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June 17, 2024

Coffee 101 at iRoast4u

By Alexandra Queen

Coffee 101 at iRoast4u

Good news! Noisily slurping your coffee out of a spoon and then spitting it out is actually the mark of a sophisticated coffee drinker. This lesson and many more are being taught at iRoast4u's Coffee 101 class, an hour and a half session dedicated to educating the average coffee drinker.

Where did the coffee bean come from? What is the difference between arabica and robusta varieties? Is there really much difference in flavor from one varietal to the next? Owner Brad Eck covered the highlights of coffee history and trivia before demonstrating how to roast raw coffee beans and teaching students how to taste java like the pros.

Eck gives an overview of coffee in general before demonstrating how his $15,000 in-shop roaster works, cooking up a fresh batch of coffee over the course of the session. While he talks, he prepares a sampling of some of his more unique offerings, pouring hot water directly over the fresh grounds in a series of glass cups. By the time the water has steeped under a crust of coffee grounds, he's ready to push the grounds to the bottom of the cup and explain the next step: "cupping" coffee.

Professional coffee buyers receive "offerings" from growers in the form of several ounces to a pound of coffee beans, to demonstrate the flavor and quality of their crops. With dozens upon dozens of offerings a day to sample, buyers have a special approach to keep from caffeine overload. Small tabletop roasters are used to cook up fresh batches of the offerings on the spot, then cups of grounds and hot water are prepared as described above. When the water has steeped enough, the professionals begin "cupping". When the crust has been broken, they use deft movements of a spoon to scoop out a sample -- with practice, there are surprisingly few grounds floating in the spoon. A quick, noisy slurp seems uncouth, but allows the sample of coffee to hit all parts of the mouth at once, maximizing the taster's ability to assess the drink. The first taste, done when the water is still hot, allows the buyer to determine body -- is the liquid syrupy or thin? A second taste is done when the water is a more tepid temperature, allowing the flavor of the coffee to be analyzed. Both times, as with wine tasting, the sample is ejected from the mouth into a spittoon. After all, professional coffee tasters need to be able to sleep some time.

Eck offers a wide enough range of samples for his students to appreciate the differences between an earthy flavor and a bright, acidic one (and that acidic doesn't necessarily mean bitter). There are also usually two grounds from the same bean that has been roasted for a different length of time, to get a sense of how variations in roasting time can change the flavor of a coffee.

Larger coffee houses, like the national chains, will tend to roast a coffee past the point of optimum flavor, sacrificing excellence in favor of a more uniform flavor. Also, the ground coffee sold in many stores can sit on the shelf or in a warehouse for months at a time. Given that the shelf life of a roasted coffee bean is a matter of weeks before it grows stale, and that ground beans will stay fresh for only three to four days, that means it's easy for a consumer to wind up drinking stale coffee. With their in-house roaster, iRoast4u doesn't have those problems. They can roast up fresh batches any time they please, without the need to overcook.

Having a customer informed enough to appreciate the quality an in-house roaster can bring is part of the reason Eck gives the classes. The overall impression one gets over the course of the class, however, is that Eck just loves the opportunity to share his enthusiasm.

Class sizes range from five to ten people and cost ten dollars for the single session, which lasts from an hour to an hour and a half. Included with the price are samples of several varieties of coffee and a entire pound of the fresh ground flavor you like best. For more information, call iRoast4u at 599-5755.

This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.

Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-01-24
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