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ROASTSCOFFEE TALK


Introduction | Coffee Craze Spread With Islam
Old Labels Have New Meanings | Safeguards Spawn Illegal Profits | Coffee Fills National Coffers | Concocting a Quick Cup



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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 didn’t 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 roaster’s repertoire: eliminating most of coffee’s 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.

World’s largest roaster, the massive Maxwell House plant in Hoboken, New Jersey, begins its production line across the Hudson River on Manhattan’s 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 taster’s trade, we smell, sip, and sense, but we don’t swallow.”

Tom began by “breaking”—stirring the coffee’s 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 bull’s-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 it’s from isn’t too difficult: This is a Brazil from northern São Paulo state.”

The United States might never have acquired the coffee habit if rebellious colonists hadn’t resisted Britain’s tax on tea, dumping a load into Boston’s 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 world’s 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 Mississippi’s outflow for an hour and a half. But I have yet to figure out how to brew that perfect cup.


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