Even if you’re a daily coffee drinker, there might be a lot of questions you have about this caffeine-filled beverage. Like, where does coffee come from? What’s a cortado? And does it matter which type of beans you buy?
We’re here to answer these questions, from exploring the origins of coffee beans to the differences between various brewing methods, with our ultimate guide to all things coffee.
Coffee Bean Types and Their Origins
Coffee beans aren’t exactly beans–instead, they’re the seeds of the coffee plant, known scientifically as Coffea. Your morning cup of joe begins with the coffee plant producing small, cherry-like fruits, often referred to as coffee cherries. Inside each cherry are two seeds, which are commonly known as coffee beans.
After harvesting, the coffee beans undergo processing to remove the outer layers of the cherry and extract the seeds. The extracted seeds are then dried and roasted to develop the flavors and aromas we associate with coffee.
Ever wondered why different cups of coffee can taste so different from each other? There are many different coffee bean types on the market, and they’re cultivated in different places all over the world. Let’s break down the basics of common types of coffee beans and where they originate.
Arabica coffee beans reign supreme in the coffee world, prized for their exceptional quality and nuanced flavors. Originating in the high-altitude regions of Ethiopia, these beans are cultivated from Latin America to Africa, and are characterized by a mild and aromatic profile.
Arabica beans boast a smoother, less acidic taste compared to their robusta counterparts, and are also usually more expensive. Connoisseurs appreciate the diverse flavor spectrum, ranging from fruity and floral notes to hints of chocolate and nuts. With lower caffeine content and a penchant for thriving in specific climates, Arabica remains the choice for specialty coffees.
Robusta coffee beans offer bold, robust flavors and a higher caffeine punch. Originating in West Africa, these hardy beans have spread to tropical regions worldwide. Renowned for their resilience against pests and diseases, robusta plants thrive at lower altitudes in warmer climates.
The resulting coffee is distinctly strong, often described as earthy, woody, and with a hint of bitterness. Popular in instant coffee and espresso blends for its rich crema and affordability, robusta provides a caffeinated jolt appreciated by those seeking a more intense and straightforward coffee experience for a lower price tag.
Beans aren’t the only aspect of your coffee that contribute to how it tastes–the brewing method makes a big difference, too. Read on to discover the many ways coffee can be brewed, each style influencing the final cup in its own unique way.
Drip coffee is a classic and widely popular brewing method that involves pouring hot water over ground coffee beans, typically using an automatic drip coffee maker. This method allows for a convenient and consistent way to brew larger quantities of coffee. The water slowly drips through a filter containing coffee grounds, extracting flavors as it passes. Drip coffee is appreciated for its simplicity, ease of preparation, and the ability to produce a satisfying cup with a balanced flavor profile.
Espresso, a concentrated coffee shot brewed by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee under high pressure, is the bold powerhouse of the coffee world. The result is a small but intense and flavorful shot, often forming the base for various coffee beverages. Characterized by a rich, full-bodied taste and a layer of crema on top, espresso is a quick, vibrant pick-me-up enjoyed on its own or as the foundation for drinks like lattes, cappuccinos, and Americanos (more on those later!)
The French Press is a manual coffee brewing method celebrated for its simplicity and ease of use at home. Coarse coffee grounds steep in hot water within a cylindrical glass or stainless steel container. After a few minutes, a plunger fitted with a metal or nylon mesh filter is pressed down, separating the grounds and leaving a full-bodied, flavorful coffee. The French Press allows for control over brewing time and is favored for its ability to highlight the nuanced flavors of coffee. Its straightforward design makes it a popular choice for those who appreciate a hands-on approach to their coffee ritual.
The AeroPress is a compact and innovative coffee brewing device that has gained a cult following among coffee enthusiasts. Similar to the French Press, it uses a combination of immersion and pressure, producing a concentrated and smooth cup of coffee. Coffee grounds and water steep together before a quick press forces the brew through a filter. This method allows for versatility, enabling you to experiment with grind size and brewing time for a customized coffee experience. The AeroPress is admired for its portability, ease of use, and the ability to produce a rich and flavorful coffee reminiscent of espresso.
Pour over coffee brewing is a meticulous, hands-on method that involves pouring hot water over coffee grounds in a controlled manner. This technique, often executed with a cone-shaped dripper and paper or metal filter, allows for precise control over variables like water flow rate and brewing time. The result is a clean, aromatic cup of coffee with a distinct flavor profile. Pour over enthusiasts appreciate the craftsmanship involved, as well as the ability to highlight the unique characteristics of different coffee beans. It’s a favorite for those who savor a more personalized coffee experience.
The Moka pot, also known as a stovetop espresso maker, is an iconic brewing device that originated in Italy. It’s a compact, three-chambered pot that uses steam pressure to brew strong and flavorful coffee. Water in the bottom chamber is heated, creating pressure that forces it through finely ground coffee in the middle chamber. The result is a coffee with a rich, bold taste, often referred to as stovetop espresso. The Moka pot offers a convenient and affordable way to enjoy an espresso-like beverage without the need for an expensive espresso machine, making it a staple in many households, especially in Europe.
Single serve coffee brewing, embodied by pod systems like Keurig and Nespresso, offers convenience with a push of a button. Pre-packaged coffee pods containing precisely measured grounds produce a single cup with minimal effort. While celebrated for speed and variety, some critics note environmental concerns due to pod waste. Nevertheless, single-serve systems cater to those valuing quick results and the ability to customize their coffee experience without the need for elaborate equipment or manual effort.
Cold brew is a coffee preparation method that has gained popularity in recent years. It involves steeping coarse coffee grounds in cold water for an extended period, typically 12 to 24 hours. This slow extraction process results in a smooth, less acidic coffee concentrate. Often served over ice and diluted with water or milk, cold brew offers a refreshing and bold alternative to traditional hot coffee. It’s also different from typical iced coffee, which is made from brewed hot coffee cooled down and poured over ice. Cold brew’s mellow flavor profile, coupled with a higher caffeine content, make it a favorite for those seeking a chilled, caffeinated delight.
Turkish coffee is a cultural icon, renowned for its rich history and unique preparation. Finely ground coffee beans, water, and optional sugar are simmered in a special pot called a cezve. The result is an unfiltered, strong brew with a thick layer of grounds settled at the bottom. Traditionally served in small cups, Turkish coffee is an integral part of Turkish culture. The method of brewing and the social ritual surrounding its consumption contribute to the distinctive charm of this aromatic coffee.
Most Popular Coffee Drinks
Sometimes staring at the menu at a coffee shop can feel like a riddle. What’s the difference between a cappuccino and a latte? Or a macchiato versus a mocha? We break down some of the most popular coffee drinks below so you’ll know exactly what you’re ordering next time.
Black coffee is the no frills, purest form of this beloved beverage–simply brewed coffee without any additions. Made by combining hot water with finely ground coffee beans, it delivers a straightforward and robust flavor. Embraced by purists for its unadulterated taste, black coffee showcases the nuanced characteristics of the chosen beans.
Decaf coffee offers the rich, comforting taste of regular coffee without the caffeine jolt. It undergoes a process to remove most (though not all) of the caffeine, catering to those seeking a milder option. It’s perfect for those looking to savor a cup in the evening or limit caffeine intake without compromising on the rich aroma and familiar warmth of a good cup of coffee.
A single espresso is a concentrated and intense one ounce shot. It can be enjoyed on its own or as the foundation for a variety of other coffee drinks. Finely ground coffee is pressurized with hot water, producing a small but powerful brew celebrated for its rich, full-bodied flavor.
Americano, born from ingenuity during World War II, is a simple and satisfying coffee creation. It’s crafted by diluting a shot of robust espresso with hot water, and mimics the strength of drip coffee while preserving the distinct espresso character. The result is a flavorful cup, lighter in body than pure espresso, offering the perfect cup for those seeking a milder yet still impactful coffee experience.
The latte, a beloved coffee classic, is a blend of espresso and steamed milk, topped with a thin layer of froth. It offers a velvety texture, with the espresso’s robust kick softened by the creamy milk. Caffeine amount in a latte can vary, but generally a standard 8-ounce latte made with a single shot of espresso contains about 63 mg of caffeine. Whether adorned with latte art or enjoyed in its pure form, this comforting and customizable beverage has become a symbol of coffee culture.
The difference between a latte and cappuccino lies in the ratio of espresso to steamed milk to frothed milk–a cappuccino has equal parts of all three. This trifecta creates a beverage both rich and creamy, where the robustness of the espresso harmonizes with the smooth texture of microfoam. Often adorned with a dusting of cocoa or cinnamon, the perfect cappuccino is truly a work of art.
The flat white originated in Australia and New Zealand, and features a higher coffee-to-milk ratio than a latte, but less microfoam than a cappuccino. This results in a smooth and rich beverage that showcases the boldness of the espresso while maintaining a super creamy texture.
A macchiato, Italian for “stained” or “spotted,” is a minimalist coffee beverage featuring a shot of espresso “stained” with a dollop of frothed milk. This simple yet potent concoction allows the pure, robust flavors of the espresso to shine through with just a touch of velvety texture.
A delicious fusion of coffee and chocolate, a mocha combines espresso with steamed milk and chocolate syrup, often crowned with whipped cream. This beverage marries the boldness of coffee with the sweetness of chocolate, creating a rich and indulgent flavor profile. Loved by those with a sweet tooth, the mocha stands as a comforting treat, blurring the lines between a satisfying coffee and a yummy dessert.
Originating from Spain, the cortado strikes an elegant balance between espresso and warm milk. Crafted with equal parts espresso and gently steamed milk, it allows the bold flavors of espresso to shine through more than in a latte (where the proportion of milk is higher).
The ristretto, an espresso variation, is a brief but intense shot extracted with minimal water. By halting the espresso machine before the standard amount, a concentrated elixir is produced. The result is a bold, flavorful essence of coffee with reduced bitterness. Though petite in size, the ristretto is revered for its robust and concentrated character, offering a quick and potent coffee experience for those who relish a strong, concise sip.
Iced coffee involves cooling down hot-brewed coffee with ice, perfect for warm days. It retains the familiar flavors of traditional coffee but with a cooler, more invigorating twist. It also offers a versatile canvas for customization, allowing you to enjoy your favorite brew over ice, with or without added milk or sweeteners.
American Coffee Culture
Coffee is a big deal in the US–an estimated 154 million adults, or 75% of the US population, report drinking coffee, with 49% having at least one cup everyday. Compared to some European cultures, where drinking coffee is seen as a more leisurely activity, American coffee culture embodies a fast-paced rhythm that mirrors the demands of our work culture.
American coffee culture also prioritizes convenience, with grab-and-go options, drive-through lanes, and mobile ordering making getting coffee easier than ever. And with remote work on the rise, many coffee shops offer wifi and have become ad-hoc offices and bustling meeting spaces, allowing you to get stuff done while you sip your coffee drink.
While the efficiency of a swift caffeine boost may be at the heart of American coffee culture, it’s not solely about work. The rise of specialty, or “third wave,” coffee shops shows that Americans care about quality coffee too, where baristas are akin to skilled artisans. Whether they drink it for the energy, the taste, or a combination, coffee is an integral part of many people’s daily rituals.