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Coffee Appreciation, Bean Scene Issue 9, 2005

Appearing in Bean Scene Magazine,

Issue 9, 2005

                                                     Coffee Appreciation


Don’t you just hate it when your friends are all talking about the latest episode of 24 or Lost and you’re completely out of it because you didn’t watch it from the beginning? Not knowing much about coffee can similarly put you on the outer. In this article, David Gee and Matthew Gee arm you with the essentials in understanding about the second most (legally) traded commodity in the world (there – bet we’ve taught you something new already!)

Coffee Grows on Trees

Some people think coffee is either a manufactured product or a product that grows in the ground. Most are surprised when they hear that coffee actually grows on a tree. The coffee bean is actually a seed that grows inside a cherry that grows as a fruit on the coffee tree. Most cherries usually have two of these seeds inside them lying face to face. They are green in colour. After the jasmine-like flowers on the coffee tree disappear, green cherries emerge and eventually turn red, indicating to the harvesters that they are ready to be picked and then processed.

It’s a Labour-Intensive Harvest

Machines are not good at distinguishing between green and red cherries so to this day most of the world’s coffee is hand-picked. In most countries, after being picked the red cherries are soaked in an enzyme or bacteria over a thirty-six hour period, during which the flesh separates from the seeds. The seeds are then washed thoroughly with water and put out into the sun to dry. This usually takes from a couple of days to a week. When the seeds (let’s call them beans from here on in) are dry they are put into a machine which shakes them up vigorously so that a hull or husk that surrounds the bean is shaken off. Shiny green beans are left which are then hand sorted and graded according to their size and quality (yes, every single bean!). They are then packed in their characteristic 60kg hessian bags, ready to be shipped overseas. Coffee in its green form can be stored for up to two years before it degrades.

The Art of Roasting

We’ve seen coffee roasting done in domestic ovens, popcorn makers, huge commercial roasting machines that need the expertise of a craftsman with years of experience to operate and mega roasters that are fully computer-driven. Interestingly, forty-five seconds either side of ideal will produce a batch of coffee that is either too light in colour if under-roasted (and hence milder than the target roast) or coffee that is too dark in colour if over-roasted (and hence stronger or more bitter than the target roast). Therefore the ideal coffee roaster isn’t going to be an old popcorn maker but to some people’s surprise nor is it the human-operated commercial roaster. It is actually the fully automated roaster that comes out on top as it virtually guarantees consistency. Its computer sensors know with precise accuracy the moisture content, density, average bean size and bean hardness that will all play in part in determining the optimum roasting time. Roasting times will therefore differ from batch to batch. There aren’t many of these roasters in Australia as they are incredibly expensive.

Generally speaking, the roasting process takes between fourteen and sixteen minutes to complete. During this time the beans expand and they lose weight as water is driven off. The surface temperature of the beans eventually reaches between two hundred and two hundred and twenty degrees Celsius and by this stage the sugars within the coffee beans have caramelised.

The colour of the beans changes as they roast. They start off being green then they turn a light brown colour then a chocolate-brown colour and eventually a dark brown colour. They will ultimately turn black if left in the roaster for long enough. (Luckily for us as consumers the beans are never roasted this long. As you could imagine, carbon and water do not make a very nice espresso!)

When the desired roast has been achieved the beans are ejected into a cooling tray where they spend about five to ten minutes cooling down to sub forty degrees Celsius. If they don’t cool sufficiently they continue to roast and will retain a very smoky aroma and flavour.

After the beans have settled the oils locked within come to the fore, giving them a "wet" appearance. It is this valuable oil that forms the crema on a well-extracted espresso. All baristas strive to maximise the crema on their coffees as this is from where a lot of the taste and aroma in coffee emanates.

Keeping it Fresh

If given the opportunity the beans will absorb the air and it is the oxygen in the air that will cause the bean to go stale and lose valuable aroma. This is why proper packaging after the beans cool and settle is essential. A high-grade foil bag with a one-way valve is the most appropriate packaging material for coffee beans.

For domestic users, coffee should be stored at room temperature in an airtight container.

Best Regions for Growing Coffee

[1] Africa-Arabia

(Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen)

[2] Asia-Pacific
(Papua New Guinea, Java, Vietnam and India)

[3] Latin America
(Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala and Costa Rica)

[4] North America & the Carribean
(Hawaii and Jamaica)

Single Origin or Blends – which is better?

We were at an event recently where one guy was arguing with another guy that his favourite coffee (something like a Brazil Santos, 2/3, strictly soft, medium to good bean with screen size 14/16 - and yes, he was boring the other fellow to tears)– was the best coffee in the world. The other guy managed to find a break in the monologue to mutter that he "didn’t know about all that but that he just loved the house blend at his local café."

Coffee, like wine is an incredibly subjective drink. Most people, especially when they first get into coffee, will prefer blends that roasters have created by mixing many different origins together. Coffee roasters do this to create a complex mixture of beans that bring different attributes to the table in the hope that their finished blend will have a good taste, good body, good mouthfeel, beautiful aftertaste, low acidity and knockout aroma. On their own, few single origins possess all of these attributes.

Most blends contain a mixture of between two and eight different single origin beans.

This week we both had the privilege of trying some Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee which came from the famous Wallenford Estate high in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. It had just been roasted in Melbourne and sent to us in a foil bag with a one-way valve so the freshness was guaranteed. We played around with our grinder and got a perfect espresso shot with a 26-second extraction through our commercial espresso machine. The espresso was pure bliss. Mind you, the aficionados tell us that this is one of the few single origin coffees that possesses such a depth of character.

Top 10 Coffee Producing Countries
% of total
1. Brazil 42%
2. Colombia 9%
3. Vietnam 8.5%
4. Indonesia 5%
5. India 4%
6. Mexico 3.5%
7. Guatemala 3%
8. Uganda 2.5%
9. Ethiopia 2.4%
10. Peru 2.2%

- next 10 countries account for 12.4% of total and all other countries account for remaining 10%

Methods of Making Coffee – the best and the worst

We believe that instant coffee should only be tolerated these days on camping trips. Otherwise, the humble plunger is our preferred brewing method at home. It’s easier to get a nice coffee out of a plunger than it is to get a good one out of a drip filter or stove-top unit. Of course if you can afford a home espresso machine then this is the way to go and a Saeco Via Vanezia is all you need to create quality coffee at home. However to experience truly great espresso where the crema is a consistent, thick, honeycomb-coloured layer on top, a commercial machine with the right amount of pressure and accurate water temperature is what is required.

Cappuccino, Caffe Latte and Flat White – what’s the difference?

  • join in the debate that rages at dinner parties and in cafes across Australia every day…..


Shot of espresso served in a ceramic cup followed

by milk at 65 C. Barista should aim to have a creamy

layer of finely textured froth that forms a dome on

the top of the cup and extends down about 10mm

under the rim of the cup. Finished with a dusting of

chocolate powder.


Caffe latte

Shot of espresso served in a glass followed by milk at

65 C. Barista should aim to have a creamy layer of finely

textured froth that extends down about 10mm from the top of the cup.

Flat White

Shot of espresso served in a ceramic cup followed

by milk at 65 C. Barista should aim to have a creamy

layer of finely textured froth that sits amongst the

crema and extends down about 2mm. Cup should not

be full - ensure flat white is at least 5-10mm below rim

of cup to avoid spillage.

Coffee is such a subjective thing. It’s hard for anyone to say that their coffee is any better than anyone else’s or that coffee grown in one place is any better than coffee grown in any other place. At the end of the day it comes down to individual taste. Like any other leisure pursuit – it helps to arm yourself with some knowledge before you critique – but do not lose sight of the fact that it’s you that has to be satisfied at the end of the day. So if you like your grande flat white with a shot of crème brulee syrup – go on and keep enjoying it! Just promise you’ll try an espresso made from Wallenford Estate Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans next time you’re in a café that offers it and continue the education!

Matthew Gee and David Gee currently run a wholesale coffee business in NSW and a barista training school called BARISTA BASICS Coffee Academy that operates in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Newcastle. They have also owned four cafes in Brisbane (still own one), have been partners in a specialty coffee roaster, have written Australia’s first textbook on coffee, produced several training videos on coffee and are currently producing a book and DVD focusing on domestic espresso machines.


Matthew and David have appeared on Bert Newton’s Good Morning Australia, Channel 9’s Fresh with Jeff Jansz, Channel 9’s Mornings with Kerri-Anne. They have also worked as official espresso tasters for Choice Magazine’s 2004 and 2005 review of home espresso machines. They also periodically appear on Ella James’ Saturday night radio program on Sydney’s 2UE and have featured on Tony Delroy’s evening program on ABC radio. As well as feature writers for Bean Scene Magazine, David and Matthew also contribute to Tea and Coffee Asia.

Ó 2005 Barista Basics Coffee Academy & Blue Wave Coffee Pty Ltd. Unauthorised copying or reproduction of this article in any form strictly prohibited and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

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