Coffee – one of life’s little pleasures that’s still legal to enjoy at any time. After all, the pleasing pick-me-up we get from a dose of caffeine is the result of a drug-like reaction, and coffee is a drug to me. The chocolaty-brown, velvet-skinned allure of a batch of perfectly roasted beans; the intoxicating aroma of fresh coffee grounds ready to be brewed; the wine-like complexity of an exquisite espresso; and the satisfying lift a short while after are each as attractive to me in my whole coffee enjoyment experience. Coffee is a ritual, a pleasure and a tool to me. I accept and acknowledge my addiction and embrace it and use it with open arms.
But, like any addict worthy of their title, I only take the good stuff. No instant, chicory, or random caffeine-infused brown stuff for me – these days all I can bear is freshly roasted and freshly ground coffee; otherwise the experience is empty, unsatisfying and mostly pointless. I’ll settle for tea or more beer, thank you.
You see, coffee is actually quite a delicate and perishable product, although it doesn’t go bad in the rotten sense, just bad in the coffee sense. Ground coffee begins to lose its flavour as soon as it is ground, and should ideally be ground just before brewing, or at the very least at the point of purchase to fully enjoy it at its best. Ground coffee should be stored carefully and used within two weeks of grinding before most of the magic disappears.
Beans last a bit longer, but even those get stale after a while, and sometimes even a little rancid. Properly stored freshly roasted beans are good for up to about eight weeks before becoming stale, and for oily and dark roasted beans, exhibit a little nutty rancidity.
Coffee should be treated as any other fresh produce, and as for any fruit or vegetables which are at their best “fresh from the farm”, should ideally be purchased at the source – a coffee roastery. It is then that the real intricacy and depth of flavours can truly be experienced. Fresh produce can be frozen, powdered, vacuum-sealed or preserved in some way or another, but it’s never as good as The Real Thing. Clarens is in the fortunate position to have one such establishment, and has been since late 2009.
When we have a balance of the many combinations of flavours, aromas and roasts at hand, or a leaning towards any one outstanding flavour or aroma, coffee truly becomes a gourmet experience, like good red wine. There’s nothing wrong with blending beans to produce an excellent result; but excellent coffee need not be blended, like a varietal vs. a blended wine.
Coffee-roasting culture is growing in South Africa, as it has in much of the rest of the world, and it’s getting easier to find fresh coffee in your region. Hunt down your nearest roaster and spend a bit of time with them discussing your tastes. Try an unblended bean, try a different roast – savour the tastes and find what really makes you go “Aaaah…”.
When you’re in Clarens, you can do just that at Highland Coffee Roastery!
Life’s too short to drink cheap wine or bad coffee…
Chris Pefanis, Highland Coffee Guru