Once just a cup of joe, coffee now embodies a variety of blends, roasts, and flavours. Learn how to select the perfect coffee for your taste buds and your health.
Looking for a reason to wake up in the morning? Changing up your coffee buying habits, or fine-tuning your brewing methods can be an excellent way to put new life into your coffee mug. Try a new roast, check your grind, or see what a different brand of coffee has to offer. Your taste buds will thank you.
Canadians drink an average of 2.8 cups of coffee per day, and 65 percent of coffee drinkers report drinking coffee within the previous day. The mere aroma of coffee is enough to give many people the perk they need to get their day started. What we’re also learning is that the popular beverage not only fuels work and study, but may also contribute to our overall health and well-being.
Benefits to drinking coffee
Several studies have shown that coffee can have a positive influence on our health. In a 13-year study of 400,000 men and women, ages 50 to 71, researchers found that coffee drinkers were less likely to die from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections than non-coffee drinkers.
Drinking as little as 100 mL—less than half a cup—of coffee per day may lower the risk of developing glioma, a type of brain tumour. Coffee may also have protective benefits against cancers related to the liver, the uterus, and possibly the colon and bowels.
Coffee contains antioxidants that protect against neuronal oxidative stress, which is associated with age-related degenerative declines.
In a recent review of observational studies, coffee consumption was shown to have an inverse relation to Alzheimer’s disease. Similar reviews show that long-term coffee drinkers are less at risk of Parkinson’s disease. Drinking coffee may also reduce the risk of stroke.
Studies show that high intakes of coffee (more than three cups per day) have been associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Caffeine enhances alertness and the capacity for sustained attention. These benefits have been shown to relate specifically to visual attention and the ability to process language-based materials. There is also evidence that long-term consumption may reduce the risk of depression.
The coffee experience
Those who drink coffee tend to love it a lot. While there may be a fine line between developing a refined palate and becoming a full-fledged coffee snob, acquainting ourselves with a few key terms can enrich our appreciation for the rich and dynamic sensations found in our coffee.
acidity: brightness or sparkle in a coffee, which can suggest a tangy sensation, but should never be overpowering or sour
body or mouth feel: perception of viscosity, density, weight, and texture; a good coffee will have some heft or fullness to it, but shouldn’t be rough or gritty
flavour: a combination of taste and aroma—appealing to sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and pungent sensations
finish: persistence of the coffee: does it have a pleasant lingering sensation or a bad aftertaste?
The best way to develop a taste for what you like is to explore different varieties.
Degree of roast
Degree of roast is a significant differentiator when it comes to buying coffee. According to Aaron De Lazzer, director of coffee at Ethical Bean, light roasts are currently in vogue. Typically, when roasting expensive, high quality coffee beans, roasting them as little as possible helps to better retain the flavours of the bean.
De Lazzer says, “As a roaster, the idea behind a light roast is we just want to get out of the way. We want you to taste absolutely all the things that are in the coffee in its absolute pure clarity.”
Conversely, darker roasts feature more of the roast than the flavour of the bean. Many people prefer darker roasts, which tend to have less acidity and more body. Looking for a balance? Medium or medium-dark roasts offer a rich blend of both bean and roast.
Type of beans
There are two types of coffee beans grown worldwide, the most popular of which is the arabica bean. Higher quality, specialty coffees typically use only arabica beans that have been shade-grown in high-altitude conditions.
Alternatively, robusta varieties are often grown in less favourable conditions and are often blended with arabica beans as filler in lower quality coffees. While robusta may have a bad rap in Western society, many cultures in places such as Italy prefer the sharp flavour and texture of the robusta bean for espresso.
Many coffees are marketed based on their origins. According to De Lazzer, however, to attribute differences in coffee to their place of origin is an oversimplification. “The taste of coffee varies according to the type of tree, how well it’s taken care of, how well it’s harvested, how well it was milled—many different factors. The fact that a coffee is from Peru or El Salvador is kind of irrelevant.”
The coffee’s freshness may, however, be influenced by a region‘s harvesting season. “Through early spring to end of summer,” says De Lazzer, “Central America is prime. From late summer through the fall, South America is in its peak season.” He adds that Ethiopia is an exception in that the country usually ships good coffee all year long.
If you enjoy coffee, but want to avoid the buzz, most roasting companies offer decaffeinated roasts.
Traditional decaffeination processes, however, use chemicals such as ethyl acetate and methylene chloride, both of which have been associated with adverse health effects. Look for organic decaffeinated coffees, which use chemical-free processes with water or carbon dioxide.
While it is nearly impossible to entirely remove caffeine from green coffee beans, decaffeinated coffees in Canada cannot contain more than trace amounts of residual caffeine.
According to Health Canada, a typical brewed cup of coffee (8 oz/237 mL) contains approximately 135 mg of caffeine, while instant coffee contains approximately 76 to 106 mg of caffeine. Decaffeinated coffees, brewed and instant, contain approximately 3 and 5 mg of caffeine, respectively.
Buying whole bean coffee is always a better option than buying pre-ground, which won’t stay fresh as long. Grinding coffee at home, just before brewing, will maximize the coffee’s freshness and richness of flavour.
Make sure to match the fineness of the grind to your brewing method. Smaller grounds will extract faster and, if left too long, will extract undesirables that can leave your coffee bitter. Under-extracting grounds for their size will leave your coffee lacking flavour.
Brewing at home
When brewing coffee make sure to use the correct ratio of coffee to water. As a guide, this usually amounts to 2 Tbsp (30 mL) of ground coffee for every 6 oz (180 mL) of water. Use only filtered cold water, as tap water can affect flavour. Also, use water that’s been boiled to 195 to 205 F (90 to 96 C); brewing with boiling water may scald the grounds, making them bitter.
Try different methods for brewing:
- French pressing will retain much of the coffee’s natural oils and flavour, but will leave sediment in the coffee. Use a coarse grind for the best extraction.
- Drip coffee is perhaps the most common method of brewing and brews a very “clean” cup, free of sediment. Drip coffee makers typically use a fine to medium grind. There are many variations on this method of brewing; visit a local specialty coffee store for options on how to explore the nuances of your coffee beans.
In the end, remember coffee is a drink that’s meant to be enjoyed. As much as we can refine our taste and knowledge of coffee, it’s important that we enjoy it.
De Lazzer can’t stress this enough. Whether it’s cream and sugar, lattes, mochaccinos, whatever, he says, “Drink it how you like it.”
Coffee is grown in many of the world’s developing countries. Because market prices for green coffee beans are so volatile, many coffee farmers have difficulty providing for their families—let alone making a profit.
Fair trade certifications not only ensure farmers receive a fair wage through guaranteed minimum prices and premiums that go toward developing businesses and communities, but also require that strict labour standards are implemented to ensure farmers are working in safe conditions. Certification systems also require strict environmental standards and promote sustainable agriculture.
Most importantly, fair trade offers people in developing countries the means to earn sustainable living wages based on better business relationships and respect.
The daily grind
When it comes to buying a grinder, blade grinders are the most affordable, but they can often be noisy and messy. They also create an inconsistent grind of both fine and coarse grounds; this affects the quality of coffee extraction and can lead to inconsistent brewing.
Considered a step up, burr grinders can be costly. These work by grinding beans between two adjustable plates, which allows for more consistent grounds. Manual burr grinders are also available and are more affordable.