Foodie: Coffee 101: The beans, the roast and the brew

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Foodie: Coffee 101: The beans, the roast and the brew
Courtesy photo John Moriarity.
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By John Moriarity

Elon Musk has been talking about colonizing Mars for years. He said he only needs about 60 years to create a self-sustaining civilization there with a million people, and every time I turn on the tube I see another one of his rockets doing amazing things. But let me ask you this, Mr. Musk: Once I get to the Red Planet, where in God’s name can I find a decent cup of coffee?

Here on Earth coffee is the second most valuable commodity, after oil. Over 2.25 billion cups are consumed daily. If coffee were to suddenly disappear, a global panic would surely follow, shortly after sunrise. We simply love the stuff: Here in the U.S., 70% of the population starts the day with a cup or two – or three.

I’ve got coffee on the brain and in it too. I run a coffee shop in Old Town’s Fontaine Caffe & Creperie where I serve some of the world’s finest coffee under my brand Roastee Toastee Coffee. I source it, roast it, brew it and sometimes add latte art, such as flowers and hearts, into ceramic cups of it. My company began in 2018 when I asked the same question I offer to Elon: Where do I get the good stuff?

This coffee question isn’t easily answered. In fact, I’ve found that the big players in coffee have blitzed us with propaganda and marketing for a good 100 years or so, to the point where most folks don’t even know what a good cup of joe tastes like.

Let’s start with a few crucial basics.

First, in order to have great coffee, you must have great beans. These beans often grow at high altitudes in volcanic soil in far-flung, off the beaten path locations, like the jungles of Guatemala or high in the mountains of Kenya.

For you DIY types that think you can do it all, you can’t grow Arabica coffee shrubs in your home garden, unless you live in Kona, Hawaii, in which case I’m inviting myself over to your place for a few months to help you kick-start the venture.

Even if you have the good beans and have figured out which types taste the best out of the more than 6,000 Arabica varietals, those beans need to be roasted properly to bring out the proper flavors. The alchemy that turns coffee cherry seeds into grindable, brewable beans is known as the Maillard reaction, named after French chemist Louis Camille Maillard. In 1912, Maillard scientifically identified that when roasting coffee beans, caramelizing sugars begin to combine with amino acids to form delicious molecules called melanoidins. I could go on, but I feel like I might bring on a feeling of chemistry class deja-vu. The takeaway here is that melanoidins taste darn good.

Brewing coffee is all about extraction. To take top-notch beans and transform them into a magical elixir in your cup, you must have the proper dose or amount of coffee ground to a specific fineness and combined with just the right amount of water heated to exactly 200 degrees. The literal scientific term used to describe a properly extracted cup of coffee is known as the tasty point.

It may not be as grand a plan as putting a town on Mars, but I plan to spend the rest of my life striving to find the ultimate tasty point. Why don’t you join me? It’ll be an otherworldly delicious experience, right here on Earth.

The writer is founder of Roastee Toastee Coffee, which operates out of Fontaine Caffe & Creperie located at 119 N. Royal St. in Old Town.

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