| Caring for Coffee
The last stages from field to cup ...
James Hayes-Bohanan , Ph.D.
Bridgewater State College Geography
UPDATED January 25, 2012
Since I became involved in the geography of coffee a few years ago, I have developed a bit of a reputation as a coffee snob. It is not really true. I am neither an expert cupper nor a gourmet. I have had the privilege, though, of drinking some of the world's finest coffees. Experts in the business -- particularly at Lavazza, Equal Exchange, Counter Culture, and Green Mountain -- have been generous with their ideas on how to select and prepare coffee.
Rather than describing a single, "right" path to coffee perfection, this page is intended to help coffee drinkers notice what kinds of variables affect the quality of the coffee. This way, each individual can find the best ways to enjoy the coffee and honor the work of the farmers.
I have expanded this site's information about coffee shops, coffee roasters, coffee tours, health effects,
coffee preparation -- even coffee and sex -- and have moved that information to other pages. Please explore!
Cafezinho in Florianópolis
The hero of the Adam@Home comic is starting to take his coffee very seriously!
Thanks to cartoonists Brian Basset and Rob Harrell for spreading the word on coffee care.
I am proud to be a member of the Barista Guild of America, a division of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), which is the trade association for the premium coffee industry. See its brewing page for an overview of key considerations or to buy a printed brewing guide.
Equal Exchange is a leader in fair-trade coffee. It was from Rodney North of EE that I took a coffee-tasting seminar and first started to understand the connection between the field and the cup. When someone compliments me on a well-prepared cup of coffee, I always answer, "Thank the farmers!" Like Rodney, I see what I do in my kitchen as simply a way to honor their hard work and attention to quality. It was also from Rodney that I learned to think of coffee as a series of about 52 steps. Decisions made at each step -- even down to pouring the coffee -- can make a difference in the tasting experience! See EE's brewing tips page for guidance on coffee preparation or the coffee brewing page on Coffee Research.
Coffee is 98 percent water, and coffee tends to magnify any flavor defects in the coffee. A good cup, therefore, starts with cool, filtered water. I avoid bottled water because it is expensive and bad for the planet. Distilled water, by the way, is too pure. Without any minerals, it makes coffee that tastes flat. See the Brita-sponsored FilterForGood site for ideas on good water and the evils of bottled water!
I drink my coffee free of condiments, unless I am faced with problematic coffee of some kind. If the coffee does not stand on its own, I probably will not drink it. For many consumers, however, coffee has essentially become a base for sugared or flavored creamer. Pamela Hayes-Bohanan has a nice page describing our small role in coffee marketing history. Years before we realized that I would become a bit of a coffee fanatic, we were participants in research that Folger's (yes-- ugh! -- Folger's) conducted on coffee condiments for young adults.
Counter Culture Coffee has produced a video of a barista competition that shows how a connection the farmers can make a difference in professional coffee preparation.
The Italian coffee company Lavazza's has a training page that provides advice on the preparation of coffee from a European perspective. The page reveals how differently coffee is viewed in Italy, where a big mug of coffee is unheard of, and where decaf is viewed with great suspicion. I was thrilled to meet with Lavazza's corporate trainer in New York City in April 2005. From Sal, I first started to realize how much I still need to learn about coffee! Lavazza is at the high end of conventional coffees, but is not a specialty roaster. As we say in our house, "Sal has ruined me" for bad coffee.
These days (2011 and 2012), the most common question I get about coffee is not about the coffee itself, but about a brewing machine that has become the industry's greatest money-maker, and its greatest threat. I have mixed feelings about the Keurig, mainly because it is owned by a roaster -- Green Mountain Coffee Roasters -- that I know for its quality coffees and positive relationships with some of my favorite growers. Also, I used to work in specialty food packaging, and I find the technology fascinating. Still, I have to come down as an opponent of these ubiquitous machines for several reasons, which are detailed on the Will Convenience Kill Coffee? post on my Environmental Geography blog. I am particularly opposed to their proliferation in my own building, where my university has so far refused to open a world-class coffee shop, and hard-working employees see the Keurig as their most convenient alternative, as bad as it is for the environment ... and the coffee. For those who have already become accustomed too the convenience -- real or imagined -- of the Keurig, blogger Gizmodo offers several other quick coffee alternatives, most of which are cheaper.
My coffee-care slideshow shows how I prepare coffee.
Be sure to turn on the captions.
Note: Unlike the rest of my Flickr photos, some of the images in this set are not my own. Several are stock photos from equipment sellers or other sources.
By popular demand, here is the short version of the ten steps we follow at home. I recommend starting with these parameters and adjusting to taste.
THANK THE FARMERS!