Developers and Coffee: Part 1

Coffee is amazing. This seems like an obvious statement. We drink it all the time, especially during long development hours. But have you ever wondered how to tell if the coffee that you’re drinking is any good? Let me take you on that short journey with you :)

Coffee History

Let’s start at the beginning. How did we get here?
Back in the 19th century coffee was becoming more and more popular. Instant coffee was developed, which lead to increased availability of coffee . Coffee, which had been a premium product earlier, was now available on every table, in every home. It has become a part of our lives, and stayed this way ever since. We now call that popularity boom first wave coffee.
The second major coffee surge is (obviously) called second wave coffee, which occurred in the 1960s. This time it was not about availability, but about coffee drinks. People came up with drinks like latte and caramel macchiato. Coffee shops like Starbucks were founded, and people focused on freshly ground coffee, which was the first good step to increasing overall coffee quality.

This is how we got to now — the (you guessed it — ) third wave coffee which started in the late 20th century in Scandinavia. And what is it about? One word — quality. In this movement called third wave coffee we’re not focusing on any biochemical aspect of caffeine, but solely on taste and quality of what’s called Speciality Coffee.
It turns out that coffee itself is very rich in tastes and aromas. In that sense third wave coffee is often compared to wine. Both good quality wines and great coffees share their richness, complexity, as well as passionate people dedicated to them.
To give you some perspective, we must first talk about normal coffee (by which I mean coffee that you can get in a supermarket).
There are two major species of the coffee plant: coffee arabica and coffee robusta. You’ve probably heard of at least one of them. Arabica is considered to be the better of the two. All those flavors we desire when drinking coffee (I’ll get to those later) come from arabica beans. Arabica contains less caffeine than robusta and is significantly harder to grow (which makes it more expensive). If you want to stick to our wine analogy, I’d compare arabica quality to wine made from grapes, and robusta to those other kinds of wine ;)
But of course, not all arabica is good. The final taste of your cup depends on many factors, such as the plant varietal, growing conditions, weather, processing, roasting, grinding, brewing, and much more. All we need to know for now is that only 1% of all coffee grown worldwide is classified as Speciality Coffee. And only that speciality coffee is considered to be a part of the third wave.

I get that it’s a lot to process, so let’s get to some more practical ideas. Where do you drink such coffee? How do you brew it? What does it taste like?
Obviously, the best place to enjoy great coffee are third wave coffee shops. They get their beans from the best roasters around the world and focus on getting the best possible quality. Dedicated baristas focus on improving their brewing skills, which leads to great final cup.
Get the black, brewed coffee cup, brewed in a Chemex or a V60 filter. Don’t add milk or sugar — it’d ruin the whole point!
What does that coffee taste like? Well — it depends. You can get a lot of amazing tastes and smells from great coffee. All kinds of fruit, vegetables, spices, chocolate and much more. Of course you won’t be able to tell that they’re there drinking your first speciality coffee cup — it takes time and practice. It’s certainly not like getting a flavored latte — those are all very subtle aromas (just like in wine). At first when comparing coffees try focusing on much wider and easier qualities, such as acidity, sweetness, bitterness, astringency. It’s all a matter of practice and developing your senses.
Oh, did I mention you need to drink it black? :)

Brewing at home

If you want to brew great speciality coffee at home, it’s quite a different story. First, you need to get those speciality beans. Again, I recommend your local coffee shop :)
If you want to get them online, there are quite a few websites. For example Intelligentsia Coffee if you’re from America, or Drop Coffee or SquareMile in Europe.
Secondly, you need a brewing device. For beginners I recommend an Aeropress or a V60 filter.
I’m not going to give you yet another brewing tutorial, as there are many of them online (i.e. on Intelligentsia website). Again, focus on comparing different coffees and brewing methods. Try to name the differences, as it will help you improve your sense of smell and taste.

How to enjoy coffee

When I first started working with coffee (as a barista) I was very skeptical. People used to talk to me about those rich coffee aromas, the fact that you can smell and taste fruit like peaches, strawberries, blueberries, as well as chocolate or caramel or honey in plain, black, brewed coffee.
I know it may come off strange to you at first as well. My best advice is to relax, take it easy and try to taste as many different black coffees as possible. Only then, by comparison, you’ll be able to distinguish some of those subtle aromas and flavors.

Enjoy your coffee journey! I hope you’ll have as much fun as I’m having discovering it!

Read part 2 here!

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