Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages, and rightly so. In the words of Johann Sebastian Bach, “Without my morning coffee I’m just like a dried up piece of roast goat.”
The word coffee originally comes, through many translations, from an Arabic phrase meaning “wine of the bean,” and coffee drinkers are as dedicated to their beverage of choice as any wine connoisseur.
Today, we happily find ourselves in the midst of a coffee renaissance. High quality coffee and espresso are widely available, and fair-trade, sustainable and organic coffee growing practices are in vogue as well.
The origin of coffee can be traced back to ninth century Ethiopia. According to legend, highland shepherds first realized there was something special about this evergreen shrub when their goats began to dance after eating some of its berries. From Ethiopia, coffee spread to the Middle East; from there it gradually made its way west to Italy and the rest of Europe. Considered a “Muslim drink,” coffee wasn’t widely accepted in Europe until Pope Clement the VIII declared it a “Christian beverage” in 1600.
Coffee comes from shrubby, evergreen bushes of the genus Coffea, and tend to thrive in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Coffee “beans” are actually the seeds contained in the berries of these plants. Once ripe, the berries are picked, processed and dried, then roasted, ground and brewed to create—you guessed it—coffee!
If you’ve ever wandered down the coffee aisle of a grocery store, or stood in line at a coffeeshop for more than five minutes, you’ve probably been bombarded with more coffee lingo than you can shake a stick at. Here’s a brief definition of terms for the coffee illiterate:
Light and dark roasts: Contrary to popular belief, a pitch-black cup of coffee doesn’t have more caffeine than a lighter cup—in fact, it has less! A good way to remember this is the saying, “the lighter the bean, the more caffeine.” As the bean roasts, the natural caffeine and aromatic oils are destroyed, and sugars in the bean caramelize. Thus, light roasts often have a stronger, “brighter” and sometimes more bitter flavor, and dark roasts are often smoother and sweeter. Light, cinnamon, medium, high, city, full city, French, or Italian roast are terms that typically just refer to how dark the roast is.
Words that describe a roast—like “bright,” “fruity,” or “chocolatey”—should not, in general, be taken too literally. Coffee is similar to wine in that many subtleties detected by a connoisseur will be lost on the average Joe.
Acidity: A coffee’s acidity level is distinguished by a dry, bright taste and is often associated with light roasts. Some coffee drinkers seek out acidity, while others avoid it and the tummy aches that often accompany it.
Shade grown: Traditionally, coffee was grown in the shade of trees, providing a habitat for animals and insects. However, as coffee became mass-produced, growers started planting coffee in rows under full sun, with little or no forest canopy. Bushes tend to produce more fruit with this method, but it requires the clearing of trees and increased use of fertilizer and pesticides. Sun cultivation can lead to environmental problems such as deforestation, pesticide pollution, habitat destruction, and soil and water degradation.
The Juice Bar carries organic, fair trade coffee, supplied by local coffee roasters Just Coffee.
Since coffee is primarily grown in severely economically disadvantaged countries, purchasing fair trade coffee is a small but important step for you to take as a consumer. Some of the basic principles of fair trade include fair wages, support of participatory workplaces and safe work environments, environmental sustainability, and consumer education.
One of our most popular roasts in the Juice Bar right now is Las Diosas—or “The Goddesses”—from The La Fem cooperative in Esteli, Nicaragua. Founded in 1996, La Fem was organized by women, for women and works on issues of domestic violence, women’s health, education, and job training. Thanks to the fair trade efforts of Just Coffee, La Fem’s excellent coffee is available right here in Madison.