Articles

Required Reading

It was a couple of years ago, on a visit to Harney and Sons Tea headquarters in Millerton, N.Y. A good part of the floor in the middle of a fairly large room was covered with cloth and bamboo mats. Spread out and stacked up on the coverings were hundreds of objects. There were tea chests, boxes, tins, tea pots and kettles, preparation and serving wares, related implements, books, documents, photographs, and miscellaneous artifacts of Asian origin. Anticipating the question, Paul Harney answered, “That’s Michael’s book”.

A couple of years later, we have The Harney & Sons Guide To Tea, by Michael Harney, Master Tea Blender. The stated purpose of the 272 page, hardcover volume is “…to transform tea drinkers into tea experts.” It is, in fact, a clearly written, well-organized presentation of Michael’s own expertise developed over years of tasting, travel and trade in the world of tea. If it doesn’t make you an expert, it will provide a solid foundation toward that goal, and be a valued reference for years to come.

At Coffee Express Co., when we instruct in coffee or tea basics we seek to provide foundational knowledge that can be built on over a lifetime. As with coffee, tea is a vast subject with a long history and many varied regional traditions and styles.

The Harney & Sons Guide is a first-person exploration of tea history, geography, cultivation, processing, and culture. It classifies the diversity of tea styles, and offers practices for proper brewing and serving. A unique and useful aspect of the book is Michael’s refined method for evaluating tea by aspects of aroma, flavor, and appearance.

Lively, informative, entertaining, and unpretentious, this book is highly recommended. Available from Border’s, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or Harney & Sons.

Tea

Tea is hot . . . or cold. Your choice. Either way, this first cousin to coffee is one of the fastest growing and most important categories in the beverage industry. Coffee house operators, restaurateurs, and food retailers better pay attention. Update your selection, educate your staff, and inform your customers to establish your position and boost your sales.

Until recently, tea sales in the U.S. were incidental, lagging behind the specialty coffee boom. But it’s been a couple of centuries since we threw tea into the Boston Harbor, and tea is back with a vengeance.

To some degree, this surge of interest is driven by significant – and attendant publicity of – health benefits, which include cancer prevention, weight loss, and more. Lower caffeine content per ounce is said to be another contributing factor, given the aging population. Additionally, of course, the growing interest in all things culinary, sensory, and gustatory is the perfect driver for the fabulous array of flavors and aromas in the tea world.

As with coffee, there is a lot of information to absorb from thousands of years of Eastern tradition, and hundreds in the West. Categories include a stunning number of varieties: true leaf teas include greens, oolongs, blacks, and more; straight teas from China, Japan, India, Africa, and Indonesia as well as blends, flavors, and decafs. Dozens of herbal infusion, also known as tisanes, have their own history, lore, traditional uses, and methods of brewing.

In the future, I’ll talk about understanding and classifying different tea types & styles within this framework, as well as topics on brewing, marketing and merchandising in your establishment.

Degrees of Roast

A word on degrees of roasting. The popularity of coffee houses brought with it a taste toward dark roasts. Prior to the 1990s, the preference for dark roast was limited. Espresso brewing changed that, and the Starbucks Phenomenon has popularized even darker roasts.

The success of coffee houses, with their espresso-based drinks, is widespread today. Every city and town sports double and triple the number of shops than even a few years ago. There is a trend, dubbed “third wave”, that is elevating the making and serving of espressos, macchiatos, cappuccinos, and lattes. Whether it involves exacting specs for the coffee blend and roast, having a barista trained in latte art, or the perfectly pulled shot, the strive for excellence at coffee houses is on the rise.

We are seeing a move, however small, to lighter espresso roasts often called “Northern Italian Style”. Probably our best selling coffee is our French Roast, which has always been a “medium dark roast”. There is also a renewed interest in the variety of medium roast coffees used for drip brewing.

We at Coffee Express encourage coffee operations of all types to experiment, educate, and continue in your mission to become THE spot known all around for serving the finest beverages and food items. Use Coffee Express Co. as an important tool as you continue to gather information about trends and techniques that can help you create a better shop. We are at your service.

A History of Coffee, Part II – Coffee in Europe

Coffee In Europe

Coffee first came to Europe through the port of Venice. Because of their vibrant trade with North Africa, it was through these Venetian merchants that coffee was introduced to the rest of Europe. In 1600, Pope Clement VIII, baptized the drink – making it more acceptable to European markets.

The first European coffee houses started opening, circa 1645, in Italy. In 1652, Pasqua Rosee (the proprietor) and Daniel Edwards (a trader in Turkish goods) opened the first reported coffee shop at St Michael’s Alley in Cornhill, England. Coffee became so popular, that within 100 years, at least 3,000 coffee houses were operating in England. In France, coffee became a popular drink for the Parisians by 1670, after being introduced by an ambassador of Mehmed IV. Vienna had its first coffee shop open in 1683. In a short time coffee and coffee houses spread throughout Europe. Coffee had arrived as a popular drink, and a traded commodity.

Coffee Around The World

Coffee’s popularity coincided with the age of exploration. Hence, the rapid spread of the coffee plant throughout the world. The Dutch played a major role in bringing the plant to its trading partners, especially in India and Asia. The French are given credit for first introducing the plant to the Americas, but all of the colonial powers were influential in the spread of the coffee plant.

Today, coffee is grown throughout the world in mountainous regions between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The largest producer is Brazil, though there are many other medium to small regional growers around the world.

Coffee has had a long journey since Kaldi the goat herder first experienced coffee’s wonderful and magical nuances.

Better Espresso

Fresh ground coffee, clean water, and a clean running espresso machine are key for a good tasting espresso-based drink. A few simple steps will ensure you are getting the most out of your coffee, and your equipment.

Keep espresso beans in stock for no more than 3-4 weeks and try to keep them away from heat generating appliances. Heat destroys flavor. Grind just enough beans to last a shift. Once ground, coffee quickly loses flavor. A proper grind is important. Rub the grounds between your thumb and forefinger. It should be ground fine with a slight grit. If it is powder with no grit it is ground too fine. Your shots should pour slowly, thick and syrupy. If you are not sure, ask one of our delivery or service people.

Proper machine maintenance ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ will enhance both your coffee’s flavor and your pocket book.

Do

  • After each drink empty and rinse the brew basket and clean the steam tip. During a lull clean the loose grounds under the group head with a head cleaning brush.
  • At the end of the day back flush and rinse the group heads and soak the baskets in Cafiza, flush the drain tray, and clean the machine with a mild soap or a water-vinegar mix.
  • Weekly: Take the steam tips off, clean holes with a pin or paper clip, and soak overnight in Cafiza. If you are not using tea water regularly drain and refill the water tank, you might want to ask a service tech about this. Soak the diffuser screens overnight in Cafiza.
  • Monthly: Very important! Change the Softener.
  • Yearly: Change the brewhead gaskets.
  • Whenever you notice bad tasting coffee and cannot figure out why: Call a service tech.

Don’t

  • Leave the steam arm sitting in milk. The milk could back up into the system and create rancidity.
  • Leave the basket with used grounds in the group head. The spent grounds tend to contaminate the brew head, resulting in a stale taste. You should leave an empty rinsed basket in the head. This will help the taste of the next drink because the espresso is being brewed through a warm basket which results in better flavor extraction.

A History of Coffee, Part I – The Legend

The Legend

There are several legends concerning the origins of coffee, but they all seem to include Kaffa, an Ethiopian goat herder who was seen in a meadow dancing with his goats by an imam from a nearby monastery. Finding that both Kaffa and the goats had eaten red berries from a small tree, he gathered some of the berries and took them back to the monastery. After some experimentation, parching, and boiling, the imams came up with a palatable drink.

The Early Spread of Coffee

The first recorded mention of coffee comes in the tenth century, from a Persian physician, Razi. Very little more was recorded until the 14th Century when a Kurdish poet, Malaye Jaziri, wrote a book on the history and legal controversies of coffee.

By the fifteen hundreds coffee had spread across the Muslim world. Yemen merchants brought coffee from Ethiopia, grew it themselves, and began exporting their new product northward through the Saudi Peninsula. The first coffee house on record is Istanbul’s Keva Han, in 1471. The spread of this product, however, was not without problems: while it seems the Sufis of earlier times took to this new drink because of its ability to ward off sleep and help in meditation, many imams were concerned about its stimulating effects. Though its acceptance was slow in the Middle East, coffee was to become an important social and economic factor.

Coffee is still widely used in the Middle East, and today there are many different ways to roast and prepare it. Some of the fun of being a roaster is knowing that the coffees we roast come with such a rich and fascinating history, spanning many centuries, and many of the world’s great cultures.

In Part II we will cover the introduction of coffee to Western Europe.