Looking for God in an Espresso Cup

The word “coffee” entered English in 1582 via Dutch koffee, borrowed from Turkish kahve, in turn borrowed from Arabic qahwa, a truncation of qahhwat al-bun ‘wine of the bean’. A possible origin of the name is the Kingdom of Kaffa in Ethiopia, its name there is bunna or bunn, the word for coffee in Swedish is kaffe, coming directly from the Latin. Originally the word Mocha had nothing to do with coffee and chocolate mixed, it was synonymous with coffee and was the name of the main port in Ethiopia from which coffee was exported.

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So, how did we come to roast those damn fine beans in the first place? There are a number of stories explaining this. One talks of a ninth century goatherd by the name of Kaldi who noticed that his goats became energised when they ate the berries of a certain plant. He tried the berries himself and noticed the same result and so took the berries down to the local monastery where the monks disapproved and threw the berries in the fire. The smell of freshly roasted coffee is hard to resist and this brought the other monks out, the berries were raked out of the fire and dissolved in water thus making the first cup of coffee.

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Another talks of a Yemenite Sufi mystic who noticed the same vitality in birds when they ate the berries of the coffee plant and so tried them himself.

A third attributes the discovery of coffee to Sheik Abou’l Hasan Schadheli’s disciple, Omar. According to the ancient chronicle (preserved in the Abd-Al-Kadir manuscript), Omar, who was known for his ability to heal the sick through prayer, was once exiled from the Ethiopian port Mocha, to a desert cave near Ousab. Starving, Omar chewed berries from nearby shrubbery, but found them to be bitter. He tried roasting the beans to improve the flavour, but they became hard. He then tried boiling them to soften the bean, which resulted in a fragrant brown liquid. Upon drinking the liquid Omar was revitalized and sustained for days. As stories of this “miracle drug” reached Mocha, Omar was asked to return and was made a saint.

The first coffeehouse in England was opened in St. Michael’s Alley in Cornhill. The proprietor was Pasqua Rosée, the servant of Daniel Edwards, a trader in Turkish goods. Edwards imported the coffee and assisted Rosée in setting up the establishment. Oxford’s Queen’s Lane Coffee House, established in 1654, is still in existence today. By 1675, there were more than 3,000 coffeehouses throughout England, but there were many disruptions in the progressive movement of coffeehouses between the 1660s and 1670’s. These coffee houses in England were places used for deep discussion of beliefs during the enlightenment, such as their thoughts on religious and political issues of their time. This practice of religious and political discussion became so common that Charles II made an attempt to crush coffee houses in 1675.

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From this early proliferation of coffeehouses in England things have developed, the popularity of coffeehouses reduced massively over the centuries in England, being superseded by tea rooms, it was not until the last twenty years or so that coffeehouses started popping up literally everywhere, many of these are the massive american chains of course but there are more coffeehouses on the English high street now than you can frenetically shake a stick at in a caffeine induced frenzy.

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It really doesn’t matter who first decided to roast, grind and boil those wonderful beans, I’m just glad that someone did. Coffee is not just Coffee, it’s possible to find God in an espresso cup!

The question is how do we make this perfect coffee, and by coffee I mean espresso, the purest form of coffee available. How do we make this Godshot?

Well, let’s start with the “four Ms” of espresso: Miscela (coffee blend), Macinacaffe (grinder) and Macchina (espresso machine). Skills of the barista, Mano.

1. Miscela. The blend of the different beans is what gives you the basis of the flavours in your coffee. The most common bean is Arabica, of which there are many varieties, this bean is smooth and rounded and is consequentially the basis of most of the pre packaged blends of coffee in our supermarkets and coffeehouses.

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2. Macinacaffe. Grinding the coffee seems like such a simple step but is more important than you could ever believe. If the grind is too coarse then the resultant coffee will be watery and thin, if the grind is too fine then the water will take too long to pass through and may even clog up or burn your espresso. The perfect grind for your blend and your machine will give you a rich, flavoursome espresso with a beautiful thick crema on the top.

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3. Macchina. There are a number of different types of machines to make espresso, the one which gives you control over all the factors necessary for good espresso is the pump espresso machine which pushes the water through the tamp(ground coffee) at pressure. Good machines cost quite a lot of money and very good machines cost a lot of money, cheap machines are not so good if you really are seriously in search of the Godshot.

4. Mano. This is the skill of the Barista and is of course vital, there are so many factors at play that you need to have knowledge to make the perfect espresso. There are many coffee makers on the English high street today but far fewer actual baristas.

So, let’s assume that we have all the above factors in place and the resultant espresso is perfect, how will we know if it really is a Godshot.

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You won’t know until you eventually get one, and this does not happen more often than one in several thousand.

Sorry!

Lucien Grey

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