At lunch yesterday I had a fascinating conversation about coffee with Chris Gayton, Alltech’s manager of its Café Citadelle coffee brand.
Chris sat down with me at lunch and we started visiting. Pretty soon I was peppering him with questions about coffee. It’s one of the few commodities that’s simply not grown here and so we aggies don’t know anything about it.
Gayton says coffee is the number two commodity in dollar volume in the U.S., second only to oil. Coffee plants originally came from Ethiopia, entered the Arabian trade routes and finally became a worldwide staple.
Alltech founder Pearse Lyons decided to buy all his company’s coffee from Haiti as “fair trade” coffee from farmer co-ops to help support that country’s efforts to pull itself up by the bootstraps.
Here are a few other things Gayton told me:
- Coffee plants are perennial bushes which grow and produce best in the shade of trees or artificial shade. They can live and produce more than 20 years. The have fairly large, shiny leaves and they flower and then produce beans all along the branches.
- Coffee beans grow two per pod and ripen at different times, even within a single bush. That and other factors in handling and preparing the beans require a lot of labor. When a pair of beans is ready the pod will be bright red and look like a little berry.
- Most coffee worldwide is grown on small family holdings of three or four acres.
- Coffee beans must be removed from their pods, then soaked and removed from their hulls and then dried.
- After drying they must be run through sieves to get the same-sized beans together. That’s because the larger beans roast less slowly and smaller beans roast more quickly. The degree of roasting is critical to flavor and over-roasting or under-roasting can actually create unpleasant flavors.
- Coffee beans are stored and shipped all over the world in what the industry calls a “green” state. In fact they do have a green tint to them, as you may be able to see in this picture of un-roasted beans.
- The finer flavors of coffee depend first on what variety the pants were and second on what altitude it was grown at. Arabica beans are the better type, and within that there are many varieties. Higher altitudes seem to develop the beans more slowly and add more complex flavors with lower acidic flavors.
- Grinding can significantly affect flavor. A sharp grinder that produces consistent-sized granules will brew consistent coffee. Smaller granules can be over-brewed and create bad flavors, while large granules can be under-brewed and produce bad flavors, much like size problems in the roasting process cause flavor problems.
- Other factors in brewing affects coffee, too. Temperatures just short of boiling, or about 200 degrees F are just right. Paper filters will take out some of the oils that a basket will let through. Depending on your personal tastes, that could be good or bad.
- Freshness can make a real difference, too. Beans freshly picked, then hulled, dried, roasted and brewed just right should produce the finest flavor experience possible.
If you want to learn a little more about Alltech’s branded coffee click here or go to the Café Citadelle Facebook page.