Chef Essig's Featured Item of the Week

No day should start without coffee!

For many of us there is one thing we could not start our day without... and when we try to go without it, we are just not ourselves for the rest of the day. There is something about the smell in the air that wakes us up, the ritual in preparation, the warmth that brings us to life, and of course there is that little thing called caffeine that makes our morning coffee so very important.

coffee

Whether you enjoy Cappuccino, Latte, Espresso, Americano, Dirty Chai or just a simple black cup of Joe, you know there is something magical about those beans.

Jumping and prancing sheep

Coffee is believed to have its origins in Ethiopia. Story goes that a sheepherder noticed that his flock started acting strange after eating a number of fruits from a certain evergreen. They began jumping and prancing around more than usual. He took some of the beans into town to a local cleric who sampled the beans and was amazed at the way they made him feel. He was able to stay up late into the night and pray and worship -- and so the story of coffee begins.

Coffee Plantations in Costa Rica

I had an opportunity to visit two coffee plantations in Costa Rica and compare the practices of two very different operations. One plantation near Montverde was a small shade grown plantation. This means that the coffee trees are grown with other trees such as Bananas or palms interspersed throughout the rows. This is not for the beans benefit as much as the workers who pick them.

coffee

To make quality coffee, the fruits cannot be machine harvested. Each coffee cherry on the bush ripens at a different rate meaning that the pickers must physically look at each fruit and determine if it is ripe or not before adding it to their basket. This is a very labor intensive process which requires hours in the hot tropical sun. The shade trees provide shelter from the suns heat.

Harvesting Coffee Beans takes the whole family

When I visited, harvest season was at its peak. I was surprised to see not only hard working men out in the fields, but also women and children. A local was telling me that during harvest season, school is not in session to allow time for the children to help with the harvest. My parents, who both grew up on farms, said that it was the same for them as kids. Summer vacation was time to work in the fields, and kids were happy when school was back in session. Whole families work countless hours filling baskets that are loaded into trucks and taken to the next step in the coffee making process, pulping.

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The coffee cherries are put through a machine that removes the outside pulp. Coffee beans are actually the seeds of the coffee cherry. The outside pulp is removed, and the mixture falls into a pit of open water. Ripe coffee beans will sink. Any leaves, overripe beans, and sticks will float. The ripe beans are than allowed to ferment in the water for a short period of time. This breaks down the sticky outside coating left on the bean.

After the beans are cleaned, they are pumped onto clean concrete slabs and raked into long rows. The rows are turned often, and once the beans are completely dried, they are packed into sacks and shipped around the world as Grade A beans. These beans are labeled as green, meaning they have not been roasted.

How much caffeine does your coffee have?

It's interesting that the more the coffee beans are roasted, the less caffeine actually ends up in your cup. If you want a stronger boost, lighter roasts will do the trick.

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Different location, same process

The process I saw in Costa Rica is not the only way to process the beans but seems to be most common. On a trip to Hawaii, I visited a coffee plantation in Kona to compare how the process differed from that I saw in Costa Rica. The process was the same, but I was surprised to see the difference in how the beans looked that was drying in the sun. In Costa Rica the beans were uniform, clean, and you could not see a single leaf or stick. In Kona, the beans looked like they were various degrees of ripe. Many leaves and sticks were mixed in with the drying beans. This was interesting because 100% Kona coffee beans sell for approximately $22 per pound... supply is small and demand is high. Most Kona coffees contain only 10% beans from Kona which are then mixed with other beans from around the world.

More than just a good cup of joe

The amount of work that goes into terracing mountainsides, clearing forests, planting coffee beans, and then the process of harvesting and processing is amazing. Coffee trees are amazing oxygen producers though... a field of coffee trees can produce over half the amount of oxygen that a rainforest the same size would produce.

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The next time you think about the cost of the morning ritual, realize that every bean that went into your cup was hand selected and shipped half way around the world, roasted, and if you buy it in a your favorite shop, it is prepared by a professionally trained barista who can take those beans and make them into a wonderful experience for you.

Need a cup of coffee? We can help!

Join us at one of our three Coffee Corner locations (in Kepner Hall, Michener Library, and Turner Hall), Starbucks(r), or Einstein Bros(r) Bagels, and let us give you that great start to your day, a mid-day pick me up, or an evening filled with a great cup of coffee you can appreciate.

Did You know?

Here at UNC Dining Services, all coffees served in our retail locations are "Fair Trade Certified."

Einstein Bros® Bagels

  • Hot – Fresh “Darn Good Coffee” - Our coffee is Artisan-roast... each batch of coffee is roasted by hand by Coffee Bean International, located in Portland, OR. Mild to bold blend – try our customer’s #1 choice - Vanilla Hazelnut!

Coffee Corners (Kepner, Michener, Turner)

  • Features Seattle’s Best Coffee providing a simple system of five distinct levels, with flavor and boldness profiles that span the entire range of coffee enjoyment. Choosing from Level 1 – mild, light and crisp to a Level 5 – bold dark and intense, will ensure the signature smoothness you’ve come to enjoy.

Starbucks®

  • “Geography is a flavor™. A coffee’s country of origin greatly affects it’s flavor.” From Latin America – traditional, crisp to Africa/Arabia – exotic flavors to Asia/Pacific – earthy, herbal, full body balance. Each coffee in our lineup is unique. Taste and compare our coffees to find your favorite.

Happy Dining!
Executive Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA

Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA

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