Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Brewing Coffee: Styles, Makers, and Methods

Coffee was discovered in the earliest the 5th or 6th century B.C.! Have you ever wondered how this discovery was made? How did we figure out how to brew it?

How did the ways we brew our java come about? In the day and age where many get their daily cup or two from a shop they stop by on the way to work, I thought it might be fun to take a look at the history of it all. I already wrote one article on the types of coffee by regions, roasts, beans and drinks. This article will cover a completely different aspect of the world’s favorite drink.

This story is of course hearsay, and I have no way to know if it’s actually what happened, but it makes sense to me! As it is told, an Arab farmer started to wonder why his goat herd was acting so strangely. He found that they had been lunching on a plant with unusual red berries. Trying the berries for himself, he was disgusted at the bitter flavor and spat them out at once.Yet, when he tossed them into the fire...they began to give off an amazing aroma. Thinking twice about these now cooked berries, he mixed them with water and drank the resulting infusion. Thus, coffee was born. 

I’m assuming people came up with many ways to concoct their cuo o’ joe by hand until someone discovered how to achieve it with some type of machine. It would be sifted through cheesecloth and other mechanisms to try to make it work. The first device to make coffee was
the percolator in 1791, but the credit only goes to first patented maker of the percolator, James Mason in 1865. Neither of those designs were quite like the percolator that became most popular. Their devices only had a downward flow, rather than what became a more useful pattern of pulling hot water from a reservoir at the base of the machine through a tube and having it splash over the grounds stored in a basket on the top. This cycle would continue over and over until the coffee was done. This version was built by farmer Hanson Goodrich around the year 1889. The percolator would have to be placed near a fire to get hot enough to boil the water and cause it to travel up the tube until the later electric models were made. Though it was a vast improvement from making and straining by hand, the percolator still allowed some grounds to fall into the finished drink, and paper filters were added to the basket in the twentieth century to help avoid that issue.

Nearly two decades later in 1884, the first espresso machine was demonstrated at the Grand Exposition in Turin, Italy by it’s designer, Angelo Moriondo. Various changes and tweaks have been added to the machine by different inventors over the years, but the general brewing method it uses is forcing pressurized water through something called a “puck” of ground coffee inside of a filter. This produces a highly concentrated, much stronger and thicker result than other methods of brewing. Espresso is enjoyed by many with nothing added, and is also the base of most coffee shop drinks like a cappuccino or macchiato which include steamed milk.

In 1929 the french press was first patented by Italian designer Attilio Calimani, though it’s well known that a French inventor was the first to develop one. Of course the same principle of mixing ground coffee beans and water together to infuse the final drink is part of the process used; but, instead of a basket to hold the grounds, there is a plunger at the top of the device that is pressed down to trap the grounds so they will not pour out into your cup. For this process you need larger, coarser grounds, which can easily be done these days with a grinder. Many people use whole beans, their own grinder, and a french press as a money saving technique. I actually just bought one but I haven’t received it yet. I was all set to purchase a one-cup drip brewer, but after finding out all of this information I decided to go the inexpensive route. I hope it works well! Reviewers say the coffee is better than with drip brewers...we will see! If you use one, be sure not to let your coffee infuse for too long or it can become bitter. The typical brewing time is less than twenty minutes.

I mentioned a drip brewer above. Drip brewing has been around for quite some time as well. In some places drip brewing is still done by placing a filter of grounds in a cup with a hole in the bottom, pouring hot water over the top, and allowing it to collect in a large glass jar underneath. The first electrical drip brewer came from Germany in 1954 and was called the Wigomat. Drip brewing is the most widely used coffee brewing method in homes (and most restaurants) today, though many people do still use a french press, percolator, or have a home espresso machine. These days, the one-cup drip brewers are becoming super popular, though the individual packages of ground coffee that are necessary to purchase for those can become quite expensive. There are some alternatives like a basket the shape of a “K cup” that you can put your own grounds in and use in a single-serve machine. Drip brewing must be popular for a reason, it brews a delicious mug full of java!

I hope you have enjoyed our journey through the making of coffee. I love to enjoy it with the flavored creamers that are now available. So with a percolator, french press, espresso machine, or drip brewer...go make yourself a cup, and enjoy it to the fullest!

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