Coffee - Instructions for Use
Obtaining pleasant and satisfying blends of coffee is one of the professional tasks of those expert tasters who, with their formidable sense of taste and smell, sharpened by long practice, are called upon to decide which raw coffees to buy, and to determine the kinds and quantities of roasted coffee necessary to obtain a successful blend; this to correspond to the taste that is to be conferred on it: for example, velvety, sweet, soft, full, fragrant, scented, dense, thick, persistent, etc.
Blending is thus the fruit of experience, art, technique, and a strict selection of the best coffees. For this reason, blending can vary in techniques and times (before or after roasting) and in the choosing of selected coffees’ qualities and ratios. These properties are nearly always a secret, jealously guarded by each producer. It is clear, however, that the better the coffees employed, the more refined and expensive will be the resulting beverage.
An equally important operation before coffee is put on the market is packaging. Carried out with modem methods and technologies, notably employing the vacuum technique (that is removing the air from the package before closing it), coffee can be guaranteed both a long preservation and the maintenance of its organoleptic and aromatic properties; qualities that would be lost with the oxidation and the subsequent rancidisation of inadequately sealed beans.
On the market today tinplate cans are used with extractable, flavour-saving lids; and also flexible packs, an expression of modem technology in the food industry which has invented soft packages combining aluminium and plastics.
It is the basic preliminary that conditions every subsequent stage. Real quality, preferably in beans, freshly and correctly roasted, gives coffee a flavour suitable for the most demanding tastes. Beans that are too dark are a sign of over-roasting, and confer on the beverage a bitter taste; too shiny and oily beans point to an insufficient or excessive roasting, and the oil on their surface goes rancid, impairing the taste.
Buying a blend that has been prepared with the experience of a big firm renowned for the selecting and processing of the best quality coffees, is already a 50% guarantee that the beverage will be a success. The other 50% depends on the right use of the coffee-grinder, the brewing device, and on a careful preparation.
Once the package is opened, coffee must be put into a hermetically-sealed jar, or into the airtight tins provided by the producers, lest the flavour evaporates. Obviously, it must be stored in a dry, cool place.
In times past coffee was ground in wooden or marble mortars with a pestle. Later on the scene were different kinds of crank and drawer coffee grinders, and finally we have the electric ones. The old coffee grinders used by our grandmothers are to be considered better than the electric ones, because coffee must be "ground" by the wheel where the beans pass (adjustable to obtain the right granulosity) and not "minced", as happens with the various electric-blade coffee-grinders which, among other things, heat the coffee, thus further roasting it and causing it to lose some of its flavour.
In those days the wisest thing to do was to buy coffee beans and grind them just before use, in just the quantity necessary for the cups to be made (since extra coffee quickly loses its flavour).
The amount of grinding necessary has to be determined by the kind of coffee-maker used: medium-fine for the percolator; rather thick for the infusion coffee-maker; from medium to fine for the espresso machines. Too thick a grinding wouldn’t result in a full-bodied taste, while a too fine one would cause the fine grains to drop from the filter.
Today we can buy coffee already ground in boxes, packages and small bags, where its freshness is preserved for a long time; all the same, it is a good idea to choose the smallest packages available. Once the pack is opened, the powdered coffee must be put into hermetically-sealed jars because, besides losing its flavour, coffee is very hygroscopic and it tends to absorb the smell of food and such substances as are placed next to it. Ground coffee is available on the Italian market in two versions, one for the espresso coffee pots know in Italy as "moka", and one for the family espresso machines.
Cafes use the "grinder-dispenser", a medium size device, a small-scale industrial machine for grinding coffee and measuring it. In the big processing firms, where each time huge quantities of coffee are ground, complex industrial "mills" are used.
Drip filter Extraction
Coffee must always be made with pure and light water, boiled for this purpose. Using already boiled water makes the coffee insipid. Water sterilized with chlorine should be avoided, because it confers a bad taste on the coffee.
Coffee and water must be correctly balanced in the ratio of about 6-7 g of coffee powder for each cup or, if not weighed, of a tablespoon for each cup. A lesser quantity of coffee would be overwhelmed by the hot water, resulting in a bad taste.
In the most used coffee-makers, like the "moka" or the "Neapolitan" ones, the ratio of coffee to water is already predetermined in proportion to the number of cups to be made.
The infusion must be carefully monitored, not leaving the coffee-maker on the flame, which would harm both beverage and coffee-maker. The coffee-maker should be taken off the stove when the coffee is ready, never allowing the beverage to boil, but turning off the gas just before the percolation stops.
The pleasure of going to the bar and drinking a creamy espresso, full-bodied and precious, with its inviting light foam is another habit dear to Italians. Coffee at the cafe is made with typically Italian machines by an expert barman who knows the technique of "small cup preparation". Skillful and careful personnel; capacity and skills, cleaniness and efficiency of the equipment; correct proportions between water and coffee powder; correct water temperature, time of water-coffee contact, and degree of powder exploitation; a correctly heated cup; these are the factors distinguishing a poor cafe from one willing to satisfy the most demanding of customers.
Jars, coffee-grinder and coffee-maker must be kept scrupulously clean. The coffee-maker must be rinsed in boiling hot water, with particular care for the filter, where sediments and dregs can easily hide. If it’s new or has not been used for a long time, before using it it is better to make coffee two or three times, with very little powder, and throw away the first cups.
There’s no place in the world where they don’t drink coffee (some drink more than others... see chart). But every country has its customs, its traditions and its tastes.
Those who have travelled a little know that -under the name of coffee- very different beverages are being served; even if the "raw materials" are always the same (coffee and water), the processing methods make the difference.
We Italians are convinced that our system of coffee-making is incomparably the best one (and maybe it is true...), but we are also a people who order it at the bar in countless different versions: with a drop of milk in it, with hot milk, with cold milk, laced with liquor, weak, strong, bitter, sweet, etc.
Usually, when you order coffee in other countries, there are fewer variations on a theme.In the United States, in most of Northern Europe and France (but the last one has a certain tradition of espresso coffee...almost similar to the Italian one), the "filtered coffee" system prevails. Beans are roughly ground and put in a paper filter: boiling water is poured into the filter, and passes through the powder in a relatively short time.
The beverage is "weak', not full-bodied, delicate in taste and flavour: with this system, in fact, the substances extracted and present in the cup are equal to 16%, against the 22% of the Italian coffee (with the moka machine).
In the Middle East countries, Greece and Turkey they make what is commonly known as "Turkish coffee", the opposite -both as regards the preparation and the results- of the "filtered coffee". Water is boiled in a tall pot macle of tinned copper and - while the water continues to heat, and partly evaporates - the liquid is poured on to the minutely-ground coffee. The result is a strong and thick beverage.
In most Scandinavian countries they make the so-called "boiled coffee": lightly roasted, roughly-ground, and boiled in water for ten minutes. Coffee is poured into the cup without filtering it, and drunk after letting the grounds deposit.
Independent of latitude and longitude, in the big cities all around the world the two most widespread kinds of coffee are, in order, "filtered coffee", and Italian espresso. The latter is increasingly gaining ground.
Everybody knows what the Italian espresso (the one served at the bar) is like: through extraction, with hot, decalcified and high-pressured water, a quite full-bodied beverage is obtained, containing 25% of the basic substance.
On the suggestion of an impatient Neapolitan, a Milanese engineer in 1901 invented, produced and put on the market the first "espresso machine". Today there exist on the market automatic espresso machines both for office and domestic use.
The increasingly rapid pace of modem life, and the particular needs of certain consumers, have, in more or less recent times, beginning from the early XX century, given birth to particular kinds of coffee.
Instant coffee (also called "soluble" or "concentrated" coffee) is dried and powdered coffee; freeze-dried coffee is the fruit of a technique for evaporating all the water. These solutions aim mainly at immediacy of preparation, and practicality even in the most awkward and unusual situations, and thus at a capillary diffusion. To obtain 1 kilo of instant coffee 3 kilos of green coffee are necessary.
To produce these coffees -whose taste and flavour are quite close to those of normal coffee- the quality of the blend, and the right degree of roasting are obviously very important. Soluble powder, in addition to being used in the making of the beverage, is widely used to flavour ice-creams, desserts, custards and other coffee specialties.
For the needs, real or presumed, of certain consumers, there is decaffeinated coffee.