From the blooms of a delicate white flower, scented like a garden of jasmine and orange blossoms, every coffee bean embarks on a journey that takes it thousands of miles from its home on lush, green fields, to where it settles in a brew that warms the lip and lifts the spirit.
Coffee can only be grown in the band surrounding the equator between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn―known as the "Coffee Belt".
After three quarters of a year, the small green berries ripen and mature into ripe, red cherries. Coffee berries do not ripen at the same time, creating a peculiar loveliness as one is bound to find branches brimming with both red and green berries nuzzling each other―and on occasion pleasantly flecked with the delicate white of a few late-blooming flowers.
From sack to sorting hands...
Coffee beans are small and of a pale shade of green. Each cherry will normally house two. Sometimes, a cherry will have only one bean, egg-like in shape, which is known as a “peaberry.”
After they have been milled, the beans are taken to tables where women and men the perfect from the damaged, the heavy from the light, the hard from the airy―often over an entire day of gossip and laughter.
Every buyer has his own personal preference. Most will select the bigger and heavier beans and are willing to pay a premium for every sack. Oddly, midsized beans are often the best-tasting.
From ordinary to exquisite...
When the polished and sorted beans leave the farms and mills en route to cities and cafés, they make one crucial stop that decides where they will eventually end. That stop is the cupping house, where tasters or cuppers will decide whether a particular harvest will fetch a high price in the world market or disappear into the ranks of the ordinary.
Before each cupper are identical cups for each coffee to be tasted, the coffee samples, a coffee measure, empty cups, a silver spoon, a glass of water to rinse the spoon and another glass to rinse the palate, a spittoon, and a carafe of very hot water.
The coffee samples are roasted very lightly and spooned into the cups. One cup per sample. A whiff of the dry coffee is taken and observations are noted.
Hot water is then poured into each cup. A few minutes are allowed to pass without touching the brew. The surface―a crust or dark mass of floating coffee grounds―is then smelled, and observations are again noted.
The crust is broken and again the aroma is inhaled and graded.
The crust must now be lifted off the surface and poured into an empty cup. Then, a bit of the brew is taken in with the spoon. It is smelled first then sucked into the mouth with plenty of air to allow the coffee's flavor notes to lift and fill the mouth and the back of the throat.
Thus coffee samples are graded, selected, bought and sold, and find their way to the world's finest cafés.
From green to gold....
Skillfully-roasting the beans will release its unique flavors, lift the body from the flesh, and transform what is in the bean into the richness that gives so much pleasure.
Containing more than 2,000 chemical substances, coffee beans are heated to temperatures sometimes over 400°F to break down, burn off, or change these substances.
As the beans are heated, the water inside each bean turns to steam and expands, rupturing their cellular structures with an audible "crack." The "first crack" signals the first change in color from pale to a rich green.
As moisture continues to escape, the color continues to change to a pale straw, a rich gold, then to a medium brown. This is created by the caramelizing of sugars in the beans.
A "second crack" will signal a release of the oils in the beans. From a dull surface, the beans begin to shimmer as their natural oils ooze out.
Many years ago, coffee was a drink for the elite. It was reserved for the very wealthy, the very royal, the very holy, or the very gifted. Back then, it was a drink that required ritual or a strict set of procedures.
Today, coffee has become not only very easy to prepare, but also very easy to obtain.
Crucial to making coffee accessible has been the proliferation of instant or soluble coffees. Created by extracting ground coffee with water to form a concentrated liquid brew and then removing this water by some method of dehydration, instant coffees has brought the drink into almost every home across the globe.
Today, the varieties of instant or soluble coffees are innumerable. Powdered, freeze-dried, blended, pure, by the pound, by the kilo, by the cup, with cream and sugar mixed in, decaffeinated, half and half, and other possibilities.
From farm to shop...
The expert responsible for "letting the coffee out of the bag" and creating a fascinating brew or concoction is known as the "barista."
Italian for "bartender," the barista's main arena of work is the espresso machine. He is skilled not only in the proper use and maintenance of his machine, but also in the art of coffee preparation.
Good baristas are well-trained in the art of making coffee and are passionate about what they do. In Europe, they are born from a lineage of baristas where the skills and techniques are not learned in the cafés, but in the homes, and are handed down through the generations.
Today, baristas are trained in the cafés where they work. Coffee shops are known for particular flavors and singular concoctions―many of which are secret recipes.
Coffee dessert drinks―irresistible concoctions of espressos tossed into fruits or jellies, fluffed up with ice cream or whipped cream, topped with rich sauces or syrups, blended with ice or flavored juices, and sprinkled with bits of chocolate or marshmallows―answer for the bulk of many a coffee shop's profits.
Aside from making coffee shops a favorite hang out, coffee desserts have made the drink a favorite, even among the young. Today, when one says "Let's have coffee!" more often than not it means "Let's an ice-blended, cold mocha, java jelly, something-or-other!"
From sunrise to sunset...
Coffee plays an integral role in the lives of the Filipino people. Often, the very first thing one scrambles for in the morning―sometimes even before the sunrise―is a hot cup of coffee. It warms the stomach, clears the head, and opens our eyes, and forces the nighttime drowsiness away, making room for the new day.
To many Filipinos, breakfast is not complete without a cup of coffee. In the provinces many pour coffee over their rice, turning it into a soup that adds heat and flavor to the meal.
Lunch is taken with yet another cup of coffee. Many times, this will be the third cup of the day, as a quiet little break between breakfast and lunch is enjoyed with the second cup.
At the mid-afternoon coffee break, the fourth cup revives the spirit and boosts the weary body. Then at dinner, coffee is again enjoyed after a meal and beyond as it accompanies late night conversations that fulfill the Filipino's need for companionship and conversation. Before you know it, it is morning again and time once more to be filled up with that hot cup of coffee.
From espresso to capuccino...
Lattes, macchiatos, cappuccinos, mochas, and americanos have helped make drinking coffee a daily habit in most of the world. In Italy itself―the European coffee capital―aside from the ubiquitous espresso, there are specific coffee concoctions taken for specific times of the day. Cappuccinos, for instance, are preferred in the morning to ease the stomach gently into its daily coffee regimen of four to six cups scattered throughout the day.
Interestingly, a number of "espresso-based" drinks were not created by Europeans. The latte, mocha, and the americano are children of―what else―America, and are at the core of American coffee culture. The latte softens the power of an espresso with milk; a lot of it (lattes contain at least seven ounces of milk for every ounce of espresso). A mocha softens the espresso with chocolate―either ground or syrup―and steamed milk. The americano was born during World War I when American soldiers overseas, being unable to handle the intensity of the European espressos, started adding water to their drinks. It is also called the Espresso Lungo, or "lengthened" espresso.
From farm to store...
Coffee has become one of the three most imbibed drinks across the globe. Coffee's popularity is also largely due to the fact that it is a soothing, flavorful drink that has become very easy to obtain.
Farmers and sellers have made sure anyone who wants a cup of coffee can get one. Coffee producers have created so many ways of packaging and serving the brew that this guarantees that one form or another will appeal to just about everyone.
Coffee shops, market places, farms, and of course, the groceries, supermarkets, convenience stores, and in the Philippines―the sari-sari store, all have made sure coffee is accessible to anyone at anytime. Coffee dispensers in supermarkets allow the aficionado to customize the selection, weight, form and cost of the coffee he purchases.
From everyday to holiday...
In the Philippines, particularly during holidays, coffee is not only enjoyed after meals, but during. Breads and rice cakes are dipped into the brew, enriching the flavor and texture of every bite. Most Filipinos will vouch that nothing perfectly matches the Noche Buena feast Christmas Eve as well as a piping hot cup of thick, full-bodied, perfectly brewed coffee.
From modern to traditional...
Coffee can be roasted anywhere there is fire. Coffee has been roasted in pots of clay, cans of tin, over wood, on heated rocks, in lamps, cups, pails, out in the deserts, on mountain trails, inside quiet homes, in great roasteries, or on the stoves of the world’s finest cafés.
While much of the coffee world turns their beans from green to gold in marvelously state-of-the-art roasting machines that control and monitor every second of the roasting process, many of the world's greatest coffee lovers choose to roast their own coffee, over their own stoves, in their own frying pans or griddles.
Many farms, plantations and coffee cooperatives still churn out exquisite coffee in old-fashioned traditional roasters. The flavors produced, the body created, are no less powerful, no less sumptuous, and no less addicting. The magic is obviously not in the machinery, but in the hands of the man who controls the roasting.
National Coffee Development Board