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COFFEE 101

But first, Coffee

Have you ever taken that first sip of morning coffee and wondered how it was even discovered or why we have such a love affair with this marvelous brew? Me too. I have had coffee in many places around the world, and I can tell you that I definitely have formed certain preferences for the type of coffee I prefer. But would I even know a coffee tree if I was looking at one? So, because I don’t like not knowing things, I did some coffee research. The information I discovered was, in a word, delicious. And, in some cases, surprising!

Our Coffee Craze Started with Goats!

Most historians agree that the discovery of coffee was in Ethiopia (whose coffee is still outrageously good to this day). A goat herder noticed that his goats were very energetic after eating red berries off a nearby stand of bushes. This was the 16th century. Not wanting to be outdone by his goats and being very tired as a goat herder might be in the 16th century, he decided to make a “tea” from the berries of the bush. The first coffee was born. Since it was discovered in the region called Kaffe, this is what the drink was called. This delicious brew went viral, and soon, it was being enjoyed all throughout the Arabian Peninsula. And, enterprising businessmen decided to open, you guessed it, coffee shops. 

Through the usual trade routes, coffee made its way into Europe, but the Church in Italy condemned it, calling it the invention of the devil. Makes me wonder if that’s where espresso came from because you had to make it fast before the priest caught you. Actually, the truth is that Luigi Bezzera created the espresso machine in Italy around 1901, so my curiosity is now satisfied. Finally, the Pope became involved (Pope Clement VIII) and decided to taste this bitter brew for himself. As you can guess, he was won over and declared that it was not Satan’s drink after all. 

Finally, coffee made its way to America in 1668. And for a while, coffee overtook beer in popularity as New York’s best breakfast beverage, which is why, to this day it is still viewed as a breakfast beverage. 

In Search of the Perfect Bean

What makes coffee taste like it does? The beans, of course. We call them beans, but really, they are berries that grow on the coffee bush. Where the bush grows affects the way the bean tastes, just like the place where grapes grow affects the taste of the wine; so, where they grow matters as much as how they grow and what is done to them after they are harvested. There are two basic types of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. Robusta has more naturally occurring caffeine than Arabica and is more ‘robust’ in taste. Arabica is milder and has less acid. 

The World in Your Cup

Not that I’ve done this yet, but I think it would be interesting to line up a good sample from each of the countries producing coffee to taste the difference between them. This is definitely on my to-do list. I do know that most of the Latin American regions have coffees that tend to have flavors that are nutty, with hints of chocolate. They mostly grow the Arabica varieties. Africa and Arabia grow both the Robusta and Arabica types of beans, and the taste is more along the lines of fruit, floral, and even earthy. Coffee from Nicaragua often has hints of vanilla and hazelnut without you having to add any of that by way of a flavored creamer. 

Jamaican coffee has an almost sweet quality to it, while coffee in Mexico has a little hint of spiciness. True Columbian coffee, and one of my favorites, is smooth, sweet, and very rich with almost overtones of nuts and caramel. In stark contrast is coffee from Brazil that can taste almost like you’ve bitten into a bar of dark chocolate (still VERY good, but strong). 

If you have not tasted coffee from Tanzania or Kenya, make plans to do so. They are unlike any of the others in that the coffee has an almost ‘bright’ taste with overtones of citrus and berries. Delicious! Also on the delicious radar is Indian coffee, which tends to be creamy, smooth, and even has hints of cloves and nuts. 

Guatemalan and Peruvian coffees, tend to be smooth, low acid, and offer hints of honey. And if you hate that bitter coffee aftertaste, then consider trying a coffee from Costa Rica, whose aftertaste is almost negligible. Coffee from Sumatra tastes super sweet without having to add anything to it, with an almost chocolate syrup taste. It’s like drinking a dessert and is also very tasty. 

Most Studies Show Coffee is Good for You Too!

Did you know that there have been hundreds of studies done on coffee and its effect on humans? Go figure. Vitamins such as B2, B3, magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants are in your favorite breakfast beverage. Most of the studies agree that enjoyed in moderation coffee can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, lower the risk of liver cancer and Parkinson’s, and helps protect against heart failure. 

Top Brands to Try

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Intelligentsia : This company has won numerous awards for its mostly Columbian and Peruvian coffee blends. What I love about it is their direct-trade practices, so you know exactly where they are sourcing their beans and that the farmers are benefiting from it rather than a large-scale commercial farming conglomerate. Try their Frequency Blend or the Borealis Blend. 

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Stumptown: Located in Portland, Oregon, this coffee company started crafting its coffees in small artisanal batches. To this day, they still use the same production methods to create delicious whole-bean coffees that hail from Columbia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Indonesia, and Rwanda. Try their Ethiopian Mordecofe, or Hair Bender from Africa. 

Espresso Italiano Whole Bean

Lavazza: (best for espresso): This coffee company has been around since 1895, so they know coffee. In particular, they know espresso. Their espresso blends are exquisite. Expect to experience a hint of fruit and even floral fragrances from this coffee. Try the Caffe Espresso if you are a lightweight when it comes to espresso, or if you want to go for the gusto, try Crema e Gusto. 

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Peerless Coffee & Tea: Located in California, this company won the Roaster of the Year in 2019, so they are very good at what they do. Founded almost 100 years ago, this company was started by an immigrant from Yugoslavia. Try their coffees using beans from Costa Rica, Jamaica, Hawaii, or Panama. Their coffees are sourced from direct trade or single origin, which means sustainable practices were used and the farmers weren’t exploited. 

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