By Tim Scallon, MS RDN LD
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
A few years back while travelling in Costa Rica, we had the pleasure of visiting a coffee plantation. It happened that we were there during their seasonal down time and the mill was closed but our guide pulled some strings and arranged a personal tour for Kathy and me. From the beans growing on the hillside trees to the area where the beans are laid out and dried after harvest to the warehouse filled with stacks of burlap bags of coffee beans, it was fascinating to see the origin of our every morning cup of pleasure. After our tour we visited with the owner while the master roaster roasted and ground fresh beans for a sample of their beloved product. Words do not do justice to the sensation of experiencing the rich depth of flavor in that cup. This experience of ours highlights critical steps in preserving the fresh flavor of a bean grown in Central America and consumed in your home.
My parents bought coffee in a vacuum-packed gallon can that was opened with a can opener. With the initial “ssst” of the opening can, the aroma of the roasted coffee came pouring out and the included plastic lid was used to keep the coffee fresh thereafter. Today, we have a much better system for preserving coffee flavor.
The first step is to roast the beans as close as possible to when you will brew. Most cities across the country now have local coffee roasters who import raw green coffee beans, roast them and then sell them to coffee houses and individual consumers. Each bag of roasted whole beans is printed with a roasting date. If you don’t have a local roaster, look for a coffee house in town. They can sell you beans with a roast date or direct you to the nearest roaster.
The next essential step is to grind the roasted beans just before brewing. For our parents, to be able to buy ground coffee was a luxury; one less thing to do around the kitchen. I remember Dad recollecting working outside and smelling the rich aroma of coffee beans that his mother was roasting in the house. If you want a really, good cup of coffee, buy whole beans with a recent roast date and grind just what you are going to brew that morning.
The third step in preserving flavor has to do with storage. In the nineties when coffee clubs were popular and it became fashionable to mail order whole beans, everyone bought electric coffee grinders. I still have mine. Suddenly we were exposed to the joy of fresh ground coffee just like my grandparents drank. During those years, somewhere the recommendation surfaced to store your beans in the freezer to keep them fresher. Today’s best advice is to store your beans in an air tight container impervious to light in a cool dry place. I keep mine in the original bag sealed up tight in the pantry. Freezing can expose the beans to moisture from condensation which erodes flavor over time.
The brewing method can also influence flavor. In Costa Rica they still use a traditional method to brew their coffee. They place a conical filter over a glass carafe. The fresh ground coffee is put into the filter and boiling water is poured over the coffee and drips into the carafe. This is the forerunner of the original dripolator. Remember Mr. Coffee? Mom and Dad got Mr. Coffee for Christmas one year and that ended the career of their old percolator. The original percolators were made with a glass top where you could see the coffee percolating.
All these devices have their merits but, to brew one or two cups of coffee I prefer the French press. The coffee is put directly into a glass carafe, hot water is added with a single stir and the plunger/filter is inserted into the carafe. After brewing exactly 4 minutes, the plunger is pushed to the bottom separating the coffee grounds from the coffee. If heaven could exist in a cup, the French press would be nearby. May your next cup of coffee bring a bit of pleasure to your day.
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with years of experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes. He is a Nacogdoches resident and he helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health. Memorial Cooking Innovations has featured in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable channel 2 in Nacogdoches.
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