Concocting a Quick Cup
The sudden surge in demand for Ivory Coast and other robustas stems from soaring sales of instant coffee. Introduced to an indifferent public in 1901 by a determined Japanese chemist, solubles refreshed some U.S. fighting forces during World War I but didnt win a lasting place in civilian larders for another two decades. Today 20 percent of all coffee is processed into spray- or freeze-dried form.
Which simply means dehydrating liquid coffee much as it comes from an ordinary pot into an extract of easily dissolved granules, pulverized to a powder or agglomerated into larger nuggets to resemble regular grinds.
Another act in the roasters repertoire: eliminating most of coffees kick. Unroasted beans are soaked in water to swell their cells, then submerged in a solvent that flushes out about 97 percent of their caffeine. Rinsed thoroughly, they reenter the pipeline to be roasted, ground, and packaged.
Worlds largest roaster, the massive Maxwell House plant in Hoboken, New Jersey, begins its production line across the Hudson River on Manhattans Wall Street. Here experts like Tom Conroy, a 47-year veteran, decide what types and tonnage of beans to buy in order to maintain quality standards for more than a dozen company blends.
A gas-fired roasting machine filled the tasting room with a tantalizing aroma; polished cuspidors yawned around a revolving, cup-laden table.
In the tasters trade, we smell, sip, and sense, but we dont swallow.
Tom began by breakingstirring the coffees surface froth to release all its fragrance. He then inhaled a spoonful with a squeal not unlike air escaping a punctured tire. After rolling it around on his tongue, he neatly bulls-eyed a cuspidor, gave the tabletop a slight turn, and took on the next cup.
We classify coffee with such words as smooth, acidy, Rioy, winy, sharp, pungent, or neutral. Some, like acidy, may sound negative but are actually favorable traits.
Identifying a batch and where its from isnt too difficult: This is a Brazil from northern São Paulo state.
The United States might never have acquired the coffee habit if rebellious colonists hadnt resisted Britains tax on tea, dumping a load into Bostons harbor and refusing to buy any more from Tory sources. By the time the Revolution ended, coffee had preempted tea as an American table mainstay.
Our forebears took their coffee seriously, steadily, but not with any frills. They simply poured loose coffee, crudely milled, into water, sometimes added eggshells to settle the grounds, and boiled the whole mess to the blackness of a bat cave. Not gourmet, perhaps, but it warmed and fortified many a frontiersman, and such coffee still satisfies some cookout chefs.
Like others, I have long sought the ideal recipe: filter, drip, or perk; beans and blends from this place or that; roasts that range from light brown to something short of soot.
I managed to figure out that the worlds annual bean production could make 3,644,000,000 cubic feet [1,112,000,000 cubic meters] of liquid coffee, a volume equal to the Mississippis outflow for an hour and a half. But I have yet to figure out how to brew that perfect cup.
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