Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Coffee Origins

YES, it's that time of the year again.

Now brewing at Greenbelt 3 and 5 is the much-awaited annual coffee festival of the Philippine Coffee Board. This is where both coffee lovers and mall goers in general get to sample for free homegrown coffee from all over the country including Kape Ti Musang , Kape Milo or Kapeng Alamid which retailed at P14000/kilo compared to P150-300/kilo of usual Philippine Coffees is touted as the world's most expensive coffee.

Known this year as “Coffee Origins,” the event is actually part of the bigger celebration of the ongoing Coffee Month and also includes other activities such as coffee farm tours, seminars and lectures that are held at various venues.

Pacita “Chit” Juan, formerly of Figaro Coffee and now co-chair of the Philippine Coffee Board and the moving spirit behind this annual event said Coffee Origins 2009 is just one of the many programs of the Philippine Coffee Board that also include Pilipinas! Gising at Magkape or PGAM for the increased production of the four varieties of coffee and KAPE ISLA, a marketing program that for restaurants and cafes to bear the sign Kape Isla to assure consumers that what they are patronizing is certified Philippine Coffee.

Respected and regarded as an expert on Philippine coffee herself, Tita Chit never fails to mesmerize whether she's preaching about the virtues of our own homegrown brews or teaching people (among the world's best, she would like to believe) including media snobs like myself how to make our own great-tasting coffee. And that's exactly what she did during a recent Coffee Cupping session where we learned not just to appreciate good coffee the way we appreciate good wine but also to how to make our very own espressos and cappucinos.

I actually wrote about one of Tita Chit's coffee sessions for the Manila Bulletin earlier this decade. There was so much I learned from covering that session that I decided to dig up that old article and share excerpts of the draft I also recently revised. Read on.

How to make a great cup of coffee


SO how does one make a great cup of coffee that's equivalent to the quality served in popular coffee shops and five-star hotels? Does using drip coffeemakers instead of those French Press types have something to do with it? Does it matter what type and amount of water you use? The variety of coffee beans? What you take with your coffee?

Well, if the recent coffee brewing demo for the media conducted by Chit Juan of The Philippine Coffee Board is anything to go by, then making a great cup of coffee is actually a lot more elaborate than most of us think.

The Beans

Among our homegrown coffee, there are four that easily stand out. Robusta is a variety that grows in Cavite and Batangas in areas like Tagaytay. Excelsa is a bigger coffee bean that has a jack-fruit kind of taste. The more common Arabica is known to be grown in mountain slopes and high-elevation places like Baguio, Benguet and Ifugao. The biggest coffee bean is known as Liberica, or “Barako,” as it is called here, and it is also grown in Ethiopia, Laos and Malaysia. While Barako is most often identified with Batangas, it is also grown locally in Palawan, Davao, Mindoro, Bulacan, Bataan and Kalinga.

For those who prefer a milder taste but don't want a decaffeinated blend, Chit recommends Arabica. She recommends Barako, however, for those looking for a stronger, full-bodied taste.

Roasting, Grinding and Brewing

Regardless of the coffee variety you prefer, it is very important that the beans are freshly-roasted. As a rule, the sooner a roasted bean gets into a cup, the better. According to Chit, the taste of coffee deteriorates with time so freshness is a significant factor that’s why locally-sourced coffee beans are ideal for roasting because unlike their imported counterparts, they don’t travel great distances or be in transit for longer time spans to get to their customers so freshness is, in fact, assured.

Likewise, grinding of the beans is crucial to making a great cup of coffee. The filter must let only the flavor come through and not the actual coffee grounds. One scoop of finely ground, freshly roasted coffee equivalent to seven grams is needed to produce an 8-oz. cup of coffee. Therefore, a 56-gram pillow pack of any coffee variety is equivalent to about eight cups of 8-oz. coffee.

You can make a very good cup of coffee whether you use a drip coffeemaker or the usually smaller French Press. When using the drip method, Chit recommends eight scoops of finely ground coffee into your machine's filter paper while a single scoop for just one cup should be enough for a typical French Press.

Chit does not recommend the cheap types of both drip and French Press coffeemakers that are commercially available. For better tasting cups of coffee, those European-branded drips (i.e. Krups) and French Press that uses original Pyrex glass for better heat absorption are ideal.

The Water's Fine

Figaro recommends fresh cold water when brewing coffee. Tap water, spring water and mineral water are all fine but distilled water is definitely out of the question. “Distilled water is essentially dead water,” says Chit. “While it may be fine for drinking, distilled water is also devoid of minerals that it adversely affects the taste of your coffee brew.”

Another critical factor is the proportion of water to coffee grounds. Chit says if you think the finished brew is too strong and you prefer a milder taste, then simply add hot water on a per cup basis. Never add water to the entire brew.

Also never pour boiling water over coffee. Just heat it before boiling or use it off the boil as professional coffee brewers will do. Reheating coffee is likewise a big no-no. Coffee tastes best when consumed immediately after brewing.

And coffee goes well with

If you ask Chit, what you take with your coffee is a matter of personal preference. But if you really want to enjoy its full-bodied flavor then she recommends you take it black. As for those who like to take it with cream and sugar, Chit recommends full cream milk over non-fat milk and non-dairy creamers and brown sugar over regular sugar and low calorie sweeteners.

“But like I said, it is still a matter of personal taste, I don't see anything wrong with using other types of cream and sweeteners for your coffee,” she says. “But I do suggest you try coffee without cream and sugar first as great coffee should be able to stand alone.”

Coffee Origins 2009 will conclude today, October 21 at Greenbelt 3 but will continue to take place in Greenbelt 5 until October 26. For more information as well as the schedule of tours, seminars and lectures, visit www.coffeeboard.com.ph or email philcoffeeboard@gmail.com.

And here's Chit Juan doing what she does best:

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