A Crash Course in Coffee


Do you drink coffee?  Admittedly, I don’t drink coffee at home. On occasion, I will buy a “designer” coffee when I am out with friends, but it’s not a given.  For many people, a morning cup of coffee is a must for getting their day started.

To make that perfect cup of coffee, it must first be roasted, then ground, then brewed.  Any coffee bean can be roasted to any degree of darkness, ground to any degree of fineness and brewed by a variety of methods. In my Culinary Arts I textbook, each of these steps were discussed in detail.

Roasting Coffee

Roasting coffee beans releases and enhances their flavor, darkens the color of the bean, and releases its natural oils.  Although there are many roasts, they generally fall into the following four categories based on their resulting color:  light, medium, medium-dark and dark.  Shown below are some of the common types of coffee roasts:

  • City Roast (American or Brown Roast) – this medium-brown colored roast is the most common type used in the United States. Although sometimes described as being a bit flat, it is used most often in mass-marketed blends in the USA.
  • Brazilian Roast – a bit darker than City Roast and a hint more flavorful. Note that the name for this type of roast has no relation to coffee grown in Brazil.
  • Viennese Roast (Medium-dark Roast) – generally falls between a City Roast and a French Roast.
  • French Roast (New Orleans or Dark Roast) – results in beans the color of semi-sweet chocolate, which have a taste approaching that of espresso, but is still smooth.
  • Espresso Roast (Italian Roast) – the darkest roast, where the coffee beans are roasted until they are close to burnt.

Grinding Coffee

It is best to leave coffee beans whole until they are ready to be used, because whole coffee beans stay fresh longer than ground coffee.  In fact, fresh, whole coffee beans will stay fresh for up to a few weeks, while frozen, whole coffee beans stay fresh for several months. This compares to the 3-4 days that fresh, ground coffee stays fresh, when kept in an airtight container, away from heat and light.

The grind of the coffee beans determines the length of time it takes to achieve the optimum 19% flavor extraction from the beans. As a general rule, the finer the grind, the more quickly the coffee should be prepared.

Brewing Coffee

There are two main methods used to brew coffee:  decoction and infusion.

  1. Decoction involves boiling to extract flavor. Although this is the oldest method of making coffee, it is seldom used.
  2. Infusion involves extracting flavors from ground coffee at temperatures below boiling, and includes:
  • Steeping: mixing hot water with ground coffee
  • Filtering:  slowly pouring hot water over ground coffee held in a disposable filter
  • Dripping: pouring hot water over ground coffee and allowing the liquid to run through a strainer

For drip coffee brewing, the generally accepted ratio of coffee to water is 2 level tablespoons of coffee to ¾ cup of water (6 oz.). With this, one pound of coffee yields about 80 tablespoons = 40  6 oz. “cups” of coffee. For stronger tasting coffee, use more coffee per 6 oz. cup of water. For weaker coffee, prepare regular strength coffee and dilute it with more hot water.

Tasting Coffee

Coffee should be served immediately after it is brewed.  The taste of coffee can be judged on the following four characteristics:

  1. Aroma – coffee will generally taste the way it smells
  2. Acidity (Wininess) – this desirable characteristic refers to the tartness of the coffee
  3. Body – refers to the thickness or heaviness of the coffee on the palate
  4. Flavor – although this is the most difficult characteristic to define, it is the most important. Terms used to describe coffee flavor include mellow, harsh, grassy, earthy, etc.

I have noticed that most people are quite particular about their coffee. However, with all the various blends available, and the many ways in which they can be roasted, ground and brewed, there is sure to be just the right cup of coffee for every taste.

Want to know more? Check out my post about a Rochester coffee brewer:  Union Place Coffee Roasters.

Also, here are a few of my favorite coffee recipes:

Butter-Rum Coffee
Hot Maple Coffee
Pumpkin Spice Latte

Source:  “On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals (5th edition)”, Labenski, Sarah et al, Pearson Publishing, 2015

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