How to have the happiest coffee
by Joel Shuler (pictured), the founder of Austin, Texas-based Casa Brasil Coffees, a U.S. coffee company that focuses on directly trading and roasting gourmet Brazilian coffees. One of only a handful of people worldwide to be both a certified Q Grader and hold the Port of Santos Coffee Classification license, he regularly serves on the jury of various Brazilian coffee competitions and translated Pos-Colheita do Cafe (Handbook of Post-Harvest Coffee Technology), a textbook on coffee processing, drying, and storage, into English.
Coffee is often referred to as an “affordable luxury” and it is in fact just that, a very affordable luxury. A $25 bottle of wine will cost you around $1.00 per fluid ounce; the Diet Coke that you ran inside the C-Store to grab while filling up your tank: $0.06; one of the best coffees in the world: $0.05. That’s right, one of the world’s most complex beverages in terms of aroma and fragrance (coffee is more complex than wine) is usually cheaper than a Diet Coke. Here are 5 things that you can do to get more out of your cup.
1. Buy Fresh
Coffee is best when consumed within two weeks of roasting, usually requiring about two days after the roast to achieve maximum flavor. Most coffees that go through standard distribution channels will take at least two weeks to even make it onto the shelf. While valve bags and other technologies have helped, the best thing you can do is develop a relationship with your local roaster. See what green (unroasted) coffees they have just gotten in (the freshness rule applies to unroasted coffee as well) and what their roasting schedule is to guarantee you get a freshly roasted coffee.
2. Grind your own
We grind coffee so that we can expose more of it to hot water when brewing, thus increasing the amount of the coffee that is extracted. However, this increased surface area also causes the coffee to rapidly deteriorate in quality when exposed to air. A small investment in a grinder will allow you to buy whole bean coffee and grind immediately prior to brewing. This will do wonders to increase the quality of your cup as well as fill your kitchen with the invigorating fragrance of freshly ground coffee, a key part of the coffee experience.
3. Go with a lighter roast
One of the joys you can experience with coffee is exploring the unique flavors that various coffee regions, cultivars, or even different lots from the same farm have to offer. By going with a lighter roast, these nuances are not overpowered by the bitter char of the roast. At Casa Brasil we always say that our roasts should be like a good referee. With a good ref, you notice the game, not the ref. The same should be true of your coffee.
4. Explore the world
With coffee, you have the world at your fingertips. Experience the earthiness of a Mandelhing, the jasmine notes of a gesha from La Esmeralda, or the caramel sweetness and full body of a yellow bourbon from Fazenda Recreio. For only a few dollars every day, you can have a culinary experience fit for a king. How can you navigate through the world of coffees? As you would distrust a wine company that simply labeled their wines as “France,” “Italy,” or “USA,” so should you distrust a roaster that is sticking to such generalities. These country blends are almost always sub-standard. Look for regional names such as “Sidamo,” “Vale da Grama,” or “Antigua,” or, better yet, look for coffee that features the specific farm from which that the coffee came. Most quality roasters will put the name of the grower, farm, region, and coffee cultivar on their packaging.
5. Coffee time is you time
All of the technology that is supposed to save us time by making us more efficient might have made us more efficient, but it has not made us less busy. In the US, coffee is often to our bodies what gasoline is to our cars, nothing more than fuel to keep us going. In Brazil, coffee is not only something you drink, it is something you do. “Vamos tomar um cafezinho” literally means “let’s drink a small coffee,” but in practice this invitation means something more akin to “let’s take some time for ourselves.”
Caffeine as fuel is not really a part of the Brazilian culture. Even in the morning rush hour, you are hard-pressed to see any Brazilians sipping on a coffee as they drive to work. Developing a coffee ritual, whether it be your morning cup to start your day or your afternoon lee from the windstorm of things that are coming at you, is a great way to seize some time for yourself. It’s “you” time, and there’s no better way to enjoy it than to have one of the world’s most complex beverages, freshly roasted, ground, and brewed just for you.