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Coffee 101: Origins and the Magic Bean

ATTENTION: If you downloaded the Chicken Tikka Masala from yesterday, please download again and do not use the original pdf. You can download here or on the Tikka Masala Page.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program….

Assuming that the coffee you drink does not come from a can with a name like Maxwell House or Folgers or in a jar with a name like Sanka or Taster’s Choice then this primer may be of interest to you. Now I am not judging you for drinking those or similar coffees (ok, yes I am. I am judging you! You would be judging me too. jk! ) but coffee is complex and very similar to wine in many respects.

Coffee and wine have a few things in common in addition to being my primary beverages. The most significant similarities include where it is grown, how it is grown, and then what happens to it once it is harvested. These things all have a huge and direct impact on the resulting flavor characteristics of coffee as they do wine. So please indulge me as I share some facts and anecdotes about the beverage that starts every day of my life, coffee. Think of this as Coffee 101: The Origins and Intro to the Magic Bean.

coffee 101

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Coffee 101

Coffee originated on the African continent and specifically the country of Ethiopia. As legend has it, a goat herder noticed that after the goats ate the fruit (aka beans) from the coffee tree, they would be much more playful and energetic and would sleep less at night. Hmmm, not long after this discovery he too started eating the fruit from the coffee tree. And so it began… following the lead of some pesky goats and next thing you know the coffee cherries were mixed with fat to become the original energy bar.  At least this is the legend.

coffee 101

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Coffee as a beverage can be traced back to monasteries in Yemen in the 15th century that soon spread throughout the Middle East. Coffee later reaches Europe in the 16th Century thanks to the British and Dutch explorers and the trade companies they established in the Middle East and India. Trees were taken to locales near and far to keep the coffee production closeby and coffee houses exploded around the world. And the rest, they say is history.

Coffee 101: The Bean

There are two variant strains of coffee: Arabica, and Robusta. Seventy percent of the world consumes Arabica coffee which is mild, less acidic and more aromatic. Robusta which is consumed by the remaining thirty percent is more bitter but has twice the level of caffeine. Robusta is used in many instant coffees.

coffee 101

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Coffee 101: Terrior (tear-wah)

Terrior is used when talking coffee in much the same way it is with wine. Environmental factors affecting the quality of the bean include soil type, elevation, annual precipitation, average temperatures and amount of sunlight. Thus the regional differences in the acidity, balance, body, fruit and/or earthiness of the coffee bean are dependent upon the terrior. And while the following are generalizations they pretty much hold true.

  • African coffees are juicier, fruitier, heavier bodied and express higher acidity.
  • South and Central American coffees tend to be higher in the chocolate/caramel notes and lower in acidity as well as in body
  • Asian, Indonesian, and Pacific coffees are known for their smooth flavors and moderate acidity, usually full-bodied with earthy notes
  • Hawaii is the only state that grows coffee, but it is considered a Pacific coffee
  • Jamaica is an anomaly. Some consider it the same as Hawaiian thus a Pacific coffee, but some also lump it in with the Americas

coffee 101

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Coffee 101: Fun Facts

  • The fruit of the coffee tree is a coffee cherry, and the bean is not a bean at all but the seed.
  • Coffee only grows between the Tropic of Cancer to the north and the Tropic of Capricorn to the south.
  • Coffee is the second most traded commodity on earth second only to oil.
  • Espresso is a preparation method and not a bean, roast or blend. Espresso roast is merely the darkest of the dark roasts.
  • The most expensive coffee in the world is Black Ivory Coffee. Coffee cherries are eaten and then excreted by Thai elephants in the remote rural village of Ban Taklang, Surin, Thailand. A “fermentation” takes place in the gut of the elephant which they claim removed bitterness and brings out the fruity notes of the coffee. Yes, the beans are cleaned and roasted after being excreted. Black Ivory Coffee was started due to the popularity of Civet coffee in the Philipines. Civet cats also eat the cherries and then excrete them before they are roasted.

coffee 101


Well, that is all for now.



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