Coffee Country

BY Laura Rectenwald

Nearly 52 percent of adults drink a cup of joe every day. More money in fact is spent trading coffee than any other commodity in the world and America is leading the trend. Starbucks Coffee Company the leading coffee retailer roaster and brand of specialty coffee on the planet opened its first store in 1971 and created a feeding frenzy for fresh-roasted whole-bean drink. The famous franchise recently set a long-term goal of having 40 000 stores worldwide and can easily take credit for the creation of a whole new generation of social coffee drinkers. Starbucks has more than 19 000 ways it can serve up a cup of coffee which is no surprise when you think of how many options we have just with the milk that goes with our coffee — whole nonfat half-and-half organic and soy. There are so many options available; it has become an adventure just to figure out what kind of coffee drink you actually want to order. Fret not java lovers. No matter what you choose recent studies state that your morning cup can be beneficial to your health.

The love affair with coffee goes a long way back in history as early as 1000 A.D. No one knows for sure when the first cup of coffee was brewed but there are many legends. The most famous one involves a young Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi who found his goats dancing around excitedly after eating red berries off a nearby shrub. Seeing even the oldest and laziest of his goats dancing around with newfound energy Kaldi decided to try some of the berries himself and immediately began to jump around with his goats.

Monks discovered the boy and his goats and after boiling the berries themselves found that it aided them during long nights of prayer. From there coffee was introduced to Arabia and to the Islamic world eventually making its way to America in the middle of the 19th century where during the Civil War soldiers considered it to be one of their most important rations equal to sugar and salt. After receiving the whole green coffee beans they would grind and roast them themselves.

During World War I instant coffee was being mass produced thanks to George Constant Louis Washington — an American inventor best remembered for his invention of an early instant coffee process and for the company he founded to mass produce it the G. Washington Coffee Company — which gave the soldiers the extra caffeine boost they needed on the battlefield but in a shorter amount of time. Coffee was not only a warm drink that kept eyes open; it was also a great comfort for these war-weary soldiers who began calling it a “cup of George.” In 1942 during World War II instant coffee was again rationed to the soldiers who enjoyed its aroma flavor and benefits quickly and without much effort.

Coffee has since gone through many changes and improvements and is a favorite of all races creeds and colors on earth. Coffee shops are everywhere (almost every urban street corner) and people of all demographics are enjoying not only the caffeine but the lifestyle and atmosphere that come with it.

Josh Vach the new owner of Café del Mar (which means “coffee by the sea”) on Wrightsville Beach has a blend of customers coming through his doors for freshly brewed coffee. “We get your typical businessmen and women here but we also get surfers artists and passers-by coming in to enjoy coffee as well — it’s just a part of their routine ” he says.

Don Reynolds founder and CEO of Port City Java importer and roaster of coffee has also witnessed coffee’s rise in popularity. “It’s amazing to see the influx of people in our coffee shops. Everyone loves good coffee — every segment of society: subcontractors bus drivers college students and lawyers ” he says.

All that love starts with the careful roasting of the beans. The Azalea Coast has several local roasteries — with equally passionate and skilled roasters — producing the freshest tastiest brews. Port City Java has been roasting coffee for 12 years and Java Estate Roastery has been roasting for 13 years.

Roasting coffee is a delicate process involving all of the senses. Coffee beans are imported from all over the world and stored in burlap bags in a 50- to 60-degree humidity-free room to keep them fresh. Each coffee has its own distinctive quality and taste and it’s the roaster’s job to represent the overall essence of its origin.

“The flavor depends on the degree of roasting ” says Walter Bateman president and CEO of Java Estate Roastery. “You can take any coffee to dark roast or light roast to change the dynamics. We typically take our Central and South American coffee to a medium roast and the African to a full city roast.” Ethiopian coffee can be described as “lemony and fragrant ” while Nicaraguan coffee can be described as “spicy and heavy.”

“We roast each origin separately to either a dark medium or light roast ” says Scott McLean director of roasting and distribution at Port City Java. “Each origin roasts differently and what’s so fascinating about coffee is that each one has its own attributes that we need to let shine.”

Although Port City Java is considered a small-batch roaster in the coffee industry 264 to 300 pounds can be roasted at one time resulting in tremendously high volume. Java Estate Roastery is also considered a small-batch roaster and has a capability of 500 pounds per hour. “The small batch results in a high turnover and fresher coffee ” says Bateman.

So what’s the secret process? First the green coffee beans are poured into the roaster (which is shaped like a circular drum) and heated to 450 degrees for up to 20 minutes depending on the roaster and the bean. During the roasting process while the beans are turning over and over a motion that can be compared to that of clothes tumbling in a dryer the roaster is constantly checking the beans for color smell and a slight cracking sound. “It takes a special eye ” says McLean. “You don’t want to overcook the beans.”

After the beans have roasted they are immediately transferred to a cooling rack where they are brought to room temperature in as little as five minutes. The next step is what McLean describes as “the best part of the job ” the “cupping” process in which the tasting is done.

When the beans have cooled they are ground and put in a cup to which 145- to 200-degree water is added. The ratio is approximately 7 grams of coffee to 6 ounces of water making for a very intense cup! After five minutes have elapsed the crust that forms at the top is scraped off and the coffee is “sucked” over the tongue swished around the palate and spit back out. The roaster then takes notes about the coffee’s flavor smell aftertaste and other characteristics. Words often used to describe the taste include “peppery ” “caramely ” “apricoty” and even “walnutty.”

“As you do this more and more you are able to detect more ” says McLean. “This is how everything is evaluated in the coffee world from the farming to the roasting to the grinding.”

Although roasting methods can vary both local roasteries agree on one thing: Fresh roasted coffee is the best coffee and the roaster’s job is to capture the essence of the coffee itself. “You have to find the best profile of that particular roast ” says Bateman. “It’s not rocket science but it does require attention and you have to be passionate about it.”

And passion for joe is everywhere. Adding to coffee’s exploding popularity are the more recent additions of organic and fair trade coffee which can now be found at almost every coffee shop in the country. Organic coffee grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment and fair trade coffee bought from small often marginalized growers with the intent of helping them move from a position of vulnerability to security and economic self-sufficiency are strictly regulated by the government. Organic Coffee is processed in the same way as regular coffee only it’s done in a different area of the roastery. “The USDA requires all organic roasting to be separate from everything else ” says McLean. “In order to be organic you have to be 100 percent organic.” Both fair trade and organic coffee are important products for several local coffee companies including Folks Café.

Alan Swart and his wife Griselda owners of Folks Café get their coffee from all over the world. Alan saw the organic and fair trade benefits firsthand while working with the Peace Corps in the coffee region of Matagalpa a city in Nicaragua. While there he worked with a coffee cooperative and helped develop an organic coffee program. “The environmental aspects were so prevalent ” Swart says. “Not only is it cheaper for the farmers to grow organically as pesticides can be very expensive but this method also prevents contamination of streams and rivers promotes human safety and health and increases coffee yields.”

Alongside organic — the two often go hand-in-hand — fair trade coffee’s demand has also risen and as a result communities are coming together to form cooperatives that raise the standards of production and provide better quality coffee. “These communities represent small coffee farmers who want to join with other small coffee farmers to be represented on a larger scale and ensure that they are being paid a fair price for their coffee ” says Swart.

As quick easy and cheap as instant coffee may be with time we have learned that the processes used to make coffee instant may harm coffee’s very important properties most importantly aroma and taste. Not only do we benefit from a fresh cup of coffee at the local shops we also get a chance to relax and be social.

“Coffee has become a social drink. ‘Let’s get a cup of coffee’ has become a common phrase in American culture ” says Reynolds. “Coffee houses are social houses as well.”

Josh Vach took this into account when planning future renovations for Café Del Mar. “We now have people wanting to drink their coffee right here in the cafe which is a change from years past when people would simply stop in to get a cup to go ” he says. “We plan to set up some tables and wireless Internet access for our customers to use while enjoying their coffee with friends or catching up on work.”

When asked which coffee drink is the most popular in the local coffee shops most agreed that espresso is becoming more and more popular. “Every year there is an increase in the number of espresso drink sales ” says Reynolds. “As a coffee drinker they want a richer taste and migrate to espresso. Similar to how you acquire a taste for wine your taste develops with coffee as well.”

As coffee improves in quality people’s tastes are sure to improve as well. No one knows what the coffee industry will look like a decade from now. “We’ve returned to the basics of coffee — what beans are the best how to roast them which varieties are better — it’s turned into a science of flavors ” says Swart.

As you’re drinking a cup of hot coffee someone is working on a way to make it better. In Hawaii Dr. Joe Alban founded Kona Joe Coffee which has annual sales of more than $1.5 million dollars. The Specialty Coffee Association of America named it the best new wholesale coffee in the world in 2001. Kona Joe features the world’s first trellised coffee plantation where beans are grown on a wire frame as grapes would grow in a vineyard. Hawaiian weather only enhances this process that results in more flavorful beans and increased yield. Alban has patented the technique and the future of Kona Joe and coffee in general looks bright.

Alban is just one of the people trying to improve the drink that we love so much. There are several visions of the future already on people’s minds — one day trees will grow decaf coffee through genetic engineering the growing process will be made even more efficient when everything is grown at the same rate and coffee production and consumption will double in quality in the next 100 years. Regardless of which vision becomes reality first people will continue to tailor coffee’s production until they get that perfect cup even if they have to stay up all night to do it.

Coffee Lingo

Espresso: A 1-ounce shot of intense rich black espresso

Café Latte: Two shots of espresso with milk topped with foamed milk

Café Mocha: Chocolate syrup coffee steamed milk and whipped cream topped with chocolate drizzle.

Iced Cappuccino: Two shots of espresso and milk over ice topped with milk foam.