Coffee Discoveries by Serge Remy
The Author Serge Remi (Sergey Reminny) is a coffee expert and the proprietor of Ionia il caffĂ¨, a coffee importing and distributing company in Ukraine. For five years he has been Coordinator for Ukraine of the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe. By training a linguist and translator, he lived and worked for many years in Italy and learned the ins and outs of coffee there.
His fascination with coffee has taken him to more than 40 countries, visiting coffee farms in Ethiopia and Yemen, Panama and India, Costa Rica and Hawaii, Colombia and Rwanda, Nepal, Indonesia, Brazil and many others.. A maximalist in all he does, he lives the coffee life to the full.
Table of Contents
Introduction 1. Coffee in the world’s most expensive hotel 2. Why does the coffee tree need caffeine? 3. Coffee in the dark 4. Americano and Filter Coffee – what is the difference? 5. Liqueur coffee is being used to treat stroke victims 6. Insurance was born in a coffeehouse 7. “Negative research findings” about coffee 8. The tale of a fiery Irishman 9. What is Speciality Coffee? 10. Coffee from Ceylon? 11. How much of our life is spent making coffee? 12. Coffee as a weather forecaster 13. On the varieties of Instant Coffee
14. How coffee helped to improve the sailboat 15. The sip: a lot or a little? 16. How drinking coffee might save your life 17. The price of your coffee 18. Is coffee an allergen? 19. Why is the grind so important? 20. Smokers should drink more coffee 21. The Virgin of Coffee 22. Coffee as a radiation shield 23. What kind of drink is Gibraltar Coffee? 24. Measuring out your coffee in coffee spoons 25. Is coffee a drug? 26. Coffee in the battle against free radicals 27. A coffee office joke 28. What is the Barista Championship? 29. Coffee – the right medicine for low blood pressure? 30. What do “tips” have to thank coffee for? 31. The Museum of Curiosities: a curious coffee cup 32. My friend orders coffee in Italy 33. How do you define good coffee? Afterword
Introduction The idea of writing a book about coffee began nagging me in 2006 when I came home from studying the coffee scene in Sweden. I started making notes. The second time, I put the idea into effect. It happened at the end of a trip to Peru, when my baggage was stolen right from the aircraft. I lost a lot I valued and, most importantly, some irreplaceable photos, from the legendary Machu Picchu to coffee drinking on Lake Titicaca. I also lost my notes about visits to coffee plantations, and a couple of days later had still only managed to recall half of what they contained. I realized then it was not clever to rely so much on memory, and started writing down everything I heard and knew about coffee. For several years now I have been keeping a kind of coffee diary for myself, and do not suppose I have yet discovered a tenth of the secrets of this magical elixir. Nevertheless, there came a moment when it occurred to me that here was something I could share with other fans of coffee, and also with people who might have no inkling of the dramatic change coffee could make to their life if it became a permanent feature. It struck me that, in the small number of really good books on the subject, nobody has really managed to cover all the aspects of the amazing product we know as COFFEE.
Even less has anyone managed to do so in a simple, popular way for ordinary coffee lovers, rather than in an encyclopaedia or a specialist survey of “the coffee segment of the beverage market”. There is probably a good reason for this. Professionals write for other professionals in a specialized manner, and dilettantes recycle longfamiliar material, whether endlessly repeated recipes or endlessly retold tales about Ethiopian goatherds and Capuchin monks. I should say at the outset that this book is not setting out to convert anybody or persuade anybody of anything. Neither is it addressed to coffee specialists, although I hope and believe that most will be pleased with it. It is a book for those who, in Soviet times, were referred to as “the broad popular masses” or, as I prefer to put it nowadays, anyone who LOVES COFFEE.
To enjoy reading “Coffee Discoveries” you do not have to be a keeneyed coffee expert; you just need to love coffee and be interested in everything to do with it. I have tried to convey some of the more important truths about coffee as I see them, translating them from the language of the professional into the language of ordinary readers. Whether I have succeeded is for you to judge, but I have done my best to make the book simple and interesting. In writing these tales I have drawn only on my own coffee notes. I hope you find them helpful, but I make no claim to a monopoly of truth. In the tales in this book you are invited into 33 coffeehouses, “penny universities”, each with their own clientele and insights, and I think I can promise that after you have read these seemingly unrelated tales you will have a new awareness of the phenomenon known as coffee, and a new respect for the most miraculous beverage in the history of mankind. Friends, let us set forth on our coffee journey of discovery!
1. Coffee in the worldâ€™s most expensive hotel Cappuccino with gold We often hear about where the most expensive coffee grows and how it is cultivated, but would you like to know how the most expensive coffee in the world is served? Many of the oil-rich countries of the Middle East remain peaceful oases whose main preoccupation is deciding how to use their overabundance of money, which steadily increases as world oil prices rise. A prime example of this is the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi. At US$ 3 billion, the complex is the most expensive hotel ever built.
Its main architect, John Elliott, who had already built a palace for the Sultan of Brunei, considers it a mistake to call it the worldâ€™s most expensive hotel, because initially the Emirates Palace was planned as a centre for government conferences and only later converted into a hotel. He argues that people would be surprised if it was claimed that Buckingham Palace did not justify the money spent on it. Despite the fact that the hotel has fewer than 400 rooms, it is equipped with 120 kitchens, 20 restaurants and dining areas, and the complex covers an area of around 25 hectares (60 acres). On the top floor, 6 Rulerâ€™s Suites are reserved exclusively for members of the royal families of the United Arab Emirates. A special entrance has been built for their corteges with a triumphal arch, while the hotelâ€™s car fleet consists of a dozen and a half Maybachs.
Some of the staff have golf carts for passing along the hotel’s corridors. “The corridors can be a kilometer long,” the hotel manager says. “If a maid went for lunch she might never get back.” One thousand chandeliers were made to order for the Emirates Palace by Swarovski, and 10 members of staff spend their entire working day cleaning them. Rooms cost up to $12,000 a night on floors where marble is adorned with soft carpets. But to get round to coffee. Here is something for coffee fans to aspire to: “We serve coffee to our clients on a silver tray with rose petals, a linen napkin, marzipan and a bottle of imported mineral water. Ladies receive a rose as our gift,” the hotel manager tells me.
Do you need a photograph, or are you happy with the picture in your imagination? And there is more. For $25 you can order a cup of Cappuccino sprinkled, not with cocoa or cinnamon, but with 24-carat GOLD dust!
I know one colleague who found the gold dust made him cough, but could not resist trying such an exotic beverage. He drained the cup and said, “This drink is the acme of Glamor Cappuccino.” For myself, I had an uneasy feeling, as if I had just swallowed my wife’s gold earrings.
6. Insurance was born in a coffeehouse The renowned Lloyd’s of London began with a coffee Do you know where banks came from? The first moneychangers, officially lending money to other people, appeared in Italy. They were merchants who gathered in St Mark’s Square in Venice, where they sat at benches, for which the Italian word is “banco”. This word was later applied to institutions which gave money on credit. Incidentally, the word “bankrupt” also originated in St Mark’s Square: if a moneychanger went out of business, his bench or table would be smashed. (“Banco rotto” meant “broken bench”.) I think we can be fairly sure the moneychangers of Venice were also great coffee-drinkers, because Florian’s, one of the oldest and most famous cafés in Europe, is just across the square.
In England the link with coffee is even more direct. Here insurance was born in a coffeehouse, and the first deals were struck right there. The most popular place for this new kind of business was Lloydâ€™s Coffee House on Lombard Street in London. Edward Lloyd, the very person who with time was to become the kingpin of the insurance business, started by selling coffee.
Overseas trade was developing rapidly in England and the insurance industry very soon took off. Shipowners and entrepreneurs were always at risk of losing both their cargo and their ship. It was difficult to predict the risk, so they were eager to find someone to share the burden of possibly catastrophic financial loss.
Enterprising people with plenty of money saw a way of getting even richer. Before embarking on a voyage, shipowners would meet in coffeehouses (Where else?) with groups of wealthy citizens who were willing, for a reasonable premium, to share the risk of financial loss if a ship or cargo were lost or damaged. Edward Lloyd’s shrewd sense of business was evidently passed down to his successors. When the opportunity arose to insure Tower Bridge, there was a problem, since only ships could be insured at the time. Lloyd’s of London hit on the idea of classifying the bridge as a marine vessel, thus getting round the problem. As the tourist guides will tell you, to this day the bridge is managed by a “captain”, just like a ship.
You may have noticed shipsâ€™ bells hanging in bars and pubs, particularly those of formerly great maritime powers. Today they are just part of the decor, but in those days the bell was rung twice to announce that an overdue ship had arrived safely, or once to warn that it had sunk. Today, 16 Lombard Street, London boasts a commemorative plaque indicating that this is the site of the coffeehouse where the world renowned Lloydâ€™s of London was born.
8. The tale of a fiery Irishman The most famous alcoholic coffee drink in the world At the start of a modest trip beyond the boundaries of my Ukraine, I found myself in Kievâ€™s Borispol Airport. Like thousands of other passengers, I drank a cup of coffee, and then thought of a way to increase coffee sales at the airport by a factor of at least 10. (Modesty is my second name...) I must ask the reader to forgive my self-assurance, but I am certain that, after the aviation operations which are an airportâ€™s main business, second place could be firmly occupied by a coffee drink with which not even duty-free whiskey could compete. It could not compete for the simple reason that the coffee drink itself contains whiskey. This product was even born in an airport, so it is their baby. There is every reason for them to be proud of it (and make money out of it). The drink is Irish Coffee, and the story of how it came into the world is short and instructive.
Once upon a time there was a chef called Joe Sheridan who worked at Foynes seaplane port in the Irish county of Limerick. In the early days of air travel, Foynes was an important base for aircraft traveling between Europe and America. In 1943 one such flight to New York was obliged to return after five hours’ flying time because of bad weather. The frozen passengers headed for the restaurant for a hot drink, and here our quick-witted chef had the brilliant idea of cheering them up by adding his own beloved Irish whiskey to their coffee, thereby creating the doubly fortifying beverage of hot coffee with warming whiskey. When asked by an American, “Is this Brazilian coffee?” Joe Sheridan proudly replied, “No, sir. It is IRISH Coffee!”
He thereby initiated the era of coffee Irish-style, which went on to become an era when coffee was combined with all sorts of spiritous liquor.
Today an annual Festival of Irish Coffee is held in Foynes, with a parade, performances, and a championship for the preparation of this â€œelixir that cheersâ€?. Irish coffee is also one of the obligatory beverages to be prepared in the Coffee in Good Spirits Championship, a unique alcoholic coffee competition organized by the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe.
In conclusion, for coffee gourmets, here are some of the finer points of etiquette for Irish Coffee: 1) Whiskey is considered the fundamental component in Irish Coffee, and must be Irish whiskey (which is milder than Scotch whisky). It is also claimed that back in the days when Joe Sheridan made his innovative beverage for the chilled passengers, he used Jameson Whiskey, and this has given rise to the view that Jamesonâ€™s is really the only whiskey to use in Irish Coffee; 2) An interesting detail of the brewing is that nowadays the coffee is most often produced using an Espresso machine, while the original drink was prepared using a French Press;
3) The wine glass used for Irish coffee needs to be warm, since otherwise there is a danger that, when filled with hot coffee, it might crack. Accordingly, before preparing the drink the glass needs to be rinsed with warm water; 4) It is traditional to add brown sugar: firstly, because it has more natural sweetness; and secondly because it is more soluble (ordinary sugar may not completely dissolve in the hot whiskey); 5) Finally, and most importantly, genuine Irish Coffee is served with a thick layer of fresh double cream, which must not be whipped and the cream must NOT BE MIXED into the coffee.
This is an important detail. Customers unfamiliar with Irish Coffee often ask for a spoon or a straw and start stirring it. This is quite the wrong thing to do. When cream is mixed with alcohol it begins to curdle into the most unappetizing lumps. Another horror is when Irish Coffee is served with a straw. After they have sucked hot alcohol straight into their mouths and scalded their tonsils, many customers vow never to have anything to do with this Irish masterpiece again. Irish Coffee should be enjoyed without a spoon, without a straw, and just sipped straight from the glass. Then the sensation will be perfect. The mild cream on top enters the mouth together with a sip of the coffee and whiskey from below. Properly prepared, Irish Coffee is a delicious, invigorating and warming drink. Enjoy!
10. Coffee from Ceylon? “Don’t you mean tea?” You’ll find an explanation a little farther down the page of why this news story caught my eye. It read, “Coffee, – frothy Cappuccino, milky Latte and dark Espresso, – is proving serious competition for Lankan (Ceylon) tea, which for over a century has been acclaimed as the best in the world and remains to this day Sri Lanka’s staple export.” The key word here is “Lankan” (“from Ceylon”). I regularly meet people who are not aware that the “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka” and “Ceylon” are one and the same country. Sri Lanka has been the name of this South Asian country of 20 million inhabitants since 1972, before which it was known by the Western name for the island, Ceylon. Sri Lanka is the world’s largest exporter of tea, and “Ceylon Tea” has long been recognized as a world-beating brand.
Tea is part of the national culture here and, as local people say, “For Sri Lankans not to drink tea would be like a Frenchman not to drink wine. Coffee is fine at the end of the meal, but tea is fundamental to the whole meal.” Why is the author of a book about coffee going on at such length about the world’s leading tea exporter? Well, because in the mid-19th century it was COFFEE, not tea, that was Ceylon’s first export to international markets! For several decades coffee was a major export, but disaster struck with the appearance on the island of one of the most feared diseases of the coffee tree, Hemileia vastatrix, a fungus known as “coffee rust” (after the rust-like appearance of infected leaves).
Within a few years, the fungus had destroyed literally all the island’s coffee plantations, and with them an entire industry. The place of coffee was taken by tea, which went on to become the pride of Sri Lanka, and its iconic export. A sad story for coffee, though. PS. When visiting Sri Lanka take care over the gestures you use. In Italy, raising your arm with the index finger extended is used to signal, “One coffee, please.”
In Sri Lanka the meaning is the same as our raising the middle finger. Of course, I have to accept that Sri Lanka is now a tea country, but do they really have to make it so obvious?
14. How coffee helped to improve the sailboat A history lesson During one of my visits to London (where the European Coffee Association has its headquarters), I made a point of going to Greenwich to see the legendary clipper, the CUTTY SARK which, at first sight, might seem to have nothing to do with coffee.
But only at first glance. Cutty Sark – the last of the so-called “tea” clippers, was launched in 1869 and at the time was the fastest sailing ship in the world.
Many people think Cutty Sark must be a person’s name, something along the lines of a Katie whose surname was Sark. Not so. Neither is it named after the Scotch whisky. In fact the reverse is true.
Cutty Sark means “short skirt” and the ship is named after the witch in Robert Burns’ l790 poem Tam O’Shanter, who wore a short skirt (a “cutty sark” in Scottish dialect). The owner of the ship at first wanted to name his ship after the fictitious witch, Nannie Dee, but sailors are superstitious people and there was a real danger he would be unable to assemble a crew, so he had to settle for the witch’s “short skirt” or “Cutty Sark”. The clipper’s figurehead is indeed a carved Nannie Dee.
The tea clippers were built by the British to ensure speedy delivery of cargoes from the Far East to Britain, via the Indian Ocean and round the Horn of Africa. They were a lifeline until the opening of the Suez Canal. But still, what is the connection between coffee and sailboats? The haze from coffee, perhaps, like the wind blowing in sails? Not really. The explanation is surprisingly simple. In the 19th century, when sailing ships ruled the seas, absolutely all overseas goods were transported that way, even though the vessels were not particularly fast. By way of illustration, in 1840 a record-breaking clipper sailed from China to London in just 97 days (and in those days clippers
were even known as the “greyhounds of the sea”). On ordinary sailboats, goods would spend 12 months at sea. Anyway, sailboats specializing in the transportation of tea and coffee were known logically enough as tea and coffee clippers. At the beginning of the 20th century, when most goods began to be carried on the newly introduced steamships and diesel ships, our beloved coffee (as well as tea, of course) faced a serious problem. The trouble was that, because it easily absorbs other odors, coffee is a delicate cargo. In the wooden sailing ships that was not a problem, but with the advent of steamships all kinds of unwelcome odors appeared from the proximity of the ships’ engines: the unpleasant smell of heavy fuel oil and diesel among them. Bearing in mind that, as already mentioned, ships could be at sea for months, their holds permeated with the smell of fuel oil, you can imagine the unexpected new aromas associated with tea and coffee which had been transported this way.
The need to protect the valuable cargoes of tea and coffee from contamination brought about a return to non-mechanical sailboats and gave them a second lease of life. With the coming of the technological age, coffee and tea clippers not only did not die out but rose to new heights of perfection. The ships’ hull and masts were now made of steel. The shrouds and other rigging were made of steel cables instead of rope. These ships could support a lot more sail, were much stronger than wooden ships, and could withstand stronger winds. They came to be known as “wind-jammers”. They were huge, generally no slower than steamships, and they left conventional sailboats far behind. The wind-jammers were a particular success on trans-Atlantic routes, transporting coffee from South America to Europe.
Despite the fact that by the 1930s and 1940s the merchant fleet of sailboats did begin to disappear, prolonging the working lives of this most environmentally friendly kind of shipping owed a considerable debt to our favorite beverage. PS. In the end I didnâ€™t get to see the Cutty Sark in Greenwich... The ship was closed for reconstruction. A great pity. I really wanted to bring home a souvenir coffee cup from the last surviving clipper.
I guess Iâ€™ll just have to go back some day.
26. Coffee in the battle against free radicals Long live antioxidants! One of the most valuable qualities of coffee is its antioxidant properties. I am sure that any coffee addict will have heard this stated many times over, but I am always surprised how unattractively this good news is communicated. On the whole it seems clear enough that â€œantioxidantsâ€? are doing something opposed to oxidation, but what exactly that means is understood only by those reasonably savvy about biochemistry. Yet it is really not all that complicated. We need only to explain that antioxidants combat free radicals, and free radicals is the name given to harmful and aggressive molecules that appear in the human body. They have in their composition a free electron that will bond with almost anything. The target for free radicals may be parts of human cells, as well as DNA and proteins. By uniting with them, the radicals do damage and cause changes in the structure of DNA.
A certain amount of free molecules can be present in the body as a result of normal biochemical processes, but the body can cope with them on its own with the help of an enzyme with the alarming name of SUPEROXIDE DISMUTASE. If there are too many free radicals, the superoxide dismutase is not powerful enough to combat them all and a chain reaction begins. Interacting with a protein, a free radical not only spoils it but also brings about the formation of a new radical. This again initiates a chemical reaction and destroys the next cell, and so on. As a result, healthy cells are damaged and the body ages or even dies from a cancer tumor.
The only way to stop this process is for superoxide dismutase or another â€œtrapâ€? for the free radicals to block the progress of the harmful molecules. These traps are called antioxidants.
While it has always been thought that the best source of antioxidants is fruit and vegetables, some scientists have recently suggested that a major source in the human diet is coffee. Moreover, perhaps unexpectedly, the content of antioxidants in coffee without caffeine is said to be the same as in regular coffee, which suggests that the antioxidants are coming from some other elements. This would seem to answer the question of what is beneficial in coffee other than caffeine. Antioxidants are good for the body. Not only do they help to prevent cancer, they also help to prevent cardiovascular disease.
Scientists have studied the content of antioxidants in such foods as vegetables, fruit, nuts, spices, fats, and beverages and it has been claimed that coffee comes second, ahead of products such as tea, milk, chocolate and cranberries. Only dates contain proportionately more antioxidants than coffee, but what comparison is there between the level of consumption of dates and the popularity of coffee?
30. What do “tips” have to thank coffee for? A tale from London about the word “tip” We can say with total confidence that everyone in the economically developed world has at some point in their lives left a tip. But did you know that in Russian this additional payment was known as “leaving something for tea”, or that the word “tip” in English owes its appearance entirely to coffee? This is how it all began. The birthplace of coffeehouses in Europe was the continent’s most determinedly tea-drinking nation, England. The first European coffee establishment was opened in 1650 in Oxford by Jacob, a Turkish Jew whose surname has not come down to us. He was imitated a couple of years later in the British capital, and soon not just tens but hundreds of coffeehouses sprang up in London, each with its circle of devotees.
The drink was so popular that the number of coffeehouses in the British capital in the 17th-18th centuries was comparable to what it is today. You could tell you were approaching one from the smell of roasting beans and the wooden signboards depicting a Turkish coffee pot. The coffeehouses themselves were always crowded, noisy and smoke-filled, and the people who gathered there were actors and artists, intellectuals and merchants, bankers and politicians. Coffeehouses were known in England as “penny universities”, because one penny was the cost of a mug of coffee. There was a saying that in a coffeehouse a man could “pick up more useful knowledge than by applying himself to his books for a whole month”.
Some of London’s coffeehouses were to achieve an importance beyond the dreams of other catering establishments. Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House on Lombard Street was home to the seed which grew into the global insurance industry and The Society of Lloyd’s of London, while Jonathan’s Coffee House on Change Alley, where commodity and stock traders gathered, over time developed into the London Stock Exchange.
But to return to the topic of our narrative. The culture of coffee drinking at the time, like everything else in English society, was highly developed. It allowed for both a professional (e.g., the stockbrokersâ€™ coffeehouse) and social class division of customers. Ordinary customers, for example, when they ordered had to wait their turn for their coffee to be brewed.
But a more elite category of customers (whom nowadays we would call “VIPs”), expected preferential treatment (or “service” in the language of today), with a special place in the coffeehouse, more attention from the staff and priority service. Accordingly, brass urns were placed in coffeehouses with the inscription “To Insure Promptitude”. Money was dropped in before the service was received. There is a belief that over time “To Insure Promptitude” became abbreviated to T.I.P.
Thus in London coffeehouses was born one of the best-known commercial initiatives to improve customer service. As I mentioned at the beginning, in Russian the term changed into â€œleaving something for teaâ€?. The change no doubt came about because of our tea-drinking traditions: it was tea that was the staple hot beverage rather than coffee. So in all conscience it should be acknowledged that, at least in Russian, coffee has been robbed. Historically the phrase for paying extra for better service should be something left not for tea but for coffee. The coffee movement has been cheated by our watery competing beverage.
Afterword Friends, you have come to the end of the first book in the series “Tales of a Coffee Expert” The number of notes I would like to include in it is not 33 but over a thousand, but I am not Tolstoy and my book is not “War and Peace”, so here is a good place to pause. To pause so as not to subject my reader to information overload, but also to get feedback from coffee lovers as to whether I am on the right track and am telling you the things you want to know. Whether the answer is “Yes” or “No”, please email and tell me at:
I will be grateful for any comments, I will answer any questions, and next time I will try to tell better and more interesting stories.
I have collected a huge amount of material, so this is not the end of our coffee chronicle, just a pause. The sequels to “Coffee Discoveries” will be in the best traditions of “Terminator” and “Police Academy”: “Coffee II”, “Return of Coffee”, and “Coffee: The Last Battle”. Seriously, though. There are hundreds of stories and photos still to come about such lands as Hawaii and Yemen, Sweden and Indonesia, Brazil, Nepal, Ethiopia; and many more interesting things besides. It will all be in the next book, which I can announce now: “Amazing Coffee Travels”.
I really hope you will enjoy this next, rather different, tour of our coffee planet. See you soon, friends.
To be continued...