Tea is my drink. I won’t even try to pretend to hide it. I would be a tea-aholic if there was such a term. I can’t start my day without a cup, it’s my go-to drink throughout the day, and more often than not, I need a cup before bed too. Unfortunately for me though, the rest of my family, my boyfriend and close friends are all coffee drinkers. To the extreme that if they could have coffee as a drip, constantly injecting into them, they would. Now a few months ago, I drank coffee so rarely that it was always a significant occasion when I went out of my comfort zone and ordered a cappuccino. Whenever I sipped a strong espresso, my face would pinch as if I’d just sucked on a lemon and the only time I’d even consider swapping my cup of tea for coffee was when I needed a serious hit of caffeine. That all changed when I did a career barista course with my boyfriend and let me tell you, it blew my mind.
For a person who avoids coffee like you cannot believe, I was amazed at how blind I had been to such an intricate, and seriously complicated beverage. My three Saturday’s of making and drinking coffee on a large scale didn’t exactly change me over to a coffee drinker. Still, it did give me a fantastic new understanding of the drink, a look into how detailed the process is and also a way to appreciate drinking it that doesn’t make me want to dash for the bathroom and rinse my palette. Just because I love tea, doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate coffee. So today, in honour of my new appreciation for this other popular hot beverage, I will be sharing an introductory guide to all things coffee. BUT, from the perspective of a tea-drinker.
Super brief history
Before I can go into the intricacies of this beverage, I thought it might be fitting to go over a super brief history of coffee. After all, I always find that it can be easier to understand something when you know more about its background. So, coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia by a goat herder. Bizarre, I know, but then again most discoveries tend to be quite odd. Coffee grows on trees and starts out as a small red fruit (called a cherry). The cherries are handpicked, like tea leaves and then go through a long cleaning, fermenting and drying process until we end up with pre-roasted green coffee beans (the ‘seed’ of the cherry, if you will). After the green beans are dried, they go to roasteries where they are roasted until they turn into those dark little beans that look and smell like the coffee we are all familiar with.
Now there are many types of coffee plants in the world, but the two predominant types that we consume are Arabica and Robusta, both of which are very different. All coffee is grown in relatively tropical climates, where the temperature stays quite hot, and there is a decent amount of rainfall, but Arabica will grow at a higher altitude whereas Robusta will grow at a lower altitude. Arabica beans have less caffeine than Robusta, and as such Robusta will be the more bitter, acidic bean type of the two. Speciality coffee (the top 20% of the quality of the beans) often tends to be Arabica, and Robusta is more commonly used for instant coffee.
There are different types, just like tea
Much like tea, there are also different types of coffee. The different flavours of tea are relative to how the tea leaves are processed, but the character of the leaves can change depending on where they are grown. The same is true for coffee. The reason why coffee is labelled by region (i.e. Ethiopian Sidamo) is because the coffee beans grown in each region will be slightly different from each other due to the soil, rainfall, climate etc. So, some coffees may have slightly more acidic or floral notes, whereas others may be more rich or nutty, all of which comes from where in the world the coffee is grown. The original flavouring of the beans is then brought out in different ways depending on how the beans are roasted, much like we get the different types of tea depending on how the leaves are wilted. So, if you have been drinking coffee and find you don’t like the taste, that may be because you don’t like the particular characteristics of the bean you’ve been drinking. For example, during our coffee course, I had no idea that the reason why I wasn’t enjoying the coffee my parents drink is that they prefer a more acidic taste (Kenyan beans) whereas I prefer a fruity, sweeter bean flavour profile. Who knew, right?
Varying brewing methods
If you’re new to the world of coffee, much like I was before the course, you may think that there are just two ways of brewing the dark, fragrant liquid. Using an espresso machine, or using a plunger. Little did I know that there are many different types of brewing methods, and that can really affect the taste of the coffee. An espresso or a mocha pot will give you a strong and sharp taste because it is highly concentrated. Despite that robust taste, though, an espresso actually has a surprisingly small amount of caffeine because the brewing time is so short. If you’re looking for a caffeine hit, you’ll want to use a brewing method that takes the longest, like a plunger/French press (which will give you a lot more caffeine but be less sharp and have a much fuller body compared to the espresso). Drip coffee will provide you with a rich, refreshing flavour, and other filter methods (like using a Chemex) will offer a clean and rich flavour, and an Aeropress gives a smooth and clean taste while still being reasonably concentrated. You see? There are so many different ways to make a cup of coffee that can create so many different flavours. If you aren’t sure what taste you would like and drink the wrong type, I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t a pleasant experience. It’s just like drinking a specific type of tea that isn’t brewed correctly or long enough – the taste can be completely off. That’s why knowing which method you want to use is crucial to getting your perfect cup of coffee.
Different drinks and variations
Much like how a vanilla tea bag can be enjoyed with just some hot water and honey, an additional splash of milk or turned into a chai latte, coffee too has many drinks and variations. For most of the various drinks though, the base of them is an espresso so remember to keep in mind that the coffee taste in the drink will be relatively potent and perhaps a bit sharp. An Americano is one step away from the classic espresso, being two parts hot water and one part espresso, so the sharp coffee taste is partially diluted. It’s still got a kick, like an espresso but not in such a condensed sip.
Cappuccinos, macchiatos, lattes, flat whites and such are different variations of espresso with steamed and textured milk. The difference is always the ratio between coffee, milk and foam. Different tastes appeal to different people depending on their mood or what taste they like to experience from their coffee. The trick is knowing that if the coffee is of a good enough quality, you shouldn’t need to add sugar. Therefore, if the taste is too overpowering, and you feel you need to add sugar to enjoy it, you may want to consider choosing a different beverage with more milk.
For softies like me, there is the famous mocha. Essentially if hot chocolate and a cappuccino had a baby. It’s perfect for tea-drinkers like me who aren’t huge fans of coffee but like the pick-me-up and enjoy the fact that it is a plausible reason to drink something chocolatey. If you like chocolate and don’t want your coffee drink to be too overpowering, then this is the drink for you. When it comes to other flavours in coffee, like gingerbread lattes etc., beware! Those flavours come from syrup and can sometimes be a way to hide the bitter taste of bad coffee. Not only that, but those syrups are full of unnecessary sugars and chemicals so flavoured lattes may not be the best choice for a daily beverage. They can be quite pricey and aren’t friendly for any healthy lifestyle, so don’t forget that next time you’re ordering your on-route-to-work-beverage.
Last but not least, how could I forget the iced variety? There is such a thing as iced tea, so of course iced coffee exists. The thing to keep in mind with iced coffee though is the amount of sugar added and what type of creamy liquid is added. Some iced coffees use condensed milk, others use cream and lots of sugar, so make sure that you know what you’re getting in your drink if you know that you aren’t a fan of cream for example.
There is a drink that is best for YOU
So, even for tea-drinkers who aren’t a huge fan of sharp, strong coffee, there is a coffee-based drink that is right for you! It’s just like tea, just a different type of taste. They both start out as plants, their flavours come out depending on how they are treated and the way you transform them into your drinking liquid can significantly affect the taste. As you would take extreme care when making your perfect cup of tea, try to take the same approach when preparing your coffee. If you really don’t know what type of coffee you might like best, why not go into a café and ask one of the baristas? If you tell them what kind of taste you like, I promise that a good barista will be able to recommend a drink you can enjoy. Or, you could do a cupping, to figure out what type of bean is the right flavour for you. There are so many different types and ways to drink coffee that it is unfair to write off an entire drink just because of some lousy tasting experience. Take it from someone who hated coffee with a passion and has now turned into a semi-coffee appreciator that doesn’t mind swapping out my green tea or chai for a latte now and then. If I can enjoy coffee, then I promise you could to!
Lots of Love
Blondey on a Mission xxx
(P.S. If you enjoyed the blog, please don’t forget to hit that little like button and subscribe so that you don’t miss out on future posts. Also, if you’ve had any life-changing coffee drinks or want to share your thoughts and experiences, please do so in the comments section! I would really love to hear all of your stories and look forward to chatting!)
P.P.S. I learnt all of this amazing stuff at Bean There Coffee Company at 44 Stanley in the Milpark area in Joburg. They really are awesome so check out their website if you like coffee, want to do a course like I did or are interested in broadening your coffee horizons https://beanthere.co.za)