Coffee, the New Wine

By Miles Small

Published on November 16, 2007

(Special Advertising Section)

Panamanian green (unroasted) coffee, Panama Chiriqui Geisha Esmeralda Special La Hacienda Esmeralda 2006-7, was recently sold at auction for $130 per pound. Valued for their extraordinary diversity, nuance, and complexity, specialty coffees from around the globe are being routinely sold to discriminating connoisseurs for $25 to $50 a pound. Coffee is the new wine.

Coffee has joined wine in the pantheon of noble beverages. Specialty coffee—that rich, alluring brew from the far-flung corners of the world, grown with care by dignified and courageous small farmers, roasted to perfection by consummate professionals, and prepared by trained baristas—bears no resemblance to the insipid, boiled, brown, acrid water being served in most restaurants.

Consider that in order for a coffee to be considered "specialty" it must be handpicked at optimal ripeness from arabica trees growing above 1,000 meters altitude and only within a band between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The best coffees grow in rich, volcanic soil within narrow moisture and temperature ranges. Premium coffee requires premium care.

All coffee comes from the same two species of plant, Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora (robusta). In the United States, arabicas are used almost exclusively for premium coffee.

If all coffee originates from only two distinct sources, why does it taste so remarkably different depending upon where it is grown? Rich, full-bodied Costa Rican, lush with tones of Bing cherry and chocolate, is completely different from earthy, blueberry-fruit premium Yergacheffe from Ethiopia. Just like grapes, coffee plants produce remarkably different coffees depending upon environmental factors. This is very similar to what is called "terroir" in the world of wine. The art of preparing coffees of the highest quality is based in the tree, the soil, the sky, and the farmer's dedication to his craft.

Coffee beans are actually seeds contained in a small fruit called a cherry. Premium coffee cherries become fully ripe throughout the growing season, so the farmer must handpick only the bright red cherries at exactly the correct moment. Working a coffee finca, or farm, is truly a family affair, with all picking and sorting the valuable beans.

The next vital step in the processing of the bean is the wet and dry mills where the precious beans are removed from the surrounding fruit. The beans are then carefully dried by hand over several days so that 88 percent of the moisture is removed. A common sight in coffee lands is the large concrete "patios" where workers turn the drying beans over and over to ensure consistent, even drying. Beans poorly dried and handled are reduced in quality and value.

Master coffee roasters are specialty coffee's winemakers. Constantly testing and tasting coffees from around the world, they source exceptional single-origin coffees and produce exquisite blends of beans that satisfy their customers' demanding palates. Roasting is where the art of coffee emerges.

Cafe Britt, a buyer and roaster of fine premium coffees from Costa Rica, knows what it means to buy only the best. Located in the mountains of Costa Rica, its roasting facility is surrounded by some of the finest coffees in the world. Cafe Britt is in a unique position to ensure that only the best beans are roasted for its customers, and its customers are very important. As the leading roaster of coffee in Costa Rica, it has become the ambassador of Costa Rican coffee to the world. To people from tourists to presidents, Cafe Britt and Costa Rican coffee have become synonymous.

Boyd Coffee Company has been serving some of the finest coffees in the United States since 1900. Boyd's roast masters are celebrated authorities within the world's coffee elite. With instinct and skills honed over time, they travel the globe, selecting only those rare beans that meet stringent standards, then directing a precise process of coffee blending and roasting. Starting from a red horse-drawn wagon, Boyd has grown into one of the most respected specialty coffee companies in the world, producing artisan-roasted coffees with heart and soul. Boyd Coffee Company is committed to delivering ethically sourced, quality coffees purchased at fair prices. Visit www.boyds.com to learn more about this extraordinary company.

Scientists have identified over 800 compounds in roasted coffee that contribute to taste, more than can be found in a fine red wine. An understanding of the roast requirements and the nuances of beans makes the difference between a bitter, burnt brew and sweet ambrosia. Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters is widely regarded as a leader in the specialty coffee industry for its attention to quality, sustainability, and freshness. It has been roasting coffee in Olympia, Washington, since 1986, and Atlanta, Georgia, since 1994, and its coffee buyers and roasters are known to be among the nation's finest. Its Web site, www.DancingGoats.com, is an invaluable resource for information about coffees.

While caffeine provides an incentive for most coffee lovers, others prefer their stimulation to come from taste without caffeine, making the decaffeination process a crucial element. No discussion of coffee can be complete without a mention of SWISS WATER® decaffeinated coffee. Roasters rely on SWISS WATER® to ensure that the greatest of care and attention to detail are applied to the decaffeination process. You do not have to sacrifice taste quality to enjoy decaf coffee. The SWISS WATER® process is certified for the decaffeination of organically grown coffees and is a pure water, 100 percent chemical-free method. It is a wholesome, taste-driven, and precise decaffeination process used by premium roasters and retailers and demanded by discerning decaf drinkers around the world.

For the ultimate coffee connoisseur, the ability to try one's hand at home roasting is the next step. Until now, good sources for unroasted coffee and reasonably priced equipment were hard to find. The Internet has brought the art of specialty coffee collecting, roasting, and savoring direct to the home.

Green (unroasted) coffee can be roasted to perfection more than a year after being harvested. You can create your own "house blend," from the classic lighter city roast to the darkest French roast. Generally considered the best home roaster available, the Gene Cafe Roaster puts you in total control. With this superior machine you and your guests will enjoy the best and freshest cup of coffee you have ever tasted. For more information on the Gene Cafe Roaster, visit www.freshbeansinc.com.

Absolutely crucial in making the "perfect cup" is a high-quality brewer. Now you can have the full artisanal coffeehouse experience and test your "inner barista" right in your own kitchen with a DçLonghi espresso machine. These brewers are beautifully designed to produce perfect espresso, latte, and cappuccino, cup after cup, every time. In the tradition of the finest machines with a modern twist, DçLonghi captures the art of espresso.

Recognizing that coffee is essential to a full culinary experience, specialty coffee producers have found an excited audience in gourmet specialty food suppliers such as Sun-Rich. An international purveyor of gourmet foods, Sun-Rich travels the globe to secure the finest foods the world has to offer, while promoting the well-being of the people working to create these delicacies. Sun-Rich offers some of the finest and rarest coffees from around the world—Sumatra, Kenya, New Guinea, Nicaragua, Nepal, and Hawaii. Grown on the foothills of the Himalayan Mountain range, its Nepalese Grande Himalayan coffee is one of the rarest coffees in the world. Find out more at www.sunrichgourmet.com.

Coffee is the new wine. Discover the delights of an artisanal roaster, whose expertise will guide you through a world of subtle flavor, or pick up a pound of green (unroasted) estate-grown beans and begin a self-guided journey to the ultimate coffee taste by roasting in your own home.

The diversity and nuance, the history and skill, the sublime experience, and the startling new tastes are waiting for you to explore. Just like wine, a great cup of coffee with the right atmosphere and food pairing can be a transcendental experience.

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