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Nate Hrobak

Caribou Roastmaster since 2003
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Coffee: Just add water

Posted by Nate Hrobak

June 30, 2010 15:27 PM

Coffee's modern time line started sometime in the mid 1500s, which was probably when someone figured out how to roast the seeds of a coffee tree and mix them with water. From that point, coffee consumption grew in fits and starts. Political and religious leaders didn't know what to do with it. Was it the devil's drink, inciting dissention, or was it heaven sent to keep the drowsy masses alert and receptive? Sometimes condemned, sometimes lauded, coffee was almost always a hot topic of conversation.

Even though coffee has been around for several hundred years, it is still a relatively young product as compared to other staples in our lives. Take milk for example. Milk has been around since the very first day, whenever that was, by design. We've had milk at our disposal for millennia. At some point in milk's journey from teat to cup, some enterprising soul managed to figure out that if stirred for a really long time, butter is the resulting product. And then there's yogurt, sour cream, curds, whey, cheeses, and everything that uses those byproducts ad infinitum, etc, etc...

Then we go back to coffee. What we've figured out with coffee is that we can roast it and mix it with water. Granted, some of the vehicles used to introduce water are pretty innovative, but it still feels like there's something more amazing about itself that coffee will reveal once we finally perfect the addition of water.

Maybe I'm imagining too much of this little bean that I love so much, but maybe not. Tinkerers in the coffee world have been busy figuring out golden ratios of extraction, mastering the perfect grind, controlling temperature, time and pressure; in short, perfecting what we already know how to do. Once that perfection is achieved, we'll be back at the bottom of a long learning curve, making coffee into something else beautiful and good. The future is out there, we just have to wait for it to come around again.

Brian

Brian Aliffi

Caribou Roastmaster since 2005
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Happy accidents

Posted by Brian Aliffi

June 21, 2010 09:39 AM

Much of the coffee sourcing we do around here is deliberate, well-thought-out and intentional. But there is a bit of luck in bringing great coffee to you fine folks. Once upon a time, an early Roastmaster had the foresight, vision, courage and, well maybe it was just dumb luck, but I digress, to begin a relationship with the fine La Minita farm. The result has been a yearly delivery of some of the finest, hand-tended coffee grown in the world. And the latest delivery is here.

For the uninitiated, La Minita's peaberries are special indeed. Grown in the lush Tarrazu valley in Costa Rica is coffee with a rich, winy body accented by a milk-chocolaty sweetness. While the typical coffee berry has two seeds (known as beans, why? Perhaps a topic for another post), occasionally the fruit has a single seed inside (about 7% of the time, not exactly sure-bet odds). This seed absorbs all of the nutrients and flavor from the fruit making for a potent, football-shaped ball of deliciousness.

Since you can't grow peaberries explicitly, and it's rather difficult to tell whether a coffee cherry has 1 seed inside, or 2, these precious (can anyone say that word and not hear Gollum's raspy, urgent, coddling utterance?) beans must be sorted out after the fruity exterior is removed and they've completely dried. How are they sorted out? The first stage involves density (as in "You're my...). Peaberries, being denser than their flat cousins, are heavier. Through the use of a fascinating vibrating table, involving principles I'm not intimately familiar with, peaberries and flats bounce their way into separate channels that ferry them away to storage silos, where they'll be rested until their moisture level reaches about 12-14% water, by volume. But it's not over yet.

Before those peaberries get a well-earned rest there is a further sorting. And this time, it's personal. In a room filled with what would appear to be adult-sized elementary school desks with raised barriers along the edges preventing coffee from rolling off, are workers employed for the express purpose of hand-sorting out the precious (surely you hear it now) peaberries. Sorted beans are carried up to a chief inspector, making sure that what ends up in our roastery, and eventually your cup, is 100% La Minita peaberry.

How much difference does it make? I could extol the virtues of these peaberries but instead I invite you to test on your own. Head to a competitor and purchase a quarter pound of a peaberry coffee offering. Chances are great that it will be a mix of flats and peaberries. Hand sort out the flats from the peaberries and brew each, then compare side by side. You might need more than a quarter pound, depending on your preferred brewing method, but a single cup #1 or #2 sized pour over cone will work nicely. The taste should provide the validation you seek. And hopefully this small-scale simulation of the effort it takes to bring La Minita's peaberries from the plants to your cup proves as satisfying as just enjoying the limited offering we make every year to the fans of this delightful, lucky defect of nature.

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Nate

Nate Hrobak

Caribou Roastmaster since 2003
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Brian

Brian Aliffi

Caribou Roastmaster since 2005
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Brett Struwe

Caribou Roastmaster since 1995
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