While I have attended many wine tastings, a coffee tasting was a new experience for me. So when I was invited to a coffee tasting at Press Coffee Roasters in North Scottsdale, I jumped at the chance. Tastings are held every Saturday at their Scottsdale Quarter location (and every other Saturday at the Chandler location) at 10 a.m. It is $10 to register and after the event you’ll receive a $10 gift card to use at any Press Coffee location (Airport location excluded). The one-hour session includes a brief history lesson on coffee, plus a sampling of four distinctly different coffees. By the end of the hour, you will have learned how to properly smell and slurp like the pros. Well, almost. At the very least it gives you a shot of adrenaline and some insight into a commodity that, until now, I have mostly taken for granted. So, here it goes. Did you know that…
1. Coffee is actually a seed.
Although referred to as a bean, it is technically the seed from a piece of fruit, known as a coffee cherry. The cherries are traditionally hand-picked, and the seeds are separated from the fruit. There are a couple of ways of doing this, but the end result is that the beans are dried and the unroasted product is called “green coffee”.
2. The Coffea plant is native to East Africa, but it was the Arabians (Yemenis, specifically) who are credited with being the first to roast the beans.
Yemeni traders took coffee back to their homeland, where it was roasted and brewed in a similar way to how it is now prepared. They began to cultivate the seed, and by the 16th century, it had reached Persia, Turkey, and North Africa. Coffee spread to Italy, specifically to Venice. For it was the thriving trade with these countries that brought many goods, including coffee, to the Venetian port.
3. Coffea plants grow within a defined area between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, known as the “coffee belt”.
Coffee is cultivated in over 70 countries, primarily in the equatorial regions of the Americas, Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. It is one of the most valuable commodities of certain developing countries, such as Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and Brazil, the latter of which is responsible for nearly 1/3 of the world’s coffee.
4. Each Coffea plant yields about 1 lb. of usable coffee.
The harvesting process traditionally involves the selection of only berries at the peak of ripeness and is therefore extremely labor intensive. Alternatively, the plants can be strip-picked, where the berries are harvested simultaneously by person or machine regardless of ripeness. This latter method is not as desirable as the resulting product is often of inferior quality.
5. The two most common types of plants are the highly regarded arabica, and the less sophisticated, but stronger and more hardy, robusta.
Arabica is grown primarily in Latin American and eastern Africa at high altitudes. Because ripe, arabica cherries fall to the ground and spoil, they must be carefully monitored and picked at intervals, which in turn increases its cost. On the other hand, the robusta plant can be cultivated at lower elevations in warmer climates, primarily in Central Africa, Southeast Asia and Brazil. The cherries require less attention since they remain on the plant after ripening and are less susceptible to disease. Robusta is about 40-50% higher in caffeine than arabica, and the beans tend to have less flavor while being more bitter. Robusta is what you will find most often in grocery stores. In fact, because of its richer body, it is used in many Italian espresso blends to create the crema float on top of the espresso shot.
6. There are two main methods of (bean) extraction: the dry versus the washed.
The dry process is a simpler, more natural method of processing coffee beans that is often used in countries where there is ample sunlight to dry the coffee. Most coffees from Indonesia, Ethiopia, Brazil, and Yemen are dry-processed. The cherries are dried with the beans inside, similar to drying a grape into a raisin. Traditionally, they are dried on raised tables with all of their layers intact, including the coffee cherry and mucilage (a slimy, viscous layer…think okra). As the cherries dry, they are raked or turned by hand to ensure even drying. The resulting dried fruit resembles a dark nut. The coffee beans are left to rest inside the cherry pods before being peeled (hulled) and prepared for shipment.
Conversely, with the wet process, water plays the key role in making the extraction of the seed possible. After the cherries are sorted by ripeness and color and most of the flesh of the berry is removed (usually by machine) the seeds are fermented to remove the slimy layer of mucilage still present. When the fermentation is finished, the seeds are washed with large quantities of fresh water to remove the fermentation residue, which generates massive amounts of coffee waste water. The benefit of the wet process is that it yields a milder coffee. The beans are ready now for the next stage, which is drying.
Regardless of which method is used, the end product is called “green coffee” bean, which is graded for quality and placed into sacks for storage and/or shipment.
7. Roasting is the last step of processing the beans and the degree of roast has an effect upon coffee flavor and body.
Darker roasts are generally bolder because they have less fiber content and a more sugary flavor. Lighter roasts have a more complex and stronger flavors from aromatic oils and acids otherwise destroyed by longer roasting times.
8. Press Coffee Roasters makes specialty coffee, which means the beans they purchase are scored at 80% or above by a professional taster.
The professional taster looks at every bean, specifically at the size and the conformity. The beans should have little to no defects, which will result in better flavor. Defects can be from insect damage, mutations, overripe/rotten and underripe berries.
9. Press Coffee Roasters roasts its own coffee low and slow.
It takes nine minutes for the (roasting) temperature to reach 300 Fahrenheit. At 378, the bean will get the first crack, where it pops like popcorn. Press typically roasts to about 404, well before the second crack at 420, resulting in a more “natural” bean. Andrew Robertson, head of operations for Press, likens it to cooking beef: with good quality beans you shouldn’t have to cook it that much. Over-roasted beans result in bitter taste.
10. Coffee roasts are scored by the pros just like wine.
The 100-point scale reviews coffee on qualities like aroma, body, flavor and acidity. And just like wine, ratings of 90 points and above are considered to be superior quality. Coffee Review has recently scored the Ethopian Guji from Press at 94 points. Compared to 28 coffees from roasteries in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, the Guji scored the best in the Southwest. Congrats, Press! If you don’t like in AZ, don’t fret. You can order a bag online and have the best coffee in the Southwest delivered right to your door at http://www.presscoffee.com/buy/coffee/.
Press Coffee Roasters is located in the Scottsdale Quarter at 15147 N. Scottsdale Rd., Suite #102. Space at the tastings is limited to 10 people at each class, so advance registration is encouraged. Sign up for the tastings at PressCoffee.com/tastings. If you have a group of 6 or more, Press can also schedule a tasting class at your convenience. Another thought is that you can sign up for a tour of the roastery at http://www.presscoffee.com/education/tours/. There are many ways to enjoy a cup of Press coffee, and here’s to enjoying one this weekend! xoM
Check out one of my first posts that I wrote on texAZtaste about Turkish Coffee at https://www.texaztaste.com/a-little-perk/.
While this was a hosted event, all opinions are my own. All photos taken by Marci Symington for texAZtaste.com.