Thursday, April 17, 2014

Brewing Methods

Do you know how your coffee is made?
There are many different ways to make that delicious brew. Generally, any brewing method will fall into one of these five categories:

Immersion: When coffee and water are mixed together and allowed to "steep" before straining out the grounds. A French Press is one of the most common immersion brew methods. Or perhaps you've heard of "cowboy coffee" where coffee and water are boiled together in a kettle over a fire (sure this works, but you may end up chewing your coffee).

Pour-Over: Coffee that sits in a filter with water being "poured over" it. Chemex is a popular pour over brewer, although it does take some technique and patience.

Vacuum: Ever seen one of those toys that sucks the fluid up into the top and lets the fluid slowly go down into the bottom? This is similar. A vacuum brewer takes the water from the bottom up into the top and steeps the coffee. When it's done steeping, the coffee trickles down into the bottom.

Hybrid: These machines are a combination of different brew methods. Common hybrids are the Clever or the Trifecta. Hybrids can offer the best of both worlds.

Batch: These large brewers are seen in coffee shops or businesses that make large volumes of coffee all at once. Chances are if you've seen one of these large metal contraptions with a server underneath the brew head catching the coffee as it rains out of the brew basket. These are also used common for home use, made by manufacturers such as Sunbeam, Mr. Coffee, and Cuisinart (to name a few) and come in 4-12 cup models.

It is important to note however, while these methods all work, not all are equal. You may wonder why the Whole Bean French Roast you purchased from your favorite coffee shop just doesn't taste the same once you make it at home. The main reason is temperature. Due to legal reasons, batch coffee makers for your home (like those mentioned above) are set to allow the water heat to 165 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. A commercial brewer, or a brewer that allows users to heat their own water can use water at the SCAA suggested brewing temperature of 195 degrees Fahrenheit to 205 degrees Fahrenheit.

The moral to this story? Traditional home coffee brewers are easy and convenient, but if you're looking for coffee shop quality brew, try out methods like the French Press or Chemex (and others like them). These will yield a cup much closer to that coffee shop taste we all love.

SCAA: Introduction to Coffee Brewing & Extraction CP 151-152
PRIMA Beginner's Guide to Immersion Coffee Brewing
BuddyBrew Coffee French Press Driections 
Chemex Brewing Instructions
STUMPTOWN Coffee Roasters Vacuum Pot 
PRIMA Clever Coffee Dripper
Bunn at Home Trifecta 
Bunn Commercial Thermal Brewers

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

From Bean to Cup

Ever wonder how that cup of coffee went from a tiny seed to steaming hot happiness in your hand? Well wonder no more! We're going to follow the journey of a coffee bean from seed to cup. 

Coffee can come from many different regions, but the most predominant areas are Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa, near the equator. Coffee is farmed similarly to wine grapes. Great care is taken in choosing the soil and area in which the plants will mature. Once farmers have chosen the kind of seed they'll plant it generally takes four or five years from the time a coffee tree is in the ground to when it will yield any fruit. 
Once the tree has matured, its branches produce small white flowers. Six to nine months later, small green cherries appear that hold two coffee seeds. These ripen to a deep red (although some have a hue closer to orange or yellow). They can be used to plant more trees or they will go through the next steps to become your delicious coffee.

1. Harvest:  This is generally done three times per year. The first crop is usually astringent and considered unusable. The second crop has most of the developed fruit, the most valuable product. The third crop is often seen as the leftovers. Harvesting used to be done all by hand, and still is in some countries. However, this process takes a long time and some farms opt to use machinery.

2. Depulping: Coffee cherries consist of a few layers. The first layer is hard and difficult to get through. The second layer is a fleshy pulp which protects the "silverskin" layer around the two seeds. Whether farms use a hand depulper or a central depulping station the outcome is the same. The outside and flesh of the cherry is torn back to reveal the seeds inside. 

3. Fermentation: After they are shelled the seeds are placed into a large tank to ferment. This can take anywhere from four hours to three days depending on climate. When the seeds soak they're bathing in their own sugars and the leftover particles of their pulp. This is said to bring out the unique flavors of the coffee.

4. Drying: Beans are taken from their tank and laid out in the sun to dry, or dried by machines. 

***Wet processing versus Dry processing***
There are two ways to process coffee beans, the process outlined in the steps above is the technique called "wet processing". Another technique is used when seeds are allowed to dry in the sun or on the tree still encased in the cherry pulp and shell, waiting to shell the seeds until the last step. This is called "dry processing". 

After processing, seeds are sorted by hand or by machine and the good seeds are bagged and shipped out. 

Once the roastery receives the seeds they choose their roast profile. A roast profile is made up of heat and time; how long and how hot the beans will be roasted. Roast profiles range from MEDIUM (a mild tasting bean with light brown color) to FULL CITY (beans at their peak flavor with a dark brown color) to VIENNA (an oily looking, almost black bean which produces a strong, velvety taste). Once roasted, they are packaged up and made ready for you to buy. 

The next time you enjoy your favorite brew think about all the work that goes in to making sure it's taste is perfect just for you!