Anyone who has felt the cardiological affects of four cups of coffee compared to that of four americanos, can tell you that espresso and coffee are not the same thing. Well, in one way they are: both come from the same source: the beans of the coffee plant.
The funny thing about coffee beans is that they aren't beans at all, they're seeds. They're called beans, because, well, they just look so darn bean-like. Coffee beans reside within the coffee berry and all beans are a light minty green when harvested; they don't get the brown we associate as "coffee-colored" until after roasting.
There are two types of coffee beans which come from the same type of plant. Arabica is the most common type and originated in Ethiopia, while the less common Robusta came from West Africa. Robusta is actually a heartier plant than the Arabica, but its heartiness leads to a significantly higher caffeine content which causes a more bitter taste and though Robusta is integrated into gourmet coffees to enhance with a strong flavor, Arabica is favored for its mellower tone.
Under the two types of Arabica and Robusta there are multiple varieties that have been grown and grafted under different environments and conditions over many years. Once coffee beans are harvested they are processed in one of three way: the natural process, the wet process, or the pulped process.
The natural, and most traditional, process includes coffee berries that are laid out to dry, traditionally under the sun, for multiple weeks with regular turning and raking of berries. As the berry naturally disintegrates off the bean, this imparts a fuller, fruiter flavor to the beans.
The wet process includes a high-pressure water removal of the coffee cherry from the bean. Beans are then fermented to remove the outer protective layer and laid out to dry. This process gives a sharper, cleaner taste.
The pulped process involves the same steps as the wet process but beans are not fermented to remove the outer protective layer. Skipping that step creates a medium flavored bean with a mellow but full-bodied taste.
After processing, beans are then roasted in a five step process which turns them from raw green seeds, to rich dark beans. Espresso beans are roasted further than coffee beans, to the point of getting their unique dark aroma and oily sheen. The darker roasting of espresso leads to a heavier, sharper taste with more weight to the palate. After the roasting, the beans are ground and here too, espresso differs as those beans are ground much finer than coffee beans.
The term espresso is Italian for "quickly" and this refers to the speed and pressure with which water is forced through the grounds. Thus, coffee and espresso beans indeed come from the same plant, but the longer, darker roasting of the espresso beans--resulting in a greater concentration of caffeine and sharp flavor-- creates the deep dark espresso with just enough foam (called crema) that helps to make the perfect cuppa.
*Gratitude and acknowledgement to Seattle Coffee Gear and My Coffee Supply for coffee processing information.
Origins: Great Lakes Tea and Spice Co.
March 23, 2014
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