We all know coffee has been a mainstream essential for hundreds of years and in nearly every corner of the world but when did coffee start to become gourmet? After all, our ancestors boiled coffee over campfires, on stoves, percolated it until it was sludge in a cup but at some point in time our taste buds took over and coffee changed, evolved, got better and more delicious.
When we think of the word "coffee" today all sorts of things come to mind, Espressos, Cappuccinos, Lattes, Mochas, Iced Coffee, Tea-Infused, Macchiato, the list goes on. It's enough to make your head spin!
Here in the U.S. we may have only been enjoying these delicious drinks for a few decades, however in Italy gourmet coffee has been around a very long time. From the late 1800's to the early 1900' coffee was becoming a much more available commodity and in 1884 the first espresso machine was built, which completely revolutionized the world of coffee from that moment on. The idea of having coffee brewed at a substantially higher speed than was possible before meant that cafes could serve much more coffee a day, meaning many more customers and much more money too!
For some the rise of gourmet coffee may be the transition from the drip brewer in the office break room to the single serve machine coffee that offers flavored coffee pods. The idea of a single-serve machine originated from Nespresso in the late 90's, yet was perfected by the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters a.k.a, Kuerig. In 1998, the first single-serve machine, called the B2000 was breathed into the world. Starting with office spaces, their hopes were to make standard brewers obsolete and possibly snag some of Starbucks' market. Kuerig was an immediate success and despite many criticisms, single-serve machines have an incredibly loyal following for over 15 years.
For others it may be that they have transitioned making their own coffee at home to getting it on the corner coffee shop to go. The idea of a "coffee house" is nothing new. They were very popular in the Middle East, mid 16th Century. In North American culture, it was in the early 1950's where coffee shops with musical entertainment gained traction, and then surged even higher in the 80's with coffee houses popping up in cities across the country.
One must also pay due diligence to a coffee pioneer, Starbucks, who essentially paved the way for smaller, "mom & pop" shops and drive up coffee huts. The idea of having readily-made coffee available nearly everywhere was revolutionary. People are always on the go and today's coffee is too. It only makes sense to have such a popular commodity be expedited into a mass production industry. Even fast food places are selling Lattes & Mochas! You can have your nuggets, with some java on the side!
Now while we have talked a about gourmet coffee drinks, coffee beans, and the way they are roasted, have gourmet categories all their own. Remember, all gourmet drinks have a roasted coffee bean as their foundation and there are many levels of gourmet in this arena to consider.
There's the affordable tubs of pre-ground coffee that is often a combination of both Robusta and Arabica beans. Often times, when you buy a tub of coffee, you will find some percentages at the bottom. Usually, coffee blends are about 75% Arabica, and 25% Robusta. Arabica beans are the more common, because their quality is highest, and they are used in over 50% of all coffee production. So what's the deal with Robusta beans then? Robusta beans kind of have a little-known dirty secret, in that they're way cheaper than Arabica, so they're perfect as a filler. Ground coffee that's made purely of Robusta beans is not even close to what you'd drink if they were Arabica. Robusta beans have a more bitter, rubbery taste. Perhaps the worst thing about Robusta beans, is that often times in the processing, a lot of the 'bulk', or refuse that the coffee plant produces alongside the bean is not properly expelled, and "Cellulose" is often used/allowed to act as a filler.
"Cellulose can be found in popular products ranging from crackers and ice cream to pizza sauce and barbecue sauce. What many do not realize, however, is that cellulose is actually wood pulp. Unable to be digested by humans due to the lack of necessary enzymes needed to break the ingredient down, cellulose has been deemed ‘safe for consumption’ by the FDA."
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the rise of gourmet coffee, is now the level of accessibility. Just about every grocery store has a standard coffee aisle, full of blends of coffee from all over the world with a variety of roasts. Furthermore, in a health or organic aisle, you'll also find the more particular kinds of coffee. Single-Origin, Craft Roasting, Organic, etc.. Coffee is everywhere, and it's here to stay.
Moving up the gourmet coffee scale, there are endless blends and single origin beans from all over the world that vary in quality and taste, depending on where they are grown and how they are roasted. The roasting is what transforms a simple bean into something amazing! Yet roasting is tricky, in that if something goes wrong, it could negatively impact the end product. Did you know, that the lighter the roast, the higher caffeine there is? Many "Blonde" Roasts are becoming popular, in that because of the shorter cooler roasting their 'fruity' acidic flavor profile is a complete contrast from the more dark roasts. Dark & French roasts are perfect for those who enjoy the bold, pleasant flavors. Light roasts are normally done at 425°, with super-dark French roasts being at 475°.
A standard commercial roaster can process large batches of several hundred pounds and is how most of the coffee you buy in mainstream retailers is roasted. Many craft roasters do small batch roasting which can produce more consistency that large batch but due to the limited quantities produced the price can be noticeably higher. Single-Batch roasting allows for far more control of the temperature and amount of time roasting, so people who are 'in the know' of what kind of flavor profiles they're searching for can roast accordingly. Home roasting is also becoming more popular and allows the coffee connoisseur the ability to roast green beans at home to try different beans and roast times and temperatures.
You can often tell when you have moved up to what would be considered top shelf coffee by looking at the price. Not always, but it's a pretty good indicator of quality and a good place to start if you truly want to try gourmet coffee. If you're making gourmet coffee drinks at home we suggest using what would be considered top shelf gourmet coffee to maximize the experience.
The notion of gourmet coffee, as you can see is fluid and changing every day. Colorful drinks named after mythical creatures may be considered gourmet for some while others swear by the simple standards of espresso or French press, and let's not forget about the huge rise of cold brew coffee (which has actually been around for hundreds of years with origins in South America, as well as Japan) and only recently became mainstream. Cold brewing gets our vote for being a true craft coffee that allows for experimentation of not only gourmet beans but also an easy way to make gourmet drinks too. Cold brew coffee also has far less acids and cholesterol-elevating compounds than hot brew methods and is a great coffee brew method for health conscious coffee lovers. Plus it's extremely versatile and can be used to make both hot and iced coffee drinks on demand. There's nothing quite as delicious as a cold brew cappuccino!
If you're looking to make some gourmet coffee drinks at home check out our Recipe Blog and BOD® Cold Brew Systems to get started!
However you define gourmet coffee, just keep enjoying it!