Supplement to “Coffee House Culture”
If you’re a college-age coffee drinker, you are not alone. According to the National Coffee Association of the U.S.A. Inc., young adults aged 18-24 drank an average of 3.1 cups a day in 2007. In fact, the United States is the largest consumer of the caffeinated commodity, drinking one-fifth or more of the world’s coffee.
When you order a cup of coffee, you are ordering one of the world’s most valuable agricultural products. Second only to oil in monetary value, this important economic crop passes through several stages before arriving at your favorite coffee shop.
The long journey to your cup typically starts on a high altitude hillside farm in the tropical zone known as the “coffee belt.” Coffee trees respond to high altitudes, tropical climates, and rich soil mostly found near the equator. The top coffee-producing countries—Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia—all lie within the equatorial bounds of the northern Tropic of Cancer and the southern Tropic of Capricorn.
Coffee is either harvested by hand or by a machine. A coffee bean is actually a seed inside a bright red coffee “cherry.” Pickers strip the cherries from coffee trees during harvest. Once harvested, the cherries are processed one of two ways—wet or dry. During dry processing, the coffee cherries are spread out into the sun to dry and then stored in warehouses until export. During the wet method, the skin of the coffee cherries is separated from the coffee bean. The remaining mucilage is removed either by machine or by soaking the beans in water. After beans are wet processed, they are dried, stored, and bagged.
Roasting the beans unlocks their flavor and turns the coffee into the dark brown color consumers are accustomed to purchasing as either ground or whole at coffee shops. Freshly roasted coffee beans have a heavy, aromatic flavor that can range widely in tastes from floral and nutty to sweet and spicy. Depending on whether the coffee has a light, medium, or dark roast, coffee is often compared to wine in regard to the different tastes that emerge from roasting.
Storing coffee in the freezer or refrigerator is not a good idea because the moisture weakens the flavor of the coffee. Choose a dry, cool location that is dark and airtight and enjoy flavorful, fresh coffee.
For more information about the history and production of coffee, check out these sites:
International Coffee Organization
National Coffee Association of the U.S.A. Inc.
National Geographic Coffee Map
To read the Kentucky Living February 2008 feature that goes along with this supplement, go to Coffeehouse Culture