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Buyer's Tipsheet: True Brew

Buyer's Tipsheet: True Brew

It pays to understand coffee bean types, roasts, brewing and presentation methods.

Coffee — whether it's hot, cold, gourmet or plain-Jane — is prepared from the roasted seeds of the coffee plant and is available in a mind-boggling array of different varieties.

The two most commercially available are coffea robusta and coffea Arabica.

The sturdy, disease-resistant coffea robusta, which thrives at lower altitudes, produces beans with a harsher, more single-dimensional flavor than the more sensitive coffea arabica, which grows at high altitudes (3,000 to 6,500 feet) and produces beans with more elegant, complex flavors.

Roasty & Toasty

Coffee can be composed of a single type of coffee bean or a blend of several types. Blended coffee often produces a richer, more complex flavor than single-bean coffees. The length of time coffee beans are roasted will affect the color and flavor of the brew as well as the caffeine content. Among the most popular roasts are American, French, Italian, European and Viennese.

American roast (aka ‘regular’ roast) beans are medium-roasted. The result is a moderate brew that is not too light or heavy in flavor. The heavy-roasted beans are French roast and dark French roast, which are deep chocolate browns and produce a stronger coffee. The glossy, brown-black, strongly flavored Italian roast is used for espresso. European roast contains two-thirds heavy-roast beans blended with one-third regular-roast; Viennese roast reverses those proportions.

Instant coffee powder is made by heat-drying freshly brewed coffee. Freeze-dried coffee granules (or crystals) are derived from brewed coffee that has been frozen into slush before the water is evaporated. Coffee concentrate is a liquid extract of freshly brewed coffee that is diluted with water. It comes in many forms including regular, decaffeinated and flavored. Coffee bags (akin to tea bags) are much bulkier than their tea equivalents.

Brewing Methods

Coffee can be brewed in several different ways. Brewing methods fall into four main groups that vary depending upon how the water is introduced to the coffee grounds.

Water temperature is crucial to the proper extraction of flavor from the ground coffee. The recommended brewing temperature is 204°F; any cooler and some of the solubles that make up the flavor will not be extracted. If the water is too hot, some undesirable elements will be extracted, adversely affecting the taste, especially in terms of bitterness.

If the method allows the water to pass only once through the grounds, the resulting brew will contain mainly the more soluble components (including caffeine).

If the water is repeatedly cycled through the beans (as with the common percolator), the brew will contain more of the relatively less soluble compounds found in the bean and tends to be more bitter.

Brewed coffee that is continually heated will deteriorate rapidly in flavor, even at room temperature. However, if it is kept in an oxygen-free environment it can last almost indefinitely at room temperature.

Boiling: The simplest method is to put the ground coffee in a cup, pour hot water in it and let it stand and cool, allowing the grounds to sink to the bottom. This method allows for the most control of water temperature. Disadvantage: coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup.

Pressure: Espresso is made with hot water at between 195°F and 204°F that's forced, under pressure, through a tightly packed matrix of finely ground coffee. It can be served alone or as the basis for various coffee drinks. It is one of the strongest-tasting forms of coffee, with a distinctive flavor.

Gravity: Drip brew (also known as filter or American coffee) is made by letting hot water drip onto coffee grounds held in a coffee filter. Strength varies according to the ratio of water to coffee and the fineness of the grind, but is typically weaker than espresso.

Steeping: A cafetiere (or French press) is a tall, narrow glass cylinder with a plunger that includes a filter. The coffee and hot water are combined in the cylinder (normally for four minutes) before the plunger, in the form of a metal foil, is depressed, leaving the coffee at the top ready to be poured. This type of “total immersion brewing” is considered by many coffee experts to be the ideal way to prepare fine coffee.

Definitions, hot and cold

Black coffee is drip-brewed, percolated, vacuum brewed, or French-press-style coffee served without cream.

A demitasse is a small cup of strong black coffee, often served after a meal.

White coffee is black coffee with milk added.

Cappuccino comprises equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk froth. It is occasionally garnished with spices of cocoa.

A latte is a one-third espresso and nearly two-thirds steamed milk, traditionally topped with froth created from steaming the milk.

Café au lait is similar to latte except that drip-brewed coffee is used instead of espresso, with an equal amount of milk.

Americano style coffee is made with espresso (normally several shots) and hot water to give a strength similar to drip-brewed coffee.

Mocha is a latte with chocolate added.

Flavored coffee includes such flavorings as chocolate (either sprinkled on top or mixed with the coffee), nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom or various Italian syrups.

A cafe macchiato is an espresso with a small amount of steamed milk added to the top. As with a latte, sometimes sugar or flavored syrup will be added.

A latte macchiato is the inverse of a café macchiato: a tall glass of steamed milk spotted with a small amount of espresso. Sugar or syrup can be added.

Iced coffee normally contains milk and sugar. Since sugar does not dissolve well in cold coffee, it is usually added while the coffee is hot. Iced coffee can also be an iced form of any type of coffee drink.

Frappe is a cold coffee drink made from instant coffee.

Frappuccino is a variation of iced coffee created by Starbucks. Other coffeehouses serve similar concoctions, but under different names. The drink in question is an iced latte, mocha or macchiato that is mixed with crushed ice and flavorings and blended.

Thai iced coffee is a popular drink consisting of coffee, ice and sweetened condensed milk.

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