18 Dec 2019
"Let's meet for a coffee!" A phrase with a lot of room for interpretation. Mostly used as a standard line, even by inveterate tea-drinkers, to get to know each other or for a friendly chat. But where does this coffee bean "rendezvous drink" originate from and what makes it so popular?
Pour water into the coffee machine, open the bag, spoon coffee into the filter and switch on the machine – it’s that simple. Even simpler: pour boiling water onto instant coffee. That’s the part where true coffee lovers turn up their noses.
"It's about much more than a cup of coffee," says Mark Stanton of Two Beards Coffee Roasters in Swakopmund. Together with his father he runs the roastery and supplies many Namibian cafés with Two Beards products. He also conducts "cupping", which (for the uninitiated) is coffee tasting. Stanton is a coffee connoisseur. Top quality is very important to him.
"Coffee is a science of its own, from the seedling to the cherry to the bean and into the cup," he says. "Few people are aware how much work, time and also space a coffee plant requires."
Take the seeds, put them in water. After 24 hours a sprout should be visible, which in turn must be planted within the next 24 hours. "But the chances of the seed germinating are 1:1000, and whether the seedling will sprout through the soil is another chance of 1:500," Stanton says. 38% of the seedlings don’t make it. These days, grafting is usually the way out.
Coffee plants require extremely favourable growing conditions. A permanently warm climate and a square metre per coffee bush or tree. Furthermore, the aroma is strongly affected by the soil composition and the amount of sunlight and rain during the ripening period. More than 80 coffee varieties or cultivars are known to botanists, but the world market is dominated by only two of them: Arabica, the noblest variety, and Robusta.
Arabica contains 1.7 percent caffeine, Robusta 2.8 percent. "That makes the Robusta variety almost twice as strong as the Arabica and it is also quite bitter," Stanton says. What is more, Arabica holds between 890 and 1000 flavours – by comparison, a red wine varietal contains 430 flavours. Coffee is slurped, sampled and sniffed to identify the various nuances: tropical fruit, nut, honey, mint and a lot more. "Coffee is one of the most complex natural products there is," Stanton claims.
And once upon a time it all began so modestly.
Legend has it that about 900 AD a shepherd called Kaldi, who lived in the Kaffa kingdom of south-western Ethiopia, watched his goats eat red cherries from a shrub and soon afterwards saw them hopping about full of zest. When Kaldi tried the fruits himself, he also felt an invigorating effect. People started to collect the leaves and the cherries and poured boiling water on them. In the 14th century coffee probably made its way from Ethiopia via Arabia to the Ottoman Empire and Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) through the slave trade. Apparently it was not until around 1615 that coffee beans were seen in Europe. According to historical records the first coffee house opened its doors in 1645 on Saint Mark's Square in Venice.
The Two Beards roastery in Swakopmund uses Arabica beans. Stanton's coffee is sourced in 25 countries – or 42 coffee plantations – in South America, Central America, Africa, India and Indonesia. "We select our coffee according to its aroma and certification (quality, fair trade, sustainable farming methods) and at the same time support social organisations." One of them is the Agaseke women's project in Rwanda in central Africa, which supplies coffee to the roastery in Swakopmund. Agaseke, by now well-known, was started by women to empower women after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. The projects aim was to eradicate poverty in the urban areas. Apart from growing coffee the women also produce various handmade goods, especially traditional Agaseke baskets woven from natural materials.
Back to Stanton and his "psychotropic" dark brew, to which he is addicted. He lives for his coffee. His enthusiasm is contagious – even for inveterate tea-drinkers – when he reveals the secret of this indulgence.
"Coffee simply changes everything," he says, "and a café is characterised by the example set by its owner."
Laura Pflippen and Matthias Henrichsen, who run the Wild Rocket Café in Swakopmund, also love this dark, liquid "drug". They want to get the nuances right for their customers. Mark Stanton and his team arranged a cupping afternoon for them to find precisely what they were looking for. "I want to be able to read in my customers’ eyes what their type of coffee is," Henrichsen explains.
So, "let's meet for a cup of coffee" merely to express interest or affection to someone has long since been relegated to the past. Coffee is about the taste, which should unfold on the palate. It’s about the fruitiness that is the result of several factors – i.e. the growing region, crop preparation, the variety and the duration of roasting. It's about the nuttiness with a slight sweetness on the side. It's about plain black coffee, a smoothly elegant cappuccino, a latte macchiato, an espresso – which, by the way, contains only 0.8 percent caffeine, because it is brewed under pressure to create the special taste (black tea, on the other hand, contains 2.4 percent caffeine)... And it is also a matter of taste whether a pinch of salt in the water refines the coffee, because sodium neutralizes the bitter-tasting substances.
When "having a coffee" it is decisive for how long the taste lingers in the mouth, says Stanton. "You leave the café and the taste lingers on," he explains. And Matthias Henrichsen adds, "Or, as Frank Rosin, the German TV chef and restaurateur, likes to put it: 'Coffee is like sex on the palate'."
Cupping with Mark Stanton in the Two Beards coffee shop and in the Wild Rocket Café
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