Coffee, nectar of the underslept
Over the years, I’ve introduced any number of people to the contagion of excellent coffee: a pound of some excellent beans and a decent grinder, I’ve created an addict for life.
Beans: what kind? Any beans you get in a coffee store is going to be Coffea arabica (the big, low-altitude robusta are only used in cheap coffees and instants.)
Inside the berry are two pale green beans, little gems awaiting heat. The names you see in the shops—Kenya, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Kona—tell you where that coffee was grown. Mocha, for example, refers to the port in Yemen where a particularly magnificent little bean comes from: “Mocha Java” should be a blend of this with beans from Java—however, often it’s a far more generic blend. (So make sure you buy from a reputable shop.) Personally, I love the rich, almost winey Ethiopian and Yemeni beans, tiny ugly little sources of nectar, rather than the handsome, uniform, larger and more acidic Central American varieties. And because coffee has a habit of being raised in poor countries, I like to buy one of the Fair Trade kinds, which puts more income in the hands of the growers.
Then we come to the roast.
Mahmoud took his brother’s place at the fire, dropping to his heels and pulling open the drawstring of the leather pouch. He plunged his hand in, came up with a handful of pale grey-green beans, thumbed a few of them back into the bag, and then poured the rest of them into the skillet. It appeared we had earned the right to a cup of coffee.
Holmes had already warned me that in Arab countries, coffee-making was a long drawn-out affair. We sat in silence watching Mahmoud’s utterly unhurried motions, swirling the beans across the pan. The small green dots changed colour, grew dark, and finally began to sweat their fragrant oil. When they were shiny and slick and nearly burnt, Mahmoud picked up a large wooden mortar and with a flick of the wrist, tipped the contents of the coffee skillet into it, spilling not a single bean.
Coffee roasts range from medium brown to nearly black, depending on what you’re doing with it. The lighter the roast, the more complex—or perhaps less straightforward—the flavor. But there’s a lot more to it than just the color.
The beans have to be kept moving, the smoke has to be vented, once they reach their doneness, they should be quickly cooled—in other words, roasting is both an art and a science, and although dabbling in an art is always a lot of fun,
home roasting can be a bit of a commitment for those of who just want a good cup of coffee.
In any event, the only rules for coffee are, a good quality bean, and freshly roasted. Stale coffee is so disgusting, you’d be better off stirring some instant into hot milk.
Let’s talk about ways of brewing it tomorrow.