By Lance Leasure, owner of Town & Country Coffee
A few years ago, I thought it would be fun to make a playlist of songs that included a reference to coffee. I poked around online and found over 21,000 references in lyrics, from 52 artists, across 50 albums! Even Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a Coffee Cantata in 1732. Suddenly, my project felt a bit more daunting.
If it’s true, as some say, that music is the voice of the soul, clearly coffee holds a special place in our hearts and minds. So, what is it about coffee that has everyone so passionate about the stuff? Let’s start with the basics.
The coffee plant is technically a shrub belonging to the Coffea genus in the family Rubiaceae. There are over 120 known species of the Coffea genus, and… OK, OK, if you’re anything like me, this is where your eyes start to glaze over. I’ll keep it simple. I promise.
For our purposes there are really only two varieties of coffee that matter, Arabica and Robusta. Depending on your coffee habit, you’ve likely had a lot more Arabica. It comprises most of the coffee we drink, is more difficult to grow, is more expensive, and is widely considered to be the better tasting of the two. There are a few other quasi-marketable varieties, but the jury is still out on their potential. (I’ve tried a few of them and they tasted more or less like coffee. One exception, however, tasted unsettlingly similar to cotton candy and Lucky Charms!)
What we refer to as beans are actually seeds. They typically come in pairs in the berries of coffee plants. Imagine two “beans” with their flat sides facing each other and you get an idea of how they grow in the berry. On the flat side of each seed is a groove. Interestingly, the groove of Arabica beans is generally straight, while the Robusta groove is quite curvy. This isn’t rocket science, though. So don’t freak out if you suspect the grooves of your “Arabica” beans are a little too wavy or occasionally lack a flat side. Ultimately what matters most is how it tastes.
Coffee grows best in tropical climates (though you can grow it in your Burien home, as I do!) and can reach heights of over 40 feet in the wild. Looking at a map of coffee-producing countries; you’ll notice a general grouping along the equator, and with rare exceptions, extending no further than the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer (a region known as the Coffee Belt). This brings us back to the origin of coffee: almost ‘smack-dab” in the middle of equatorial Africa. It’s a continent with a rich history, biodiversity, and culture, and some of the best coffee in the world! Something we’ll continue exploring soon.
Today my coffee playlist remains unfinished, but our coffee journey is just getting started. Until the next installment, enjoy whatever you’re drinking and don’t forget to wake up and live!