Coffee Connoisseur Information

Insider Info

dotAt the time, coffee drinkers fancied themselves quite refined and coffee culture was a little exclusive. Women and children weren't typically part of the scene.

The coffee houses of today are much more socially diverse. Coffee drinkers come from all walks of life. The bottom line is, anyone can become a coffee connoisseur and enjoy the company of fellow drinkers. Some might even say that social barriers come down behind the doors of the coffee house.

Hollie Rose, better known as the Java Goddess, owns a cafe in Connecticut. The diversity of her clientele is an absolute pleasure, she says. She's seen bankers in $500 suits chatting with green-haired kids covered in piercings from head to toe.

"We have a great thing," she says. "Coffee really brings people together and that's one of my favorite things about it."

dotToday, coffee is closely linked with computers and the Internet. Cyber cafes have sprung up all over the world, offering customers both Web access and a cup of coffee to keep their mouths busy while they surf.

dotFor some, coffee is key to good conversation with friends. It's about reading a good book or the newspaper while sipping a hot, flavorful brew.

For others, coffee provides an excuse to travel the world and sample international roasts. Others simply love the smell and taste of a decent cup of coffee in the comfort of their own homes and communities.

dotThere are more than enough blends, roasts and varietals (specific bean breeds) of coffee to please every palate. Coffee varies in flavor, from fruity to nutty to muddy. It may also vary in texture, from smooth to grainy.

For Rose, the appeal of coffee lies in its variety. "Coffees from each different country have subtle taste differences that you really have to become a little bit of a connoisseur to understand," she says.

"It's like wine; a Merlot tastes different than a Chardonnay. It's the same thing [with coffee]. A Sumatra tastes different than a Kenya or a Guatemalan."

dotCoffee is made when the oil of coffee beans is mixed with hot water. The beans themselves can come from Colombia, Hawaii, Africa, Indonesia or the Caribbean -- there are 100 growing regions in all, mostly on mountainsides.

They can be one of two varieties: robusta, which makes up 70 percent of all coffee produced, or arabica, which has a darker color and less caffeine. And after they're picked -- they grow on 10-foot high trees -- they are roasted into light or dark finished beans.

dotIt's impossible to overestimate how much people love coffee. Of course, some coffee drinkers develop dependencies on the addictive element of coffee -- caffeine. Doctors say coffee should be consumed in moderation. Obscene amounts of caffeine can be fatal.

The American Psychiatric Association has laid out some criteria for identifying caffeine intoxication. Symptoms include restlessness, twitching, nervousness, excitement, insomnia and intestinal pain.

Mark Prince is an avid coffee drinker with a Web site to prove it. Coffee is slightly addictive for most people, says Prince, and he wouldn't recommend it to anyone with an addictive personality.

However, "as far as drugs go, it's not a bad drug," he says. "If anything, it makes you a little bit more alert, a little bit more aware of what's going on around you. But it doesn't turn you into someone who's going to crash your car."

dotWith so much coffee-sipping going on, coffee is big business. The coffee economy accounts for millions of jobs around the world, from pickers and growers to roasters, retail sellers and waitresses.

dotAnd many coffee lovers turn their love and knowledge of coffee into careers. Some become professional testers, tasting and rating coffee for roasters or retailers. Others operate their own coffee shops, sharing their love of the bean with others.

According to Rose, the big business side of coffee has had some negative effects on the industry. For one thing, it has resulted in some pretty bad-tasting coffee.

Most people that get into it for the money "don't have a clue about coffee and they don't know how to make an espresso [or] to steam milk," says Rose. As a result, first-time coffee drinkers often receive a poorly made drink -- sadly, they may never enjoy the flavor of a truly good brew.

"There are so many bad representations out there," says Rose.

dotOn a more serious note, mass coffee consumption has had a negative impact on the environment and on coffee farmers in poorer countries.

Since many coffee companies are in the business for profit, they find ways to produce the most beans for the least amount of money. For example, they may use sun-grown and chemically treated coffee trees, which produce five pounds more beans than those grown without chemicals in the shade.

One of the problems with this is that small farmers can't afford chemicals or the harmful effects of chemicals on the rest of the land. In effect, they simply can't compete with the big companies.

dotAs well, the shady homes of many birds, bugs and plants are destroyed when clearing the land for sun-grown coffee. The land is coated with chemicals and the ecosystem is turned upside down.

dotMost big coffee companies opt for the more lucrative but more harmful method, explains Rose. She does whatever she can to combat the darker side of coffee drinking.

For example, Rose buys her coffee from ethically sound companies. "We have a great organic supplier....He travels the world himself, making sure that [the coffee] is grown in a sustainable manner, not using chemicals and treating the workers with respect and dignity. That's very important to me."

Getting Started

dotWhile most coffee drinkers simply enjoy a good, steamy mug, many are starting to question the origins of their favorite brew. As a true connoisseur, you'll find that there's much more to the industry than meets the palate. You may even do a little research into the history of your most beloved blends.

Leaping into the world of coffee is as simple as visiting a coffee house near you. Go today.


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