"Coffee 101" "Beyond The Basics" 

Here is some Info. for you I hope you will find helpful. I will include some background on the origin of coffee. Some general and some specific coffee facts, and tips on brewing, grinding, and storage. If any topic is to dry for you just skip down to the next topic. Go ahead you wont hurt my feelings.

In the past the most people have known about coffee is they wake up in the morning, put a spoonful into a cup, and pour in some water. (They call it instant coffee). If you were really lucky on a special occasion someone would whip out the old percolator. In recent years with the coffee explosion there is a coffee cafe on every corner, gourmet coffee is available in supermarkets, deli’s, and basically everywhere you look. But what have most of us really learned about coffee, and is the quality of what is call gourmet coffee (We like to call it Specialty Coffee) really quality coffee? Lets start with some background.

The Origin Of Coffee

There are two main species of coffee that are traded commercially: One is called Coffea arabica, and the other Coffea robusta.The Arabica trees produce the highest quality coffee, while Robusta trees which are hardier and more resistant to disease have a sort of burnt rubber type of flavor and are not suitable for Specialty coffee and are used in commercial coffee blends and in instant coffee.

Some of the following Information I am quoting from Tim Castle’s book “The Perfect Cup” (published by Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.) an excellent book with lots of great Information. Coffee belongs to the family Rubiacaeae, genus Coffea, which originated in the tropic parts of Africa, Ethiopia, and Yemen, and with some human help spread to other continents.There are actually many different species of Coffea which are botanically divided into four groups, the only real important one to us is eucoffea. Eucoffee covers 5 other groups which I will not name so not to bore you. There was another plant Coffea stenophylla which was considered to be better than arabica, the plant was hardier, produced more, and tasted better. The plant was discovered in West Africa and introduced to various English colonies in 1895. At this time in history there were tremendous problems with rust disease and many plantations had there entire crops destroyed. Since Stenophylla takes nine years to reach maturity and arabica seven, stenophylla fell out of favor. So that brings us back to arabica and robusta.

Coffee plants are generally trimmed to a height of around three meters, and are always green year round and have two seeds (or cherries) per fruit body. It takes three to four years for the tree to start producing its first flowers. These flowers eventually fade and turn into green oval berries that ripen to a bright red. These are known as cherries. The seeds from these ripe cherries (at this point called green coffee) after being processed using the methods of its country of origin are what will be roasted into the coffee you will eventually buy and drink. There are actually other forms of arabica: C. arabica arabica (or typica), and C. arabica bourbon. These are considered to be the original varieties.

“Mountain Grown” “Hand Picked”

Coffee is grown in fifty-two countries throughout Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania. We call coffees from different countries varietals which is really a made up phrase since all coffee really comes from the same tree. Some coffees are grown on Estates where special care is given to the production and processing of their coffee. Estate coffees are more expensive to buy in the store but in most cases you will taste a difference. Some examples of estate coffees are: La Minita Tarrazu from Costa Rica and San Sebastian from Sacatepequez, Guatemala. What gives different varietals there distinguished tastes are conditions in the country of origin. The soil, the weather, even the air, and of course how it is processed, and roasted.

You see many coffee companies using catch phrases like our coffee is “Hand picked” or “Mountain Grown.” Well guess what kids, the only way coffee can be picked without doing major damage to coffee trees is by hand, and the only place you can grow coffee is in mountains. The worlds best coffees are grown between five and eight thousand feet. The higher the elevation the better the quality of the coffee.

So lets take a look at the whole coffee growing process for a minute. Generally new coffee trees are produced from seeds from already existing trees. They must be germinated in a nursery and transferred in beds or plastic bags. They must be replanted and cared for very carefully for three years before they begin to produce fruit. Then it must be hand picked by a worker who will take about a day and a half to fill one coffee bag, which will yield around 150 pounds (Many of these workers are children). Then it must be processed (I will talk about the processes in a minute). It will then change hands many times as it is traded on the commodities market, sold to brokers, and finally to a roaster who either sells it himself or sells it to your neighborhood cafe. If you think about it for a second it amazes me that you can go into a cafe and buy a cup of coffee for a $1.50 or a pound for $9.00. The workers, women and children included, in these poorer nations are working away day after day and making only a few dollars a day. So next time you are in a coffee house and see the little jar to donate some money to “Coffee Kids” please throw in a buck, and don’t complain about coffee prices being to high.

I just want to tell you briefly about the two ways to process coffee: “Wet” and “Dry." In the wet or washed process harvested fruit is fed into machines which scrape the fruit from the seeds, then they are run through water. The pulp being lighter than the seeds floats to the top and gets pumped away. The seeds are then fed into storage tanks, where they sit for a day. The beans will ferment in these water container tanks which breaks down the mucilage coating that still covers the beans.

In the Dry process they just let the fruit dry on concrete grills, then separate the dry fruit from the seed. There is no washing or fermentation and produces different characteristics then washed coffee. After drying, the coffee still has to be milled. It is still surrounded by a husk called the pergamino. The coffee is then fed into machines that gently crush or rub away the pergamino.


Lets talk about some characteristics of coffee. Characteristics are how you distinguish and describe the difference between coffees such as: high-grown and low-grown, dry and washed coffees.

Here is a list of terms taken from Ted Lingle’s Coffee Cuppers Handbook, (published by the Coffee Development Group, Washington, D.C.) and the cupping chart from I. & M. Smith (pty.), Ltd.

Acidity - A measure of the acid content of the liquid; in fine coffees acidity results in a pleasant sharpness. Not to be associated with the genuinely sour taste of inferior coffees.

Aftertaste - The sensation of brewed coffee vapors released after swallowing. Characteristics will range from carbony to chocolaty, spicy, to turpeny.

Aroma - The sensation of the gases released from brewed coffee; may be described as ranging from fruity to herby.

Bitter - Perceived by the back of the tongue and characterized by solutions of quinine, caffeine, and other alkaloids; usually caused by over-roasting.

Bland - Perceived by the sides of the tongue and ranging in taste from “soft” to neutral. Found often in washed arabica coffees such as Guatemalan Low Grown.

Body - Associated with mouthfeel and texture, this should be a strong, full, pleasant characteristic.

Bouquet - The total aromatic profile, resulting from compounds in the fragrance, aroma, and aftertaste.

Caramelly - A common aromatic sensation; reminiscent of candy or syrup.

Carbony - A common aromatic sensation in dark roasted coffees, reminiscent of a burnt substance.

Chocolaty - A common aromatic sensation in a brews aftertaste, reminiscent of unsweetened chocolate or vanilla.

Delicate - Related to mellow; characterized by a fragile, subtle flavor; perceived by the tip of the tongue.

Dirty - An unclean smell or taste that can be specific, such as sourness or mustiness, or a more generalized taint that reminds one of eating dirt.

Earthy - Used when describing bouquet to denote a lack of strong perceptions in fragrance, aroma, and aftertaste; also called dead.

Flavor - The experience of aromatics once the coffee is in the mouth.

Fragrance - The aromatic sensations inhaled by sniffing; can be described as ranging from sweetly floral to sweetly spicy.

Fruity - An aromatic sensation reminiscent of citrus fruit or berries.

Grassy - Used to describe an odor and/or taste in some coffees that is reminiscent of a freshly mown lawn; with an accompanying astringency like that of green grass.

Harsh - A hard, raspy, often caustic flavor sometimes described as “ rioy ”

Lifeless - See thin.

Mellow - A rounded, smooth taste, characteristically lacking in acidity.

Mild - Refers to a coffee that lacks any overriding characteristic, either pleasant or unpleasant.

Mouthfeel - The tactile sensations the coffee produces on your palate.

Muddy - A dull, indistinct, and thickish flavor that can be caused by the grounds being agitated.

Musty - A flavor that often occurs due to poor storage or lack of sufficient drying, aging, or overheating. In aged coffees mustiness is not necessarily undesirable.

Nutty - An aromatic sensation that is released as a brew is swallowed; reminiscent of roasted nuts.

Neutral - A flavor characteristic that is desirable in good blenders. Used to denote a lack of any strong flavors.

Rich - Used when describing bouquet to denote intense perceptions of fragrance, aroma, and aftertaste.

Rioy - A somewhat grainy or starchy taste, like potato soup in texture.

Rough - Characterized by a parched sensation on the tongue, related to sharp, salty taste sensations.

Rubbery - Caused when fruit is allowed to partially dry while still on the tree, this is a fault that gives beans the character of burnt rubber. It is found mostly in dry-processed robustas, not arabicas.

Soft - The absence of the parched sensation on the tongue; related to bland.

Sour - Related to over-acidity; a sharp, biting flavor, often from under ripe- beans.

Spicy - An aromatic and taste perception reminiscent of spices.

Sweet - Free of any harshness.

Taint - A chemical change in the bean brought about by any number of internal or external changes, which results in a change in the coffee’s flavor.

Thin - Related to underbrewing, resulting in a coffee lacking in any acidity; also referred to as lifeless.

Turpeny - Tasting like turpentine smells.

Watery - Caused by the wrong water-to-coffee ratio, which results in the low level of oils in the coffee.

Wild - A gamey flavor often associated with Ethiopian coffees.

Winey - Reminiscent of a well-matured red wine; characterized by a full-bodied, smooth coffee. Often found in Kenyan and Yemeni coffees.

Scary Spice - A singer in the group “The Spice Girls” Full Body, a little Musty, Soft and Rich with good Flavor. ( This was to see if you were still awake ).

OK. Lets talk Decaf

Coffee is decaffeinated before it is roasted and will remove between 96 and 98 percent of the caffeine. There are two main methods of decaffeinating coffee. The swiss water process, and a chemical process called the direct method or direct methylene chloride process. This process uses a solvent called Methylene Chloride. Basically what happens is the coffee is warmed and rinsed with the solvent several times to remove the caffeine. The coffee is dried, and they remove the solvent. Now while this method definitely produces the best tasting decaf, there are a lot of unfounded health concerns because people here the word chemical. The truth is there is very little if any evidence that there are any health risks. According to the FDA the lifetime carcinogenic risk from methylene chloride was less than one in a million for people consuming large amounts of decaf coffee. Also Methylene chloride is a solvent that boils at 103 degrees, and coffee is roasted anywhere from 350 to 400 degrees. So it is not likely that there would more than a trace left in a cup of brewed coffee. There are however some concerns that Methylene chloride could be harmful to the ozone.

The Swiss Water Process uses carbon-filtered water for their process. They soak the beans over and over in the water to draw off the caffeine. While some health conscious people think this is a safer method, it unfortunately removes a lot of the flavor from the coffee. There are several other methods to decaffeinate coffee but these are the two most common, the rest are variations on these.

OK. Now lets really talk : Flavored Coffee

The Idea for flavored coffee came about around 1970 when coffee prices jumped up real high. Do you remember going to the supermarket and being shocked at the coffee prices? (were you born yet in 1970?) It was a way to sell less expensive coffee (Lower quality) and just flavoring it up with an additive so not to notice the lower quality. Although coffee has been flavored since its beginnings with spices and ground nuts, most coffee today is flavored by using a flavoring concentrate which is added to the coffee right after it has been roasted and cooled to around 100 degrees. Remember there is no such thing as Vanilla coffee, Raspberry coffee, or Jerry Garcia coffee. Coffee is made up of varietals and blends from the country they were grown in, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Kenya, etc. Coffee grows on trees not in bottles. Don’t you love it when someone insists that there flavored decaf coffee be Swiss Water Process because it is natural.

About Roasts, Brewing, Grinding, and more Tips

There are many different terms for styles of roasts. You here terms like French roast or Cinnamon roast all the time, but there is no standard in the industry and different parts of the country have there own Idea of how dark a French Roast should be. Basically the name of the roast refers to how dark the roast is. A light roast may be called: Cinnamon Roast, or Half City. A medium roast might be called: Full City, American, Regular Roast, or even Breakfast. Dark Roasts are referred to as: French Roasts, Italian Roasts, Espresso Roasts. Then there is another roast that is in between a medium and dark roast, these are called: Vienna Roasts, New Orleans, Continental. Again everyone has there own version.

Did you know that coffee goes stale very fast !! When coffee is roasted it goes through a lot of natural chemical reactions. After it is roasted it goes through a process of degassing over a few day period which means it is going stale. When you buy your coffee beans at your favorite coffee hang make sure it has been roasted within the last few days. Some places will roast right in the store, that is the best way to know that it is really freshly roasted. Or you can buy from a reputable mail order company like “Cadway's Coffee” where you know the coffee was roasted and shipped to you the next day (Blatant Commercial). The best thing to do is buy your coffee Whole Bean and grind as you need it. If you will use up your coffee in a week you can keep it in the refrigerator. If you think it will be longer than a week keep in the freezer in a air tight container. Remember coffees #1 enemy is air and ground coffee has more of its surface area exposed to air.

Now that you have picked out your favorite varietal that was roasted to your favorite style it is time to grind it and brew it. Hopefully you bought your coffee whole bean and you have one of those little grinders you can buy in any store for around $20.00. You should vary your grind according to the type of brewing method you use.You want to extract the proper amount of flavor from your ground coffee to get a “great” cup of coffee. There are a few simple keys to this, the right grind and the right ratio of coffee to water. Use 2 tablespoons of coffee for each 6 oz. of water. If coffee seems too strong, you can try a coarser grind.

Here is a quick guide for grinding with one of those little hand grinders:
For a Percolator use a course grind: Grind for around 10 seconds.
Auto Drip or French Press use a medium grind: Grind for around 10 to 12 seconds.
Neapolitan Flip: A Fine Grind around 15 seconds.
And for a Melitta style cone filter drip or Espresso: Use a very fine grind around 20 to 30 seconds.
Experiment which grind works the best for you. Try shaking the grinder a little as you are grinding for a more even grind.

We are getting close - Coffee is made up of about 98% water. So the quality of the water is going to effect the taste of your coffee. Try to use filtered or bottled water. If you use a filter on your tap water use cold water and let it run for a few seconds so it can aerate.

We are real close - We are ready to brew.

There are several methods of brewing coffee some better than others the most popular are:
The Drip method - This can be manual or electric. Ground coffee is placed in a paper filter and with the manual method you simply pour almost boiling water over the filter being held by a simple holder shaped like the filter. This seems to be one of the better methods of brewing. The electric version is similar except you pour the water in a machine which heats the water and lets it drip over the ground coffee.

Percolator - This is kind of an old fashion way to make coffee. The brewed coffee is passed over and over through the same coffee grinds. Although it smells great its not the best method to brew.

Turkish - This might be one of the original ways to brew coffee. The coffee is ground very fine usually by hand in a special grinder. Then it is placed in a pot with sugar and water and boiled three times. It is very strong.

French Press - You’ve seen these things in coffee stores. You place the ground coffee in the pot and add hot water. You let it steep for about 2 minutes, then push down on the plunger filter pushing the grounds to the bottom, and hopefully leaving the coffee on top. It is a great way to brew a cup but will sometimes leave sediment in your coffee.

Espresso - There are stove top methods and small electric machines you can buy for the home.They inject the hot water through the coffee grounds right into your little espresso cup. With the little wands on the side you can steam the milk and make cappuccinos, Lattes, Mochas, short and tall. To make espresso make sure you grind your beans fine and pack them down in your Porta-Filter (the metal cup with the long handle that holds the grounds). You have to get the grind just right and the tamp (That’s what you call packing it down) just right (it also helps to have great coffee) to get a good cup of espresso. You have to experiment with it but that’s half the fun.

In Conclusion

Well, this should get you started on that quest for "The Perfect Cup". I hope you learned something from this article and don’t forget if you need to buy some “great” coffee remember “Cadway’s Coffee” can be ordered 24 hours a day from our order page. But don't expect your order to be mailed the next day after you order. All our coffees are roasted to order, so at the end of the week we take all our coffee orders and roast them all up at once and "then" ship it out the next day. Giving you truly "Fresh Roasted Coffee".

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