30 Interesting Coffee Facts From Intelligentsia State of the Cup

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Coffee Seminar

Geoff Watts shared some of the wisdom he's learned about global specialty coffee production.

On April 8, Intelligentsia Coffee convened a State of the Cup seminar at their Glassell Park roasting facility to impart key tenets about how they’ve become industry leaders. Intelligentsia Vice President of Green Coffee and co-owner Geoff Watts shared his considerable coffee wisdom for the crowd. Here are 30 of his most memorable fasts and figures.

1. We’ve grown up in an era of the $1 bottomless diner cup, and coffee’s something that’s been regarded as a cheap commodity really for almost the last 100 years, and that’s changing.

2. There are a lot of different botanic varietals of coffee. There are things like Cattura, Catbayi, Bourbon, Typica, Maraquipe, on and on, and it’s the exact same phenomenon that you see in wine. When you talk about wine grapes, most consumers know very well that Chardonnay is very different from Sauvignon Blanc, that they have different traits, different characteristics. Most people don’t think about coffee in that way, but it’s identical. A coffee that’s a Cattura will taste different than a coffee that’s a Bourbon. That’s genetic. That’s the plant itself speaking.

3. The environment where the coffee’s grown – by that I mean the specific combination of weather, climate, altitude, temperature ranges, rainfall patterns, amount of sun and soil radiation, the soil types – all of that has impact on the coffee.

4. We can talk about Bordeaux as a specific micro-region, and terroir. You have that same thing in coffee. In El Salvador, the coffees grown in Santa Ana are going to be different from the coffees grown in La Libertad. In Guatemala, the coffees from Huehuetenango are very different from the coffees grown Acatenango.

5. Everything that happens between the time the seeds is planted, and the time you actually get coffee cherries, and you begin to harvest them, we call that farm husbandry. It’s what the farmer does to maintain the health of the trees and maintains the health of the soils, all of that has an impact on how the coffee develops.

6. When I say processing, it’s everything that happens after the cherry gets removed from the tree. So the de-pulping, fermentation, washing, drying, sorting.

7. From the time you plant a seed, it’s going to be four years before you can begin to harvest fruit, so it’s an expensive proposition to start with coffee because you’re spending all this money up-front to plant, it’s going to be four years before you can expect to sell a single bean.

8. When it comes to the time to extract [coffee], to brew it, to prepare it, really a few seconds here and there can make the difference between presenting the coffee the way it was meant to be tasted, with all of the sweetness intact, no sourness, all of the flavors well articulated, or producing a cup that’s over-extracted, under-extracted, bitter, sour, or lacking in any kind of good mouth feel.

9. What’s kind of sad is that if you fly from Mexico City, all the way down to Peru, you’ll find that really, in all those countries, all that land, there’s really maybe 10 or 12 varieties that are prolific, that are really being used a lot in commercial cultivation. And that’s not a good thing…They were bred to be more disease resistant, and more than anything else, they were bred to be really productive, produce a lot of kilograms of cherries per tree. The problem with that is that you make sacrifices when you plant coffees like that. Sure you get more cherries per tree, you get more pounds per hectare, but you end up having to use more fertilizer, you end up having to sacrifice quality, in a big way, and ultimately, those trees are going to be, over time, more susceptible to some of the more common coffee diseases, because they haven’t evolved to be resistant.

10. The cycle for coffee maturation, from pollination to maturation, and ripe cherry, is about nine months, the same time as a human pregnancy cycle. It takes a full nine months to mature. Once it’s mature, then the farmers can go out and pick. But it doesn’t always happen at the same rate. The length of time it will take to mature depends on the ambient temperatures, depends on the type of trees, it depends on the amount of rain and sun the trees are getting. So it can take anywhere from seven to 10 months really, with an average of nine.



Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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