I can see you asking – is there really something that we can call the best coffee? That is a very tricky question which we have tried to tackle in this coffee guide.
What is coffee
Coffee is a brewed caffeine-rich drink prepared from the roasted seeds of coffee cherries also known as the coffee beans. The reason they are called beans is because they resemble the actual beans in appearance.
Typically, a cherry will have two beans, but other times you may find a single bean inside the cherry which is known as peaberry.
When fully grown, the cherries turn dark red or plum in colour and are (ideally) handpicked and taken to the factory where the coffee beans are separated from the husk.
Normally, the fruit may be allowed to dry first before removing the coffee beans, but in some instances, the removal of the beans is done much sooner.
Research shows that varying the amount of time given for the fruit to dry can impact on the flavour of the final product. Green coffee refers to the dried, but unroasted product of coffee beans.
Origin and history of coffee in England
The story behind the origin of coffee dates back to 1000 A.D. when the Galla tribe of Ethiopia first noticed the energy boosting impact of coffee berries which were then simply ground up and combined with animal fat.
Because the Ethiopians never cultivated the coffee in formal plantations either for commercial or subsistence purposes, the first formal cultivation on a plantation setting was done in the Arab Peninsula (the area called Yemen nowadays) thanks to the Arabs traders who frequented East Africa and took back with them coffee berries for planting.
The Arabs used to boil the beans and create a drink known as ‘Al-Qahwa’ which helped fight sleep and make them alert. Coffee was also known as the ‘Arabian wine’ in Europe.
Coffee first made its way to Europe in the 17th century thanks to Italian traders who had visited the near East. Almost immediately, coffee as a beverage was widely accepted courtesy of Pope Clement VIII who endorsed the drink after earlier fears that it was the bitter intervention of Satan.
The growth in popularity of coffee led to the establishment of coffee houses as social activity and communication centres all-around Europe including England, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, and Holland.
England in particular saw the rise of penny universities which were named so because a cup of coffee only cost a penny and gave one the opportunity to engage in a stimulating conversation. By mid-17th century, over 300 coffee houses were established in London most of which attracted merchants, patrons, brokers, artists, and shippers. It is out of these specialised houses that the renowned Lloyd’s of London came into being at the famous Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House.
Arabica coffee vs Robusta coffee
There are a number of coffee varieties around the world, but the two main known and produced varieties are the Arabica and Robusta coffee. Though similar in appearance, these two species differ significantly in a number of ways.
Arabica coffee which can grow to 5 metres in height grows well in areas with an annual rainfall of between 1000 and 2200 millimetres per year and a temperature of about 15 to 24 degrees Celsius. It requires the right climate conditions (usually at higher altitudes which are considered ideal for coffee) and is much more difficult to cultivate compared to Robusta.
On the other hand, Robusta coffee, which grows well at lower altitudes, contains more caffeine than Arabica and thrives well in places where Arabica would struggle. As Arabica has less caffeine and chromogenic acid which are potential deterrents to insects, it is more prone to diseases.
In terms of yields, Arabica gives less per hectare compared to Robusta, however, it is superior in terms of quality and taste. So it is not surprising that more than 60% of the world coffee production is represented by Arabica.
The continents where most of the world’s coffee comes from are Latin America, Africa, and Asia. There are a total of about 70 countries that produce coffee on a commercial basis in the world today. The area is knows as the ‘coffee belt’ or ‘bean belt’.Brazil, a South American country, is the largest producer of coffee and also doubles up as the second largest consumer of the same. It mainly produces Arabica coffee. Recent studies show that the coffee sector in Brazil employs over 5 million people and supplies 40% of the world’s total coffee demand.
Vietnam comes second overall accounting for 16% of the global coffee production. In terms of coffee variety, it is the world’s leading producer of Robusta coffee and its sector employs over 1 million workers.
The second largest supplier of Arabica coffee in the world after Brazil is Columbia where 25% of its rural population is dependent on coffee.
Indonesia follows Vietnam as the world’s second largest producer of Robusta coffee. Its sector employs an estimated 1.5 million people most of whom are smallholder farmers.
In Africa, the largest coffee producer is Ethiopia thanks to its 1.2 million smallholder farmers who account for over 90% of the coffee production. The E.U. is the primary target of most the global coffee.
Don’t forget to check our latest post on single origin vs coffee blends.
Fair trade coffee
Fairtrade coffee refers to coffee that has been certified as having been produced in accordance to the Fair Trade standards.
Fair Trade is a voluntary programme bringing together coffee producers and importers with the aim of creating an alternative market for producers in developing countries who are traditionally disadvantaged.
Fair Trade certification was introduced in 1988 following a crisis in the coffee market where the supply was greater than the demand leading to a flooded market.
The aim of the Fair Trade certification was to ensure growers get an opportunity to market, sufficient profit and wages, and work under humane conditions.
To achieve this, the Fair Trade organisation which was initially referred to as Max Havelaar started artificially raising the coffee prices. Purchasing fairly traded coffee therefore helps in building the pride, the independence, and the community empowerment of small scale farmers as well as their families.
Read also: Coffee Quiz: Questions & Answers
Types of coffee
There are many different ways of preparing coffee that are popular, and there is a dozen of books on coffee that try to explain them. It is very difficult to say that a certain type of coffee is the best, indeed. Different people like different coffee types (and some even drink it with sugar!) depending on their taste and preference.
Seeing bags of coffee labelled as espresso can be somewhat confusing. The labelling, however, refers to coffee that has been ground to a fine size suitable for espresso brewing or coffee whose blend creates a balance of flavours for the best experience.
Espresso is simply a method of brewing coffee. That is to mean that all types of coffee can be brewed as espresso – some will definitely taste better than others.
Brewing espresso entails running hot water which pressure is at highs of 9 bars through a compact ‘puck’ of ground coffee.
One outstanding characteristic of espresso is that it is highly concentrated with lots of coffee oils and solids and is served in pretty low volumes.
Espresso is also used in a number of coffee drinks such as cappuccino, latte, mocha or flat white.
|Small, strong coffee drink with crema on top.
|A single coffee shot. Ratio of weight of ground coffee to weight of beverage is 1:2
|Double Espresso (Doppio is double in Italian)
|A double shot of Espresso
|Smaller and stronger coffee drink than Espresso.
|Less water with the same amount of ground coffee as for Espresso
|Larger and weaker coffee drink than Espresso
|More water with the same amount of ground coffee as for Espresso
|Coffee drink with a dollop of foamed milk
|A single shot of Espresso, a dollop of milk foam on top
|Coffee drink with milk and thick foam on top
|A single shot of Espresso, foam and the milk in 1:2:2 ratio
|Coffee drink with milk and thin foam on top
|A single shot of Espresso, foam and the milk. More milk and less foam than in Capuccino
|Coffee drink with milk and thin foam on top (stronger than Latte)
|A single shot of Espresso, foam and the milk. Less milk than in Caffee Latte and less foam than in Capuccino
|Double Espresso with more hot water
|A double shot of Espresso. Hot water
|Spanish Espresso brew with steamed milk
|A single shot of Espresso, the same amount of steamed milk
Coffee drinks explained:
Turkish coffee is brewed in an interesting method that dates back to the 16th century.
It is essentially infusing very finely ground coffee in water that’s about to come to a boil. The grind size of coffee, in this case, is very fine, so much like a powder. To achieve this fineness, one requires a good grinder or the alternative Turkish mills.
The brewing device is called an ibrik, usually made of copper and features a long wooden handle. It can be found in varied sizes of 2-8 cups, and it brews coffee with an incomparable full body.
Drip coffee or Filter coffee
Preparing drip coffee is a seemingly simple task as it only involves pouring hot water over ground coffee but achieving great taste comes with considerable effort.
This method of preparation is especially popular in North America and is characterized by a high ratio of caffeine per spoon of ground coffee. The ideal cup of drip coffee is complex and flavourful but never bitter.
This can be prepared with between 90 and 120 grams of ground coffee for 2 litres of water. The water should have a temperature of about 93 degree Celsius. With a good coffee machine, you will most definitely achieve the best tasting coffee.
French press coffee
A French press is a pretty simple coffee brewing device that features a beaker and a filter.
Coffee prepared with a French press or press pot is quite dense and heavy. It is brewed by pouring hot water over ground coffee and letting it steep for a few minutes. The filter is then pressed down once steeping is over to separate the grinds and served immediately as letting it sit favours continued brewing.
The aroma of this coffee is quite intense and so is the flavor. It has in fact gained considerable popularity over time.
A Moka pot is a simple, inexpensive brewer that is ideal gift for espresso lovers on a tight budget.
It uses steam pressure to push water through ground coffee in a fashion so similar to that of preparing espresso. The difference, however, is that in this case, the pressure is lower, say 1 bar, compared to an espresso machine that operates at 9 bars.
Contrary to espresso that is foam filled with lots of coffee oils, coffee brewed by a coffee pot has less oil and lacks crema. If done right, however, the result can be an inviting bittersweet yet very strong drink that will get you through the morning.
Cold brew coffee
Cold-brewed coffee is a cold caffeinated summer beverage well-known and loved. This mode of preparation has gained tremendous favour among people with stomach problems. This is because this coffee promotes lower acidity levels compared to other types that are subjected to high temperatures.
It has in fact been observed to taste better than rapidly cooling hot coffee that tends to yield a slightly bitter taste. In addition to good taste, it also results in a more caffeinated cup.
Preparing cold-brewed coffee entails steeping ground coffee for periods of between 12 and 36 hours after which it is strained and served cold or hot.
An Aeropress is a manual coffee making device that like many others uses pressure to brew a cup of coffee. The mode of preparation entails two steps, the first one being steeping for a few minutes, followed by passing the brew through ground coffee at a high pressure to yield even more solids and caffeine. Needless to say, this coffee is very strong and looks a lot like espresso.
If you are wondering what the key differences between Aeropress and other manual coffee making methods are, read this article about Aeropress vs French press.
Instant coffee is very popular among many coffee lovers. It basically refers to soluble coffee prepared from coffee beans that have been thoroughly roasted and ground to a fine grind.
To recover the flavour, these ground beans are then extracted with hot water. The coffee extract is dried either by spray drying or freeze drying. Spray drying refers to a method of drying where the coffee is subjected to a stream of hot air right at the top of a tall cylindrical tower. The droplets dry as they fall into a fine powder at the bottom of the tower.
The aroma is well-preserved in this process owing to the speedy drying of the ground coffee. Freeze drying, on the other hand, refers to subjecting the coffee to a temperature of about 40 degree Celsius and subsequently cutting it into granules. These granules are then dried in a vacuum at low temperature. The gentle drying conditions go a long way to preserving the aroma and flavour.
Much as coffee is a popular beverage among many people, some have gained a liking for lower quantities of caffeine in their drinks owing to various reasons. Decaffeinated coffee is an excellent option for such situations.
It is simply coffee from which about 97% of caffeine has been removed. The methods of removal vary from use of water to use of carbon dioxide as solvents. The coffee beans are washed in the solvent up until all the caffeine has been extracted after which the solvent is removed.
Decaffeination is done before the beans are roasted and ground. It should be noted, however, that the nutritional value of decaffeinated coffee is very much the same as that of regular coffee and the only difference is that decaffeinated coffee has an almost negligible caffeine content.
Kopi Luwak coffee
This is the world’s most expensive coffee also referred to as civet coffee. As you might have guessed, this high cost is attributed to the uncommon method of preparing this coffee.
It is produced from coffee beans that have been digested by an Indonesian civet cat. As digestion occurs, some unique fermentation takes place giving the coffee a special flavour. The faecal matter from the civet cat is collected, finished and then sold as kopi luwak.
Kopi Luwak coffee has a unique taste and is unfortunately in a very low supply compared to demand. That leads to frequent forgery of this coffee and also to very cruel and unethical treatment of civet cats by some producers of this coffee.
This is a branded coffee beverage comprising upgraded black coffee blended with Brain Octane oil and grass-fed butter developed by David Asprey.
It is believed to boost cognitive performance as well as promote weight loss. As expected, it is popular among sports people as it lays claim to giving them an alertness and buzz that leaves them more energized.
If you have been to New Orleans, you may have come across a number of coffee shops selling the famous New Orleans chicory coffee, which is not really a coffee but it does not prevent us from including it on this list due to its several heal benefits.
Read also: Nespresso Vs Tassimo Vs Dolce Gusto
Apart from a coffee machine (e.g. an Italian brand), there are other accessories that are important if you want to brew the perfect cup of coffee at home. The list can be very long, but two of the most important things are:
- Coffee bean grinder
Since coffee starts losing quality almost as soon as it is ground, it is advisable to grind your own just before brewing. This will ensure the best quality cup of coffee.
The work of the filter, on the other hand, is to extract sediment from your coffee. For the best flavour retention, most professional baristas recommend you go for oxygen-bleached or dioxin-free paper filters, or invest in a gold-plated filter. These are known to deliver maximum flavour.
Home coffee roasting machines
Many coffee lovers wonder whether it is better to buy roasted coffee beans, or roast them at home. Well, the fact is, there are a lot of pros and cons. It really depends on you.
For starters, green coffee has a longer shelf life compared to roasted coffee. It is also much cheaper, so you will incur less expense less often. Additionally, if you love the smell of coffee, the best coffee aroma is found when roasting. Investing in a home coffee roasting machine could, therefore, be a good idea.
A downside to all this, though, is that you will most probably not roast your coffee as perfectly as commercial roasters do. But with practice, you can come real close.
Therefore, investing in a coffee roaster may well be a brilliant idea. It is also quite fun to roast your own coffee beans.
After roasting, the next step to preparing that craved cup of coffee is how to grind the beans. Selecting a grinder is more than a matter of preference. It is about quality.
Of all types of grinders, blade grinders produce the least quality coffee. They are also terrible at producing consistent particle size. They are, however, inexpensive when compared to other grinder types. A rule of thumb with blade grinders is never to grind beyond 20 seconds as you risk burning the ground coffee.
Burr grinders are bit more expensive but produce amazing quality. They are old fashioned, and slow, but you will appreciate the quality afterwards. They produce a very consistent particle size with an adjustable grind size. Though most are hand powered, there are some electric ones that make it effortless.
The disc and conical grinders are the best when it comes to coffee grinders. They offer the most precise grinding, and the flavour retention is just perfect. They are however quite expensive.
While not an absolute necessity, a coffee thermometer is a good accessory to have especially because the flavour of coffee can be greatly affected by temperature. Having a thermometer will allow much greater accuracy and consistency.
Coffee tamper and mat
A good coffee tamper is necessary for you to tamp your coffee correctly if you brew an espresso.
And without a tamping mat, your table top will get gouged and damaged with time. A tamping mat will keep your table top clean, tidy, and free from gouging.
Apart from tamping, tamper mats can serve a lot other functions that make it a necessary addition. You can rest your coffee machine’s portafilter while tamping and it can also act as a base to knock your milk jug against to remove bubbles.
If you are one who loves the frothy topping on your cup of cappuccino, then a good milk frother is a good addition to your list of accessories.
They are specifically designed to froth milk, and you have hundreds to choose from. While the sheer numbers can make it an uphill task to pick one, you should look for one that does a good job of frothing both non-fat and whole milk (or some milk alternatives). Make sure it is within your budget too.
To top it all, a coffee cup is the last item you need when making coffee. Depending on your situation, different cups may be needed.
If at home, ceramic mugs and cups tend to be the best choices because of lots of quite obvious reasons.
Disposable cups are great for a late morning as you are rushing to work, travel coffee mugs are convenient for cars, buses, trains and planes, and reusable takeaway cups can be used for picnics, camping trips, and general outdoor activities.
How to make coffee
There are practically hundreds of methods you could use to prepare a cup of coffee. Unless you are a barista, café owner, or run your own mobile coffee business, you won’t need to know most of them.
They range from the simple boiling of water and adding an instant coffee to complex methods that will stimulate all senses and give you the most satisfying experience.
They also all vary in complexity and steps followed and so, impractical for us to cover them all in one post.
The French press method is, however, a simple yet very effective method of brewing coffee. We are, therefore, going to go deeper into how to brew a cup using this method.
This method makes use of a cylindrical beaker with a plunger. The plunger is fitted with a piston that is made of mesh that allows brewed coffee to flow through while restricting the coffee grounds.
Most brewing methods use drip or pour-over brewing. This has the advantage of stronger osmotic pressure that results in a faster, more efficient extraction of the coffee concentrate from the grounds.
However, the outer surfaces are also extracted and could result in less-tasty or over extracted flavours.
The French press, on the other hand, brews your coffee much slower.
The biggest advantage, however, is that there is very little surface over extraction, which leads to a more full-flavored and deeply sweet brew.
Here is the process to brew a sweet, rich flavoured cup of coffee using the French press method.
- Pour your ground coffee beans into the French press. A water-to-coffee ratio of 1 litre for 60-70 grams of coffee is usually the best.
- Pour in your boiled brew water. You can pour the water in right off the boil. However, if you are making decaf or dark-roasted coffee, it is better to let the water cool by about 5-10 degrees Celsius before pouring it in.
- Start your clock. Allow between 6 and 8 minutes of brewing. Like we said, the French press method brews slower than the drip or pour-over methods, and thus the need for a little extra time. After pouring in your water, you will notice that most of your coffee grounds will have floated to the top.This is because of carbon dioxide gas that is being released. Stir briskly for about half a minute till most of the coffee sinks to the bottom. Now let it brew.
- When time is up, you can now start plunging. Make sure to do it slowly to avoid agitating the coffee grounds and adding bitter flavours to your brew. Once the plunge starts getting tight, back it up a bit before resuming plunging. Do this gently till you get to the bottom. Pour off the brewed beverage to stop brewing completely. Note that the final brew may have fines, which are essentially powder-like coffee grounds that will make it through the mesh.
Read also our latest post on How To Clean Your Home Coffee Machine Thoroughly.
How to roast coffee beans
For those who would prefer to roast their coffee beans (possibly grown in their own garden), here are 5 steps of what goes on when roasting. It is important to know and understand each step of the roasting process to avoid burning your beans.
- Yellowing. After a few minutes of roasting, the coffee beans will change colour from green to light yellow and emit a grassy smell. They will also start to get smoky, which is actually steam being released from the beans.
- After a few more minutes, the colour will change from yellow to a light brown shade. The smell will also change from grassy to that of baking bread.
- First crack. Soon, the first of two sets of cracks will occur. This is caused by water and carbon dioxide under high pressure escaping. At this point, it is up to you do decide when to stop the roasting process.
- Caramelisation. Should you continue roasting the beans, the sugars begin caramelising, oils migrate, and the beans expand in size. The colour also becomes darker.
- The second crack occurs shortly afterwards. This is much more subtle that the first. At this point, you will now have what is considered a “normal” roast. You will not want to go beyond a few minutes after this because you stand a chance of burning your coffee beans.
Is coffee bad for you?
Depending on how you consume it, the benefits of coffee may far outweigh the risks it poses to your health. Historical arguments have blamed coffee for stunting growth and causing cancer and cardiac diseases. However, recent research has found no connection between coffee consumption and these problems. That said, high consumption of unfiltered coffee such as espresso or boiled coffee has been associated with spikes in bad cholesterol levels which affect cardiovascular activity.
Calories in coffee
The argument that coffee contains calories has long been misunderstood thanks to research that has exposed exactly where the calories originate from. Brewed coffee from grounds has fewer calories compared to the proprietary blends. For instance, an 8 ounce cup of brewed coffee contains only 2 calories which come from its tiny protein constituents and mono-saturated oils.
On the other hand, 16 ounces of Macdonald’s cappuccino, latte and mocha contain 130, 180 and 330 calories respectively. One tablespoon of instant coffee contains 4 calories while one ounce of espresso coffee contains one calorie. Starbuck’s 16 ounces of brewed coffee, caffe Americano, cappuccino, caffe latte, caffe mocha (no whip), and caffe mocha (whip) contain 5, 15, 140, 220, 290 and 360 calories respectively.
As you can see, coffee in itself doesn’t have much calories but what you add to the coffee including the milks and the sugars is what loads it with calories.
Caffeine in coffee
Caffeine refers to a bitter crystalline white purine contained in coffee beans as well as leaves and nuts of a number of plants found in Africa, East Asia and South America. However, coffee is the greatest and well known source of caffeine. The quantity of caffeine in any coffee drink is dependent on the type of coffee drink and the fluid quantity measured in ounces.
For instance, 8 ounces of brewed coffee contain 95 to 200 milligrammes of caffeine; 8 ounces of brewed decaffeinated coffee contains 2 to 12 milligrammes of caffeine; an ounce of espresso restaurant-style coffee contains 47 to 75 milligrammes of caffeine; 8 ounces of instant contain 27 to 173 milligrammes of caffeine while 8 ounces of specialty coffee drinks such as mocha or latte contains 63 to 175 milligrammes of caffeine.
Coffee side effects
Consumption of coffee on a moderate basis doesn’t have any reported long term detrimental side effects. However, consumption of large amounts of coffee containing caffeine levels of 1000 milligrammes a day on a regular basis has been linked to episodes of heart burns, stomach ache, conception problems and changed bowel habits.
Too much caffeine deprives your system of sleep as ignores the normal body warnings of tiredness. Heavy consumers of coffee have also complained of side effects including tremors, nervousness, sweating and other instances of anxiety. If you want to avoid these and other side effects associated with coffee, switch to decaffeinated drinks because they have lower caffeine quantities.
Coffee health benefits
Coffee has immense benefits to human health when consumed in moderate quantities. For instance, studies show that coffee can significantly improve energy levels making you feel less tired and smarter. This is due to its caffeine content which is a stimulant that travels through the bloodstream to the brain.
Also, coffee stimulates the nervous system making it send signals to the fat cells so as to metabolize body fat leading to improved physical performance and weight loss. Coffee beans also come loaded with nutrients including Vitamin B2, B3 and B5 as well as magnesium, potassium, manganese.
Dieticians, nutritionists and medical doctors have also found coffee to lower the risk of type II diabetes which globally affects about 300 million people. Those with memory loss as a result of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, coffee can be a healthy drink to minimise, delay or even reverse memory loss and other signs of ageing.
As with all popular drinks there have been a lot of myths about coffee published in the past; however, all in all, coffee is a healthy drink with antioxidants that sooths your moods, chromogenic acids that help in weight loss among other benefits.
Coffee quotes, coffee puns, coffee jokes
We want to do a lot of stuff; we’re not in great shape. We didn’t get a good night’s sleep. We’re a little depressed. Coffee solves all these problems in one delightful little cup.– Jerry Seinfeld