Frequently Asked Questions about Coffee

Here a whole bunch of facts you can check out about coffee. Everything from storing it, grinding it and the caffiene that's in it.

coffeeStorage

A major key to excellent coffee is freshness. Oxygen is the staling agent for coffee, so in order to maintain our standards of freshness, we package all of our coffee beans in one way valve bags immediately after they are removed from the roaster. By using the valve-bags, the beans remain as fresh as the day they were roasted for up to 6 months.

1. We recommend storing unused coffee fresh in airtight containers in a cool and dry place. Glass is good because it doesn't retain odours or oils from previous usage. Otherwise a plastic snap-lock bag with the air squeezed out is ideal.

2. Keep coffee away from the following: Extreme temperatures (too hot or too cold) Light Moisture Strong odors (coffee attracts and absorbs foreign odors)

3. Do not freeze or refrigerate coffee.

4. Purchase your beans fresh and use them within two weeks for peak taste.

5. We recommend you purchase coffee weekly and then grind the beans immediately before brewing because ground coffee rapidly loses its flavour, no matter how it is stored. Whole beans stay fresh longer than ground coffee. However, it is recommended that coffee be ground nearest to the time of brewing. Be sure that the coffee is fresh at the start.

1) What is the best temperature to brew coffee?

According to chemical studies, the optimal water temperature for drip coffee is 95-98C.

2) Just how much ground coffee do I need for x amount of coffee?

Listen to what the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) has to say:
"A cup is defined as 6 ounces of water before brewing. This will produce 5.33 ounces of brewed coffee. Or 125 ml & 110 ml for Euro style coffee makers." The SCA defines 10 grams or .36 oz per cup as the proper measure for brewed coffee if using the American standards. If using Euro standards the measure is 7 grams per 125 ml. Generaly this is an open question, though. The right measure will depend on the coffee you are using, the degree of roast (darker = more coffee due to weight loss to keep the same weight per ounce) and the coffeepot you are brewing in.


3) Which is the best method to make coffee?

Drip

Drip is the most common form of coffee served in the United States. This method essentially pours near boiling water over medium-course coffee grounds to produce coffee. This is probably the easiest method of making coffee. A few words about filters: There are two types of filter available for drip coffee. One type is paper. The other is a metal or plastic permanent filters. Neither is innately better but they do produce different coffee flavors. A paper filter will hold some of the essential oils that are being released from the coffee.

Some people have a preference for this. In paper filters there are several brands that have various thickness and types of paper that will absorb more or less of the oils. One selling point for paper filters is that they are very easy to clean up; just throw them away. This of course means more landfill and more trees being cut down. Some people also feel that paper filters give coffee a paper taster. The permanent filter has some obvious advantages and disadvantages in relation to paper. I will add just a couple ideas about them here. One, use metal; plastic won't last as long and may give your coffee an off flavor. Two permanent filters require a slightly courser grind and you may get some sediment in your cup. This is probably comparable to the sediment in a coffee press Press Pot, French Press, Cafetiere or Bodum.

A French press is a glass container with a wire mesh attached to a plunger. To make coffee, you first boil water, then allow water to cool to just below a boil before you pour water into the press. The press should be prewarmed before putting the coffee in. This will help keep the glass from absorbing as much heat when the hot water is put in the press thus making for warmer coffee when you pour. The press should contain approximately the same amount of very coarsely ground coffee as you would use for drip coffee. Let it rest for 2-3 minutes or until it is easy to press the plunger down and then plunge the wire mesh. This filters the coffee. Course ground coffee is a must here or there will be a great deal of sediment in the cup. You will have a small amount of sediment no mater what. Due to the fact that there is no paper filter all oils make it into the cup. This is a great cup of coffee.

Vacuum

This is a method I have never experiences so if someone who has first hand experience wants to redo this let me know. The method consists of having two glass chambers setting on top of each other. Coffee is put in the top chamber and water is put in the bottom chamber. As the water is heated it rises up into the top chamber by vacuum. Once the water has risen into the top heat is removed and the coffee is pulled back into the bottom chamber for serving. I hear this gives a great cup of coffee and is quite fun to watch. Bodum makes these. Anyone else?

Percolator

Percolators violate most of the natural laws about brewing coffee.

Don't over extract the oils and flavor. Percolators work by taking coffee and reheating it and throwing it over the grounds over and over and over again.
Never reheat/boil coffee. This destroys the flavor. For best flavor, boil the water, pass it over the grounds and retain the heat. Don't reheat it.

Violating these rules may not sound like much, but these are about the only rules there are. The effect of a percolator is to keep passing boiling water/coffee over the grounds until there is no flavor left and the flavor in the coffee is so dead that it's a worthless waste.

4) Which is the best way to store coffee?

One should always store coffee beans in a glass, air tight container. Air and moisture are coffee's principle enemies. Glass is best because it doesn't retain the odors of the beans or the oils, which could contaminate future beans stored in the same container. However, if you use glass, make sure the container is not exposed to light, as sunlight is believed to reduce freshness.

Buy only what coffee can be consumed in a week to a week and a half from the time it was roasted. This is the only way to have truly fresh coffee.

Do not freeze coffee. There are two key problems here. One the freezing will damage some of subtle tastes in the coffee and two when the coffee is taken out the container will sweat exposing your coffee to moisture.

5) What kind of grinder should I buy?

First off any grinder is better than having your coffee preground at the store. Pregrinding is just a way of insuring stale coffee.

Perhaps the earliest form of grinding anything, whether it be spices or coffee, was the simple mortar and pestle approach. The item to be ground - or crushed as it were - was placed in the bottom of a bowl, and the blunt end of a stick was used to crush said item along the bowl's bottom and sides. Following this - and history tends to lead us down numerous paths - mechanical means replaced the mortar and pestle. Manually operated, the coffee (or, again, spice, wheat, corn... whatever) was placed between a stationary and a moving disc. The movement of the one disc atop the other created a grinding force. This is also known as milling; a term we carry into the present.

Milling has become very efficient with the use of electrical motors as opposed to horses, water, steam, or human-power. And milling, as a process, is as common to the agricultural industry as it is to coffee. To understand the benefit of milling coffee, let us first compare it to another popular grinding technique, the blade styled coffee grinder. Available in practically every housewares store in the world, the blade style grinder uses a small, universal electrical motor to spin two metal blades at very high speeds. When in contact with the coffee beans, the blades chop and crush the bean's structure. Akin to the mortar and pestle for nor creating a uniform grind, this method is quick and inexpensive. Many models of this type can be had for less than 20$US.

A step up, and the primary focus of this article, is the burr style, or milling style coffee grinder. Like the wheat or corn grinder, and identical to commercial, industrial sized grinders the burr grinder for today's consumer is available in a myriad of colors, features, materials, and prices.

Why a burr grinder?
As mentioned above, the blade variant of coffee grinders allow a varying particle size from the resultant grind. The leading reason for the use of a burr grinder is the ability to produce a uniform grind of the beans. A uniform grind is important for a few different reasons. First, it provides even surface area for extraction during whatever brew process you may wish to use. Second, for espresso, the uniform grind allows for even wetting and even packing of the grounds.

How come?
Let us return above. An even grind will provide for an even extraction of the oils from the coffee. Ill-proportioned grind will cause some of the coffee to over-extract, and some to under-extract. Over-extracted coffee will taste bitter and overly pungent. Under-extracted will taste weak and thin.

Burr grinders, ideally and theoretically, pass an incoming bean under (or in between) its burrs once. Whether it be for one revolution or two, the bean, as it finishes its pass, is completely crushed into identically sized pieces. Blade-style and mortar and pestle re-grind the coffee, which provides the inconsistency mentioned.

The Big Debate: Conical Burr Grinders vs. Flat-Plate Burr Grinders

Burr grinders are distinct by two forms. The first is where the burrs are plate-shaped and lie atop each other. In the second model, the burrs are shaped like two mating cones; the grinding teeth facing towards each burr set. The debate lies with life expectancy (read: wear), grind consistency, and ease of cleaning. To begin with, both variations are easy to clean so long as the manufacturer designed the grinder to allow one of the two burr sets to be removed. To my knowledge, every manufacturer has done so. It is up to the owner to find the appropriate cleaning tool used to get into the teeth's grooves. Incidentally, a stiff bristled brush like that of a toothbrush works well. The debate flourishes here: does a conical burr-set wear more but provide a greater grind consistency and slower operating speed (due to prolonged contact between bean and burr), or does the flat-plate bur-set provide greater consistency and life because of it's ability to operate at faster speeds? You decide. There are arguments for and against both parties. All in all, to the average consumer, this argument is like the blowing of the wind. Meaningless.

"You get what you paid for."
And it is true, especially when you figure in other factors to your potential purchase. These factors are as follows:

Does the machine come with a warranty? If so, how many years?
May I try the machine first before committing to a purchase?
Is the machine too loud?
Is the machine easy to clean up? Does its spill or throw ground coffee all over the place?
Is there service available in my area? If so, how much extra and how easy is it to obtain?
Is the machine repairable by myself or a local appliance repairperson?
Keep all of these questions on the tip of your brain when and after you go shopping. You'll find distinct differences between each and every model mentioned above. It is true that the higher you go, the greater the quality of the machine - both in materials used and end product. Consistency is still very much a driving argument and consistency is best achieved when higher quality components and material are used.

These are the two biggest questions you need to keep on your mind:

How much will I use this grinder and for what reasons? Do you plan on only grinding for one style of coffee? Do you plan on using it daily? Do you plan on using many different types of coffee beans?

If you can answer these questions, you can narrow down your search very easily.

6) How to cut caffeine intake?

Most people report a very good success ratio by cutting down caffeine intake at the rate of 1/2 cup of coffee a day. This is known as Caffeine Fading. Alternatively you might try reducing coffee intake in discrete steps of two-five cups of coffee less per week (depending on how high is your initial intake). If you are drinking more than 10 cups of coffee a day, you should seriously consider cutting down.

The best way to proceed is to consume caffeine regularly for a week, while keeping a precise log of the times and amounts of caffeine intake (remember that chocolate, tea, soda beverages and many headache pills contain caffeine as well as coffee). At the end of the week proceed to reduce your coffee intake at the rate recommended above. Remember to have substitutes available for drinking: if you are not going to have a hot cup of coffee at your 10 minute break, you might consider having hot chocolate or herbal tea, but NOT decaff, since decaff has also been shown to be addictive. This should take you through the works without much problem.

Some other people quit cold turkey. Withdrawal symptoms are quite nasty this way (see section below) but they can usually be countered with lots of sleep and exercise. Many people report being able to stop drinking caffeine almost cold-turkey while on holidays on the beach. If quitting cold turkey is proving too hard even in the beach, drinking a coke might help.

7) What are the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal?

Regular caffeine consumption reduces sensitivity to caffeine. When caffeine intake is reduced, the body becomes oversensitive to adenosine. In response to this oversensitiveness, blood pressure drops dramatically, causing an excess of blood in the head (though not necessarily on the brain), leading to a headache.

This headache, well known among coffee drinkers, usually lasts from one to five days, and can be alleviated with analgesics such as aspirin. It is also alleviated with caffeine intake (in fact several analgesics contain caffeine dosages).

Often, people who are reducing caffeine intake report being irritable, unable to work, nervous, restless, and feeling sleepy, as well as having a headache. In extreme cases, nausea and vomiting has also been reported.

References.

Caffeine and Health. J. E. James, Academic Press, 1991. Progress in Clinical and Biological Research Volume 158. G. A. Spiller, Ed. Alan R. Liss Inc, 1984.

8) Effects of caffeine on pregnant women.

Caffeine has long been suspect of causing mal-formations in fetus, and that it may reduce fertility rates.

These reports have proved controversial. What is known is that caffeine does causes malformations in rats, when ingested at rates comparable to 70 cups a day for humans. Many other species respond equally to such large amounts of caffeine.

Data is scant, as experimentation on humans is not feasible. In any case moderation in caffeine ingestion seems to be a prudent course for pregnant women. Recent references are Pastore and Savitz, Case-control study of caffeinated beverages and preterm delivery. American Journal of Epidemiology, Jan 1995.

A recent study found a weak link between Sudden-Infant-Death-Syndrome (SIDS) and caffeine consumption by the mother, which reinforces the recommendation for moderation -possibly even abstinence- above.

On men, it has been shown that caffeine reduces rates of sperm motility which may account for some findings of reduced fertility.

9) Caffeine and Osteoporosis (Calcium loss)
From the Journal of AMA: (JAMA, 26 Jan. 1994, p. 280-3.)

"There was a significant association between (drinking more) caffeinated coffee and decreasing bone mineral density at both the hip and the spine, independent of age, obesity, years since menopause, and the use of tobacco, estrogen, alcohol, thiazides, and calcium supplements [in women]."

Except when:

"Bone density did not vary [...] in women who reported drinking at least one glass of milk per day during most of their adult lives."

That is, if you drink a glass of milk a day, there is no need to worry about the caffeine related loss of calcium.

10) Studies on the side-effects of caffeine.

OAKLAND, California (UPI) -- Coffee may be good for life. A major study has found fewer suicides among coffee drinkers than those who abstained from the hot black brew.

The study of nearly 130,000 Northern California residents and the records of 4,500 who have died looked at the effects of coffee and tea on mortality.

Cardiologist Arthur Klatsky said of the surprising results, "This is not a fluke finding because our study was very large, involved a multiracial population, men, women, and examined closely numerous factors related to mortality such as alcohol consumption and smoking.''

The unique survey also found no link between coffee consumption and death risk. And it confirmed a 'weak' connection of coffee or tea to heart attack risk -- but not to other cardiovascular conditions such as stroke.

The study was conducted by the health maintenance organization Kaiser Permanente and was reported Wednesday in the Annals of Epidemiology

11) Caffeine and your metabolism.

Caffeine increases the level of circulating fatty acids. This has been shown to increase the oxidation of these fuels, hence enhancing fat oxidation. Caffeine has been used for years by runners and endurance people to enhance fatty acid metabolism. It's particularly effective in those who are not habitual users.

Caffeine is not an appetite suppressant. It does affect metabolism, though it is a good question whether its use truly makes any difference during a diet. The questionable rationale for its original inclusion in diet pills was to make a poor man's amphetamine-like preparation from the non-stimulant sympathomimetic phenylpropanolamine and the stimulant caffeine. (That you end up with something very non-amphetamine like is neither here nor there.) The combination drugs were called "Dexatrim" or Dexa-whosis (as in Dexedrine) for a reason, namely, to assert its similarity in the minds of prospective buyers. However, caffeine has not been in OTC diet pills for many years per order of the FDA, which stated that there was no evidence of efficacy for such a combination.

From Goodman and Gilman's The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics:

Caffeine in combination with an analgesic, such as aspirin, is widely used in the treatment of ordinary types of headache. There are few data to substantiate its efficacy for this purpose. Caffeine is also used in combination with an ergot alkaloid in the treatment of migrane (Chapter 39).

Ergotamine is usually administered orally (in combination with caffeine) or sublingually

If a patient cannot tolerate ergotamine orally, rectal administration of a mixture of caffeine and ergotamine tartarate may be attempted.

The bioavailability [of ergotamine] after sublingual administration is also poor and is often inadequate for therapeutic purposes [...] the concurrent administration of caffeine (50-100 mg per mg of ergotamine) improves both the rate and extent of absorption [...] However, there is little correspondence between the concentration of ergotamine in plasma and the intensity or duration of therapeutic or toxic effects.

Caffeine enhances the action of the ergot alkaloids in the treatment of migrane, a discovery that must be credited to the sufferers from the disease who observed that strong coffee gave symptomatic relief, especially when combined with the ergot alkaloids. As mentioned, caffeine increases the oral and rectal absorption of ergotamine, and it is widely believed that this accounts for its enhancement of therapeutic effects.

Nowadays most of researchers believe that the stimulatory actions are attributable to the antagonism of the adenosine. Agonists at the adenosine receptors produce sedation while antagonists at these sites, like caffeine and theophylline induce stimulation, and what is even more important, the latter substance also reverse agonists-induced symptoms of sedation, thus indicating that this effects go through these receptors.

Another possibility, however, is that methylxanthines enhance release of excitatory aminoacids, like glutamate and aspartate, which are the main stimulatory neurotransmitters in the brain.

As to the side effects: methylxanthines inhibit protective activity of common antiepileptic drugs in exptl. animals in doses comparable to those used in humans when correction to the surface area is made. It should be underlined, that although tolerance develop to the stimulatory effects of theo or caffeine when administered on a chronic base, we found no tolerance to the above effects . This hazardous influence was even enhanced over time. Therefore, it should be emphasized that individuals suffering from epilepsy should avoid, or at least reduce consumption of coffee and other caffeine-containing beverages.


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