% respectively. In fact, in America, coffee is an integral part of the culture. Millions of Americans wake up every day to their favorite cup of coffee. The superhit sitcom Friends chose to make the main characters’ favorite hang-out spot a coffee shop called Central Perk, instead of late-night bars and clubs which had been the trend in most sitcoms up until then.
Starbucks, a well-known coffee chain based in Seattle, Washington, has become a cultural phenomenon all over the world. Millions of people line up every day across the globe for their favorite cup of coffee.
I myself wake up every morning craving my cuppa. To me, it is a relaxing and rejuvenating hobby and an escape from the world, even just for a few minutes. It is a perfect substitute for a morning session of meditation, as watching the crema rise and boil over into my Moka pot every morning is an exercise in mindfulness with a kick.
There is something very real and satisfying about putting in the physical effort to create something by hand, from scratch, right before I escape into a world that has been systematically downplaying the importance and value it gives to physical work and seems to consider only knowledge-based and mental skills worthy of societal recognition.
Brazil: The Capital of Coffee Production
As an avid coffee enthusiast, I wanted to explore in depth and detail where my coffee originates and which countries coffee is most preferred all around the world. A bit of research reveals that Brazil is the biggest coffee producer and exporter in the world. About one-third of the world’s coffee originates and is produced in Brazil.
This means that coffee makes up one of the primary reasons why this country is advancing so fast in its economic development making it one of the BRICS nations. Brazil has been the biggest coffee exporter and producer for close to a century and a half now.
Brazil exports primarily three types of coffees, and its industry is divided so: fresh whole coffee beans, pre-ground coffee in bags or containers, and instant coffee, similar to Folgers and other brands. All three types of coffee are mainly exported to the USA, which is a country of heavy coffee drinkers (an estimated 83% of adults in America drink coffee).
The instant coffee industry has become more of an oligopoly and does not have as much competition as that of the fresher coffee, dominating about three-fourths of the market. By contrast, the freshly ground or roaster coffee market is extremely competitive and has all levels of companies from mid-range to big corporations.
One of the reasons this has become such a phenomenon is because it is extremely easy to offer contract work to farmers and farm laborers within the country itself, thus eliminating most of the middlemen that would be able to eat up the profits.
As a result, the company or establishment is able to not only offer coffee to its end consumers at a cheaper price while earning significant profits themselves, it is also able to export its coffee outside the country at a much lower price. This puts them ahead of the local competition within the USA, as coffee production is much more expensive there.
This is one of the reasons Brazil overtook the world’s biggest coffee producers by the 1920s, making up about 80% of worldwide coffee production and sales. Over time, other countries have been able to catch up to supply to the growing coffee demand all over the world, and hence, Brazil’s share in the worldwide coffee market grew smaller over time.
In addition to this, the government in Brazil attempted to incentivize its farmers and agriculture sector to expand its products into other types of agriculture to prevent it from ending up becoming too dependent on a single crop, and in the process destroying their soil’s fertility. As a result, coffee production in Brazil declined over time.
In spite of the above, Brazil today still makes up more than half of the entire world’s coffee manufacturing and export sector. In addition, Brazil also makes up the world’s biggest coffee consumer, followed by Germany. This makes it (along with Ethiopia) one of the two only countries that also consume coffee, and does not simply produce it for export. But how does the coffee production in Brazil really outshine that of other countries? Let’s explore this in detail.
Ideal Conditions For Coffee Production
Considering that Brazil is such a huge exporter and producer of coffee, one would think it wouldn’t be difficult to find good Brazilian coffee. However, quantity does not equate to quality. A lot of the coffee that Brazil produces is not preferred by seasoned baristas and roasters.
This does not mean that Brazilian coffee is not good. It simply means that not all Brazilian coffee is inherently good, and you will need to pay attention to certain factors and variables that can influence the taste of your coffee, right from the production stage to the point where you receive freshly roasted and ground Brazilian coffee in your nearby coffee shop or roasting company.
If you feel intimidated by this, let me assure you that this is just like any other hobby. You won’t know why certain coffee tastes bad until you actually climb the learning curve and learn enough about coffee to understand flavor profiles and how different variables can affect your experience of coffee differently. Therefore, even if you go out and buy the first bag of Brazilian coffee you lay your hands on, it will not taste ‘bad’ to you. You may even enjoy it a lot, not even realizing what you are missing.
However, considering you are spending your hard-earned money on buying what your seller tells you is a high-quality coffee, it is worth it to dig deeper and learn enough about what makes good coffee so you can judge for yourself what kind of coffee is worth spending money on, and what coffee is simply bad.
Also, let us look into how you can make amazing Brazilian coffee in the comfort of your home, and what exactly these variables are that I’m talking about that you will need to look into, which will affect the quality of your coffee.
The main coffee production in Brazil takes place along its East coast along the Atlantic Ocean. Coastal regions provide a massive benefit with respect to climate: the temperatures tend to be fairly constant throughout the year. This enables coffee farmers to continue to grow the crop all year round, and it is not affected by excessive heat or cold.
In addition, these areas tend to be fairly away from the equator as they are in the southern part of Brazil, which means they receive moderate sunlight at slightly higher altitudes.
Coffee is grown in the mountainous region, at altitudes of 400 to 1600 meters. Because it is so close to the equator, and because it is not grown at higher altitudes, the coffee that is produced in these regions can be farmed quickly. But that means there is a compromise on the quality of coffee you are getting.
Because of these conditions, a lot of farmers focus on growing Robusta beans. Arabica and Robusta are the two most popular types of coffee beans. Arabica tends to be more popular and makes up most of the world’s coffee. It requires more humidity and less extreme sunlight, and it can only be grown at higher elevations, of more than 1000 meters above sea level. It is also more vulnerable to the damage caused by pests, as Robusta’s caffeine content tends to be too high for most pests to feast on it. But because it takes a much longer time to be cultivated, it also tends to be considered more flavorful by a lot of coffee enthusiasts.
Taste Profile Of Brazilian Coffee
Because Brazilian farmers prefer to grow Robusta rather than Arabica, this is one reason the coffee there is not considered of high quality. Robusta lacks the sweetness and acidity of Arabica coffee, which gives it its quintessential berry-like or fruity flavor.
However, Robusta has its own unique taste profile, which tends to be peanutty, bittersweet, and slightly harsher than Arabica. There are lots of people in the world who vastly prefer the taste of Robusta coffee over Arabica.
If you are the kind of person who prefers darker roasts over lighter ones, such as Full City+ Roast, Vienna Roast, or French Roast, then Brazilian coffee is for you. As a matter of fact, even if you don’t like the flavor profile of chocolate, peanuts, vanilla, or almond in your coffee, or if you do not mind the bitterness of darker roasts, there are certain types of Brazilian coffee that are grown at higher altitudes, and cultivated over time to allow the coffee cherries to ripen completely.
These types of coffee will offer a subtle citrusy flavor along with the quintessential Robusta taste, and you can experiment with the depth of flavors using different extraction techniques and lighter roasts.
Not all baristas will agree that Brazil can make some excellent coffee. However, it is the mark of an excellent barista to be able to blend different flavor profiles from several types of coffee and bring them together to create the perfect decoction of balanced profiles.
Like a bartender can expertly mix drinks and put together the perfect cocktail with the right balance of sourness, sweetness, and bitterness, so a seasoned barista will be able to utilize Brazilian coffee in the right way and maximize its potential by creating the perfect blend of bittersweet nuttiness and light-bodied fruity acidity.
So if you have tried out Brazilian coffee and disliked the Robusta taste profile that it is famous for, try exploring in-depth how coffee blends are created. One easy way to get this gourmet experience in the comfort of your own home is to specifically look for the word ‘blend’ when you look for Brazilian coffees, either online or in stores. Often, these coffees will contain a mix of Colombian and Brazilian coffee.
However, do pay careful attention to the ingredient list, and never buy coffee if you don’t know what the ingredients are. Sometimes, Brazilian coffee may contain chicory to compensate for the high caffeine content that Robusta beans have. Chicory is a coffee substitute that is made from the roots of the endive plant, but it does not contain caffeine it. It is added to Brazilian coffee to soften the bitterness of the darker roasts.
In my personal opinion, there is nothing wrong with using chicory to make your coffee less bitter if you enjoy its chocolatey/nutty flavor. However, if you are buying Brazilian coffee in the first place to be able to experiment with different flavor profiles, adding chicory to change the taste defeats the purpose of buying Brazilian coffee itself.
This would be similar to buying exotic wine and then pouring the sugar syrup into it to ‘soften’ the difference in taste. To a lot of baristas, using chicory in coffee is an act of sacrilege to the art of coffee-making.
Because Brazil is also the world’s biggest exporter of instant coffee, I feel it is worth a mention when we talk about Brazilian coffee. Instant coffee (or soluble coffee) is processed coffee crystals that are created by freeze-drying or spray-drying brewed coffee, to turn it into dehydrated crystals that come in a powdery crystalline form. These can be quickly added to boiling water and stirred, to make a cup of coffee.
Because I personally care a lot about the quality of coffee I drink, instant coffee is the equivalent of freeze-drying fruits and vegetables, then adding them to boiling water and making soup out of them.
No matter how much you may insist it tastes the same, most people would agree that dehydrating and rehydrating natural foods just for convenience and storage does not truly improve the experience of food. Just like there is a difference between filling your stomach and having a good dining experience, I believe there is a difference between drinking instant coffee and brewing coffee yourself.
In addition to the fact that instant coffee in and of itself cannot measure up to freshly brewed coffee, it is worthy to remember that a lot of the coffee that is imported from Brazil is Robusta, which means that it would also not retain any of the sweet or nutty flavors in its production.
This is because instant coffee requires mass production, and hence the beans are roasted until they are very dark and then brewed. Lighter roasts can create a lack of uniformity in the final product, which can affect how end users perceive the quality of the product itself.
However, because of roasting till the second crack, the Robusta coffee loses most of the less subtle flavors in it, such as citrusy or nutty flavors, making the primary taste profile extremely bitter. If you do not mind spending a little more time and money on better quality coffee, I would highly recommend you stay away from instant coffee as a whole, but also especially the one that is produced in Brazil.
Brewing coffee from scratch does not take that much more time, and I have found that simple ground coffee is much easier to store than instant coffee or the premade mixes which can sometimes contain sugars or pre-added creamers that can make the crystals go bad sooner.
Where To Find The Best Brazilian Coffee
Now that we got the basics out of the way, let us focus on how to begin looking for the perfect Brazilian coffee. As with any kind of novelty coffee we wish to try out, the first option available to us is online.
Amazon is a good way to find good Brazilian coffee. Brazilian coffee companies such as Cafe Pilao, Cafe do Ponto, Brazil Santos Coffee, Santa Clara, and Cafe Melitta are already famous and are a good start if you are looking for different types of coffee flavors. However, I would recommend looking for a direct way to order specific brands of coffee off their own websites. This way, you have a better chance of finding the freshest coffee as most of the direct sites will let you know exactly when the coffee you order from them has been produced or roasted.
Amazon and similar sites will at best tell you if there is an expiration date on the coffee, which can be up to 1 year from the date of manufacture or roast, which is far longer than it takes for coffee to go stale. You definitely want to go for the freshest possible roast, considering you are paying the same amount of money for quality coffee. Amazon warehouses will keep the coffee with them for as long as they get sold, and that’s usually enough time for coffee to go bad.
If you live in an area surrounded by good quality local, independent stores, this is a much better option to explore before trying online. You will be able to browse and get a feel of how good the store is, how often they have their roasting sessions, and plan a trip to the store the day they are going to have one.
This way, you will be able to get the freshest possible coffee, and also make a choice with respect to what kind of roast you would like. If required, the coffee shop will grind your coffee for you right there if you do not have a grinder at home.
One thing to pay attention when it comes to Brazilian coffee beans is the exact procedure for roasting the beans. These beans need to be roasted carefully and with very low heat, or else they might scorch and the lighter flavors in the coffee could get lost.
How To Brew Brazilian Coffee
In my opinion, because Robusta has such a higher caffeine content and its taste profile leans towards bitter rather than sweet, I would suggest the best ways to brew it would be using methods that require a coarser grind.
The reason is that finer grounds will make the coffee too bitter, and lead to over-extraction. Since Brazilian coffee tends to lack the subtle nuances of Arabica, there is really no need to lean towards finer grinds that will pronounce the taste profiles through greater extraction.
Firstly, you will have to remember that when you buy Brazilian coffee as whole beans, you grind them to a coarser consistency. Make sure the grind is uniform and most of the beans have been ground very coarse. A coarse grind will look somewhat like sea salt or demerara.
Another option, in case you do not know how to achieve the perfectly uniform coarse grind, is to find a coffee shop or roaster that will provide you with the perfect grind for a small fee. This is the best way to ensure you will enjoy perfect coffee and you won’t have to worry about whether or not the coffee will get over-extracted or under-extracted.
Secondly, the two main methods I would recommend for coarsely ground coffee is a French press or any kind of percolator. This is if you prefer your coffee hot. I will talk about a new method of brewing cold coffee in the next section.
The French press can be used if you want to get coffee with a full body, and prefer darker roasts. It requires the coffee grounds to be fully immersed in the boiling water for several minutes, and this is the way the coffee gets brewed. If you have finer grounds, or coffee with more subtle flavors, or if you have lighter roasts with very high acidity, it will end up making the coffee downright sour with an ugly taste.
However, in the case of Brazilian coffee, full immersion for several minutes does not make the Robusta coffee acidic and can help highlight the bittersweet flavor in addition to bringing out a lovely almond-like or chocolaty taste profile.
If that sounds amazing to you, then the French press is the way to go. However, try to stay away from brewing methods that require finer grinds as we established, and stick to methods that have the most amount of time where the coffee grounds sit in water.
Quick Guide To Using A French Press
- Measure and grind the coffee beans. You will require about 10 grams of grounds per 200 ml of water. The grind has to be coarse for Brazilian coffee.
- Heat some water in a kettle or over the stove. Once it starts bubbling, turn the heat off and use only after the bubbling has stopped. The French press requires water temperature to be slightly below its boiling point for the perfect brew.
- In the meantime, remove the plunger from the French press and add the freshly ground coffee into the French press in the ratio stated above.
- Pour the hot water into the French press. Some baristas insist that the solution must be stirred at this point, but it is really your choice, and not necessary in my opinion.
- Steep the coffee for about 4-5 minutes, then press the plunger slowly through the coffee to separate the grounds.
- Pour into your drinking container and enjoy!
The Cold Brew
It is no wonder that this is definitely my favorite method of brewing coffee. There is no feeling more amazing than coming home after a long day, putting your feet up, and relaxing with a tall glass of cold-brew coffee with a dash of sweetened condensed milk in it.
One of the problems I usually have with making a good cup of coffee is that I have to march into my kitchen every single morning groggily, and put in an unreasonable amount of effort to be able to get some good quality coffee. And no, please don’t tell me to settle for instant coffee, any more than you would ask me to eat canned tomatoes for breakfast.
The best alternative to bypass all this effort early in the morning is making a fresh batch of cold-brew the night before so that all I have to do is simply pour a glass out for myself and kickback.
Cold-brew coffee lends itself very well to the taste and flavor profile of Brazilian coffee, which is why I wish to talk about it here. You can make it in bulk, and because it can remain refrigerated for a couple of weeks, you need only put in a minimal amount of effort into making it every 2 weeks.
All you need is your favorite Brazilian coffee beans, a tall jar, or any container for liquids that will go in your refrigerator, and some boiled and cooled water. Oh, and lots of time. About 16 hours of it, to be precise. The only thing you really need to do is grind your beans into a coarse grind as you normally would, and add it to the water. And then simply let it steep overnight. Could coffee-brewing get more convenient?
However, aside from the obvious advantage of convenience, cold-brewing does not allow any heat to make your coffee too bitter or acidic. It does not scorch your coffee, or over-extract it (provided the grinds are very coarse, the consistency of sea salt). As a result, the coffee you get is smooth and goes perfectly on its own or with any flavoring added to it.
However, there are a few things you will need to remember. Firstly, cold-brew coffee requires a very amount of coffee as compared to other methods of brewing. Because we aren’t using heat to speed up the immersion process, if we use the same quantity of coffee grounds to water, we can end up with an extremely weak brew with higher acidity. To prevent this, simply double the number of coffee grinds you would normally use. I would recommend about 30 grams of grounds per cup.
Secondly, you will need to use a cheesecloth and a strainer to strain the coffee grounds and separate them. This will slow down the straining process of extracting the most amount of flavor. Starbucks is known for using this system to create its signature Cold brew.
Simply place the cheesecloth in a large strainer and pour the mixture through it to collect the coffee in a container below it. Avoid pressing the cheesecloth together to extract all the liquid. This will prevent bitter flavors from being extracted into your coffee.
Remember, you don’t need every drop of water extracted. You simply need to extract the best most concentrated coffee and leave behind the bitter tastes. What you will get is a coffee concentrate, so feel free to dilute it before you customize it to your taste. However, dilution will reduce the longevity of the beverage, so don’t add water to the whole pitcher.
I hope these tips will have helped you not only to find the best Brazilian coffee but also how to enjoy it!