Coffee beans are in fact the second most traded commodity in the world, right behind oil. Obviously, coffee beans are very popular, with over 50% of American’s drinking coffee daily. Yet, it is perhaps the most misunderstood and misrepresented product of our age. Before we dispel the lies that we’ve been fed, let’s go through a very quick history of the coffee bean.
First of all, the term “coffee beans” is a misnomer. Coffee beans are in fact not beans. Rather, they are a fruit, which looks a lot like a cherry.
There are only two kinds of coffee beans;
Arabica coffee beans
Robusta coffee beans
For centuries, people have been harvesting, roasting, and drinking Arabica coffee. Robusta on the other hand was considered as unfit to feed to the pigs. Additionally, coffee was an expensive delicacy, of which few people could afford.
Fortunately, in the sailing ship days, green coffee beans, if kept dry, would stay fresh for years. Yet, once roasted, all coffee starts going stale and bitter in a few weeks. It doesn’t matter how the roasted coffee is stored. You can vacuum seal it. You can put it in a can. You can fill the container with nitrogen. You can freeze it. It really doesn’t matter how you try to preserve roasted coffee, it’s still going to turn stale and bitter in a few weeks. That’s why prior to World War I, all coffee was roasted and brewed in a matter of days. Consequently, back in the day, the term “fresh roasted” was an oxymoron. Of course it was fresh roasted, because people roasted their own coffee.
How best to roast coffee beans
Roasting is little more than applying heat to green beans. For centuries, people have been roasting coffee in a basket over an open fire or in a skillet over a stove. It’s really quite simple. More significantly, is the fact that coffee was widely roasted to a brown color. Yes, I said “brown”. Not black, but brown. Why? Because a brown roast tasted better. It was smooth, with no hint of bitterness or burnt flavor. You could easily taste subtle flavors of nut, citrus, chocolate, etc.
Here’s another fact. A vast majority of the roasted coffee sold in the US has been sitting in warehouses and on store shelves for months if not years. Why? Well, to answer that question, you have to go back to the beginning of the 20th century.
After WWI, industrialists were looking for ways to introduce cheap and profitable coffee to the masses. The problem was one of shelf life and cost. Companies like Maxwell House and Hills Brothers, solved these problems several ways. To begin with, they started buying cheap bitter Robusta beans. In fact one of the world’s top grower of Robusta beans is Vietnam. And guess who is their biggest buyer? You guessed it the US. Now back to the industrial coffee companies. To mask Robusta’s bitterness and to extend the shelf life, for the first time in history, these industrialists intentionally burnt their coffee beans.
But how were they going to get Americans to buy burnt and bitter coffee? Unfortunately, here in lies the power of marketing. These big coffee companies spent tens of millions of dollars convincing Americans that coffee was supposed to taste bitter and burnt. And it worked.
Now let’s fast forward to the 1970’s. Peets Coffee and later Starbucks decided to buy better beans. But since Americans were used to burnt and bitter coffee, they decided to not buck the trend and simply continued the tradition of burnt and bitter coffee. Basically they offered better burnt coffee.
Here we are 40 years later and many of today’s micro-roasters and coffee drinkers are following the path laid down by specialty high-end wine vintners and wine drinkers of the 80’s, and micro-beer brewers of the last decade. What people are discovering is fresh, lightly roasted coffee tastes ten times better than the cheap, over roasted, old, stale coffee that the ubiquitous industrial coffee companies offer.
That’s why we at Lake City Coffee only buy coffee beans that have been grown at high altitudes and by the strictest whole bean organic coffee standards. Secondly, we roast the best coffee beans the old fashioned way, low-n-slow.
Lastly, we roast and ship our gourmet coffee via FedEx the same day, so that if you’re a Spokane Coffee lover, or a Coeur d’Alene Coffee lover, or you’re in New Jersey, Seattle, Miami, Denver, or anywhere in the US, you’ll be able to enjoy fresh, soul satisfyingly good coffee, just like they did in the old days.