Mocha Madness Dribbles Down the Side of the Cup

Monin.Flavored.SyrupsIn only the last 20 years or so, coffee sommeliers have begun rivaling their wine-tasting counterparts in specialization and mystique. Our coffee this morning is described on the package as “offering a burst of cherry, almond, and lavender with a soft oak finish.”

Indeed, it went well with bacon, the true test of any breakfast blend, in our humble estimation. And it’s fun to experience so many varieties of coffee. We’re lucky to live in a Golden Age of Java, benefitting from better growing techniques, more free trade growers, and more diversification and experimentation, and a better understanding of coffee’s almost infinite potential.

But to many tongues, coffee is too bitter to be consumed, pure like wine from a bottle. That’s one reason most coffee drinkers have deeply personal and often very particular ways of fixing their fixes.

The Bittersweet Tale of Gustatory Calyculi and Joe

Many take their coffee like The Wolf in Pulp Fiction: Lots of cream, lots of sugar. And they won’t take it any other way. We’ve seen baristas visibly shaken when a customer, without even thinking, reaches for the sugar. But in defense of the unwashed masses, coffee has always been tolerated for its bitterness. Adding sugar or other flavors to cut the dominant flavor of coffee was how the Turks first introduced the magical beverage to Europe.

On the other hand, we’ve never seen anyone spoon 5 lumps of sugar into their chardonnay before toasting. Wine comes bundled with sweetness, often the dominant taste on the palate. People everywhere have sweet teeth (and as a result, often no teeth), but on a flight-or-fight-or-faint scale, something with a bitter taste sends throbbing primordial signals to people that what they are consuming may their last morsel.

Red color coupled with bitter taste may explain why coffee’s caffeinated goodness was such a late discovery and coffee drinking a late invention and why it was sometimes met with official condemnation when it first appeared.

Surfing on the Fourth Wave of Java

So we feel for the emerging coffee sommeliers. They’re up against a full industry of coffee flavorings, all designed to make the drinker forget what coffee really tastes like. But given the continuing popularity of instant coffee and non-dairy creamers—with artificial almond amaretto no less—kind of tells us that many people don’t think of coffee as gourmet anything, much less find hints of cherry on their supermarket blend.

No doubt people are more sophisticated when it comes to coffee these days, which some are calling the “Fourth Wave of Coffee.” We’re not sure what the first three waves were, only that we caught some awesome curls. And took them black.

The Daily Scoop Answers: What Is Organic Coffee?

Cafe Altura Organic Coffee

Ever wonder just what is organic coffee anyway? Here’s the scoop.

What’s in That Cup?

In short, organic coffee comes is coffee grown without pesticides. But to really understand what makes some coffee organic, it’s important to first note what makes non-organic coffee, well, non-organic. Most of the chemical pesticides used in coffee production are used to ward off common pests and diseases from crops.

The good news for coffee drinkers is that the roasting process dilutes or eliminates most of the harmful effects of these chemicals. However, that doesn’t take the risk away from the farmers who are exposed directly to these harsh chemicals – but more about that later.

Here are just a few of the worst chemicals that are used in the coffee-growing world:

  • Methyl parathion: The most toxic pesticide of all, methyl parathion is banned in many countries and is highly toxic to humans, birds, fish, and mammals. Despite being banned in many countries, it is still highly (mis)used.
  • Endosulfan: Used to ward off the coffee cherry borer, Endosulfan is toxic to most animals and takes years to break down in soil. It attacks the central nervous system, kidneys, liver, and reproductive organs.
  • Chlorpyrifos: Used against common coffee pests, Chlorpyrifos has been banned in the U.S. for household use because it has caused human death and birth defects. Needless to say, it’s quite detrimental to delicate ecosystems.

The Good News

There are ways to combat pests without using harsh chemicals, and if fact, many coffee growers use them. That’s where organic comes in. Organic coffee is coffee grown without the use of synthetic substances such as most pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. If coffee is labeled “organic,” at least 95 percent of the beans must have been grown under organic conditions. Most organic coffee farms are small and farmer owned—which means smaller crops and easier management of pests.

Many organic coffee growers keep pests and diseases away by using natural fertilizers such as poultry manure and bocashy, a mix of coffee plant pulp, manure, molasses, leavening, and other seemingly random ingredients. Another common tactic for keeping pests away is the use of the parasitic wasp, a beneficial insect that eats the larvae of coffee-plant-eating pests.

What to Look For in the Grocery Aisle

When buying organic coffee, look for the USDA Organic seal, which will certify that the coffee contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients and has been certified as organic by a certification agency accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To get you started, here are a few of our favorite organic coffee beans:

A good cup of joe that’s also good for the growers and the environment—count us in!

Coffee Lingo 101: What Is Kona Coffee?

If you’re like the rest of us coffee-philes, you’ve learned your way around the coffee aisle at the grocery store. You know the kind you usually buy…and you know to steer clear of the ones you’ll just spit out. But you may not know the ins and outs of all the other varieties available.

That’s why we’ve come up with the Coffee Lingo 101 series, to help you learn what makes what, what, when it comes to coffee. In a recent post, we covered the difference between robusta vs Arabica. This time, it’s all about Kona coffee.

So, Just What Is Kona Coffee?

Hawaii Roasters Kona Coffee

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee

Here’s the mind bender of the moment: Kona coffee is actually Arabica coffee—but it’s from Hawaii. Arabica coffee makes up 60 percent of the world’s coffee consumption, and is typically less caffeinated than other types of coffee. The Kona district is on the Big Island of Hawaii, and that lush landscape is the only place this expensive coffee is grown. Considering how small the stretch of land is (hello, 50 square miles), you have to admit this is one very fruitful area.

Wait, back up. So Kona coffee is just Arabica but from a fancy island origin? Sort of. But it’s more complicated than that.

Here’s the deal: A very unique set of environmental factors contribute to the unique properties of this special bean. We’re talking a consistent weather pattern of sunny mornings and rainy afternoons, coupled with a dark, mineral-rich volcanic soil—this is not a formula you’ll find in most Arabica-producing regions. That very specific set of conditions is why only coffee from this particular area can legally be designated as Kona coffee.

Keep in mind that, like any coffee, Kona coffee can be roasted in different intensities. So whether you’re a light, medium, or dark roast fan, Kona coffees and blends may be just what you’ve been looking for.

Ready to give it a shot (or gulp)? Try any of these top picks:

Hawaii Roasters 100% Kona Coffee: These hand-picked, farm-roasted beans have been featured everywhere from the Hawaii Governors Export Awards to the Food and Wine Radio Network—and for good reason. Certified by the state of Hawaii as 100% Kona, these sun-dried beans yield a wonderfully delicate flavor.

Magnum Kona Blend Coffee: This is the budget-friendly way to get a taste of Kona without the higher pricetag. Kona blends are required to have at least 10 percent Kona beans, which can be mixed with any other beans, typically Columbian or Brazilian. Magnum’s full-bodied blend has a light taste with medium acidity, and is decidedly less expensive than its 100% Kona competitors.

Blue Horse 100% Kona Coffee: Fresh coffee is yours when you go with this small-batch provider. Expect a chocolaty aroma with hints of almonds and vanilla. And if you’re looking for toxins, look elsewhere. These growers skip the herbicides and pesticides that may be found in other coffee crops.

Whichever product you choose, Kona coffee is a must-try for any coffee lover. If you like it, you’ll have just stumbled across a delightful new option. If you don’t, you’ll at least know one less thing to buy!

Coffee Lingo 101: Robusta vs Arabica

Okay, you love coffee. And you know there’s some kinds you like more than others. But just what is the difference in Robusta vs Arabica? With Arabica comprising 60 percent of the world’s coffee consumption, and Robusta coming in second with 20 percent, these are the two most prevalent types of coffee in the world—and there’s a world of difference between them.

Most importantly, let’s talk flavor. Much of this comes out through and is determined by the roasting process, so while the best Arabica coffee has enjoyed more popularity than the best Robusta coffee, it’s still quite possible for either to end up on top, depending on taste. Arabica beans possess a more acidic quality, while Robusta is full-bodied and bitter.

They also differ when it comes to caffeination. Robusta goes a lot higher on the buzz charts. The Robusta vs Arabica tally: Robusta’s got 1.7-4.0 percent caffeine compared to Arabica’s 0.8-1.4 percent.

Thirsty for more deets? The International Coffee Organization has stats on both species here.

Psst: Stay tuned for more Coffee Lingo 101 tips, fresh from the java-loving crew at Brew of the Moment.