Coffee has been one of my all time favorites since childhood. I can vaguely remember begging for coffee from my grandma and pestering my cousin sisters’ back home for coffee all through the day. The only difference was while my grandmother used filter coffee, my cousin sisters’ had made the move to instant coffee. I never realized that one day I’d come full circle and go back to filter coffee!
I heard from a friend that instant coffee is quite distant from real coffee. Often poor quality beans are acquired at lower rates and then processed with additives such as preservatives, anti caking agents, flavoring and colors. I don’t know how true this is, but it seems that all commercial packaged foods more or less go that way. The motto is convenience at the cost of health.
I was fortunate that one of my cousin sisters’ husband worked in a coffee estate in Coorg in south India and so was able to get some information on coffee and got to see berries on the plant for the first time on a coffee estate. In the above picture, you can see a berry of the Robusta (Coffea robusta ) variety of coffee. Compared to the Arabica (Coffea arabica ) species of coffee, it is hardier, has a greater yield and contains almost twice the amount of caffeine than C. arabica. Its seeds are also relatively harder and it is easier to cultivate. However, Arabica has better flavor, larger beans and it grows wild and is believed to the first species of coffee to be commercially cultivated. C. Arabica needs constant attention and is more susceptible to boring insects. C. Robusta is usually blended with Arabica and other varieties of coffee to increase yield as it is not that great on taste.
As seen in the photograph above, the coffee berry (also called cherry) has an outer cover inside which is a slimy substance called mucilage (probably the pectin layer). If the berries are picked either too soon or too late, it produces inferior coffee. Inside the berry are two locules containing the coffee beans. Sometimes there are three or even one, in which case it is called a peaberry or caracoli. Peaberries are more expensive. I doubt whether there is any difference in taste, but the very fact that it is rarer should be enough for it to cost more. Coffee beans are further covered by two membranes, the parchment coat, and underneath that the silver skin.
While roasting the coffee beans manually, small quantities of beans are roasted at a time. I usually take a large handful. I learned the hard way that trying to roast too many beans at a time or roasting in a container with a curved bottom can ruin the whole procedure with some seeds getting burnt, some under and others over roasted. After a lot of practice, I’ve found it best to use a heavy, flat bottomed, iron or cast iron pan and stir the beans continuously (briskly) over high heat. If any of the silver skin is left on the bean, it will peel off and needs to be blown from the pan. However, if it is left in the pan, it doesn’t cause much of a problem except for a change in taste, but might clog your coffee filter. I always blow it off. I’ve often felt light headed after a lot of blowing :-) Once the beans have turn brown, add a teaspoon or so of oil and stir briskly till it turns the color of dark chocolate. (it will start smoking). I use clarified butter (Ghee) like my grandma did. Once it is done, move the beans to a plate and allow to cool and then bottle it. Do not grind the seeds while they are still hot. You will need to grind the seeds very fine if you use a coffee filter.
I don’t know why the oil or clarified butter is added, it probably browns the outer surface of the bean faster. It could also be to waterproof the bean and increase its shelf life. An added advantage is that it lubricates the burrs on my favorite Zassenhaus hand grinder and makes grinding pretty smooth.
Commercially, Coffee beans are picked when they are red and then pulped, i.e the red seed cover and mucilage are removed. Next, the seed is dried till the moisture content comes down to 10.5%. After this, the thick parchment coat is removed. The seed is then color sorted and blacks (immature seeds) and bits (broken seeds) are separated by using blasts of compressed air in an automated machine.
For small lots or if grown in a home garden, the process is simpler. The whole seed is dried in the sun till its volume to weight ratio reaches 40 liters:18kg. The seeds are then pounded in a mortar during which the seed cover and parchment comes off.
Coffee is classified as hot, i.e. it increases heat in the body. I can enjoy it in winter, but in hot summer months or when it is hot and humid, I get blisters on my tongue so I prefer tea in the summers with coffee only on occasion.
There are several methods of brewing coffee. I prefer the quick and dirty way -add freshly ground coffee powder to boiling water and let it simmer for a while, after which I use an ordinary tea strainer to strain it into a mug. In a short time the fine coffee grounds settle to the bottom of the mug.
My grandma would add jaggery and milk to the coffee. The coffee powder was bolied along with jaggery and then taken off the fire and sprinkled with cold water. The sinking cold water would take some of the remaining grounds with it to the bottom. The coffee was then carefully poured off and milk added. They never used a coffee filter!
| Mr Ivan Ronald | Mrs Asha Ivan |
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