Traveling the world in a cup

Caricature by Micah Rauch

Buying a latte every day is expensive — even if you have a spot reserved in the special circle of hell for those who don’t tip. To save a little bread, try making coffee at home. I’ll cover brewing methods in a fortnight, but for now, try incorporating new types of coffee into your caffeine routine.

So what coffee should you use? Discussing the various species of coffee plants is a great way to geek out, but out of concern for you, dear reader, I’ll cut this short. Coffea Arabica is harder to grow, produces less, and tastes better. Coffea Robusta produces more, tastes like burnt rubber, and has twice as much acid and caffeine.

Small roasteries nearly always use Arabica beans. The beans are sold labeled by country, and sometimes even by farm. Keep in mind that these descriptions are my feeble way of generalizing a huge region, and are by no means thorough. Coffees grown one valley apart may taste different, despite all other constant variables.

Whether or not you believe fables about goats and monks getting hopped up on caffeine, Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. The first record of roasting and brewing coffee comes from Yemeni monasteries in the 15th century. Today, Ethiopian beans are often processed “naturally,” meaning that the beans are dried inside the fruit. Again, more on this later, but take my word that this is uncommon, and results in a wine-like flavor. A great locally roasted Ethiopian coffee is International Coffee Traders’ “Eighty Eight.”

Coffee arrived in Indonesia in the early 17th century after considerable effort by the Dutch to export fertile seeds. Indonesian coffee is earthy and heavy-bodied. One process unique to Indonesia is aging, although the majority of Indonesian coffee isn’t aged. The process involves letting the unroasted beans rest in open barrels for anywhere from three months to five years. Aging results in a musty smell, but the taste can be pleasant. Check out Rockford Coffee’s “Sumatran Gayo Orang” for a surprisingly fruity Indonesian roast.

Coffee was first cultivated in Central and South America during the mid-17th century. The first seedling was taken from the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris and planted in Martinique by a naval officer. These coffees are mild in acidity, making them prized for their balance. Go grab a bag of Yellowstone Coffee’s “Guatemalan” at Town & Country to get a feel for this region.

My grasp of geography is a little better than Sarah Palin’s, but I am still going to classify African beans as separate from Ethiopians. Coffee wasn’t seriously cultivated in most African countries until the early 20th century. These beans vary widely in flavor profile, but are typically described as light-bodied and bright.

Trying different types of coffee keeps your morning (or midnight) routine more interesting. Whether you’re set on an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe or Folger’s Classic Roast, try mixing things up — if only to reaffirm what you love.