Hello coffee lovers! Last we met, Brew Ha Ha was gearing up for some serious coffee conversation. After a week of anticipation, and absolutely no planning whatsoever, we are here to start the Everything Coffee Series. This series is going to cover everything you need to know about our coffee and the coffee industry to make informed decisions about from whom you are buying your coffee and why.
We’ll work backwards from the shop, to our distributors, to the farms where it all starts. This is a bit of a long one, so, in the words of the incomparable Eddie Izzard, “just tune in, turn off, drop out, drop in, switch off, switch on, and explode.”
Here’s the tentative agenda. I stress tentative…
Everything Coffee Series
Part I: Gotta Drink ’Em All!
Part II: What's Wrong with You?
Part III: From Whence Cometh My Coffee?
Part IV: Farm to Table Coffee
Now, let’s make a start!
Gotta Drink ’Em All!
One of the most challenging things new baristas at artisan shops must do is learn the menu. Unfortunately, this is slightly more complicated than memorizing a list of sandwiches. At Brew Ha Ha, we are kindly asked (as many times as it takes) to learn about the different coffee growing regions and processing practices that form our offerings, keep track of how and why we roast them the way we do, and understand the differences between hot brewing, cold brewing, AeroPress-ing (I think), and espresso brewing.
It can be difficult, and frustrating, especially because every few months, it all changes. But, that’s for another week. For now, let’s look at the growing regions that provide us the sweet nectar of life.
Where Does Coffee Grow?
The first thing to say is that coffee grows in A LOT of places. In fact, coffee can be grown (in general), anywhere between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and anywhere between 600 and 6,000 feet above sea level. This is known as the “Coffee Belt” or “Bean Belt.”
[Disclaimer: There are a lot of places in this post where the phrase “in general” could be used, so from here on out, just assume that nothing is hard and fast.]
At Brew Ha Ha, we use all Arabica coffee (higher quality), which does best above 1,800 feet. Within these parameters, we purchase coffee from 4 major regions: South America, Central America, Africa, and Indonesia. There are some North American and Asian coffees out there, but these are the major ones you should know about.
What Affects Coffee Taste?
How our coffee tastes starts in the farming locations and practices where your coffee will be grown. Factors that affect coffee taste include, but are not limited to, 1. Altitude; 2. Soil; 3. Rainfall; 4. Sun Exposure; 5. Nearby Growth; 6. Processing Method. Several of these factors are variable from country to country, and even from farm to farm, so it is hard to make any definitive claims about how our specific coffee is affected by things like rainfall, altitude, and plants growing nearby. But, here are some awesome infographics that give us a general sense of things:
Altitude's Effect on Coffee
(Courtesy: Conservation International)
No, I couldn’t find an infographic for rainfall...
The easiest-to-track influence on coffee flavor, however, is the processing method. Raw, green coffee beans are extracted from coffee cherries using a Wet Method, Dry Method, or a combination of the two, sometimes called Semi-Washed. Below is a little graph of our regions and how it affects the flavors and acidity of the coffee. There is a lot to know about processing, so here is a super informative, super fun graphic to learn all about it!
There are always regional exceptions to these guidelines, and many countries are experimenting with new processes.
So, for more info on this, CoffeeAM’s page on Coffee Processing is a great place to start.
Started from the Soil, Now We’re Here
So, once we get through the growing, the processing, and the shipping, we wind up at Brew Ha Ha, where the beans are ready to be roasted.
This is pretty straightforward: The lighter our roast, meaning the less time we cook the beans, the more natural, earthy, fruity, etc. flavors you will taste. The darker the roast, the more toasted, caramel, bitter, “coffee” flavors you will taste.
Many, if not most, of our coffees are considered somewhere in the Medium roast range. We do this because it is the best way to maintain the natural flavors of the coffee bean, while also eliminating any potential off-flavors of that particular harvest with the traditional smoky or roast flavors. Again, we generalize. Here is the full spectrum of roasts:
We have a lot of loyal customers, and many newcomers, who come in and ask for our “Strongest” or “Boldest” coffee. We are happy to oblige, but it can be hard to guess what he or she wants. If a customer is referring to natural flavors, then a light roast is probably the best. But if they mean they want the coffee to taste like hot dirt, “just like my pappy used to drink,” then we can't really help, but a delicious dark roast is better than no coffee at all. As far as caffeine goes, the lighter the roast, the more jolt in your cup!
That brings us to next week’s post, “What’s Wrong with You?” This post will be devoted to the very interesting history and development of decaffeinated coffee. Wow…what a cliff-hanger, eh?
Chief of Coffee Relations
Brew Ha Ha at the Colony
Whoops! Almost forgot!
South Sudan is looking to get into coffee!
Penn State is getting in on the coffee education game!
See you next week!