Over the years of being in the coffee industry and hanging around "coffee geeks" I've heard just about every form of coffee misinformation and lore known to man. I'm not exactly sure where it all originated, or why for that matter. These myths always gave me a good chuckle, but as of lately I have been encountering these imaginative illusions on a much more frequent basis. I went from having a chuckle, to being slightly annoyed, to downright frustrated. It's time to set the record straight on some of the most commonly circulated coffee myths.
Myth: Storing your coffee in the freezer will keep it fresh.
Fact: This is absolutely false. Coffee's big enemies are air, moisture, and time. If coffee is stored in a freezer, moisture or condensation can form on the beans, which can start the extraction process prematurely. In addition, coffee, just like baking soda can absorb odors right out of the fridge - destroying it's natural flavor profile. (Gross!)
Regardless of what you've been told, coffee has a short lifespan after roasting. Once roasted, it starts going bad (the same way food does after it is cooked). In-general coffee needs to "rest" in it's sealed air tight bag for about three to four days after roasting so it can release CO2 caused by the roasting process. Once the coffee has rested, it reaches it's "peak" flavor profile. If it is stored at room temperature in an air tight bag it can stay at peak flavor for about a week. The older a coffee gets, the faster it goes stale and loses it's intended flavor profile.
It is said that coffee can stay fresh in it's original unopened air tight bag for about two months. HOWEVER, once the bag is opened and the coffee is exposed to air; it will go stale rapidly (usually in two or three days).
Myth: Espresso comes from a specific type of coffee bean.
Fact: There is no such thing as an "espresso bean". By tradition, espresso is defined as: "A strong coffee, brewed under pressure, and served immediately to its intended consumer." In practice, however, we use a more strict technical definition. Below is the definition created by the World Barista Competition.
"An espresso is a one ounce/30 ml liquid including crema, brewed using an appropriate and consistent amount of ground coffee at a temperature between 195-205 degrees F where the machine brewing pressure is between 8.5-9.5 atmospheres of pressure. Extraction time must be between 20-30 seconds, and the beverage should be served immediately."
Myth: "Fair Trade" coffee is the only coffee grown and sold using sustainable practices.
Fact: This is a very common consumer misunderstanding. Think of fair trade as "minimum wage". It is a benchmark that guarantees farmers no less than a minimum designated "floor price". There are actually far better fair and sustainable prices paid to growers under "Direct Trade Certification". Counter Culture Coffee in Durham, North Carolina paved the way with their Direct Trade Certification program that guarantees growers at least $1.60/lb. for green coffee purchases, a minimum price that exceeds the Fair Trade Certified floor price by 19%. While $1.60/lb. sets a new, higher standard for green coffee purchases, they usually pay more than this minimum price for most Direct Trade Certified coffees, not including the additional financial premiums paid for exceptional quality.
Myth: The best coffee in America comes from the Northwest.
Fact: This is rather subjective. A number of America's most famous coffee companies originated in the Northwest (i.e. Stumptown Coffee, Starbucks and Seattle's Best). All of which had a giant affect on the industry and established a "Second Wave" in coffee. That said, formidable coffee cultures have risen all over the U.S. with a focus on the "Third Wave" of coffee. ("The Third Wave of Coffee is the genesis and establishment of coffee growers, coffee roasters and coffee retailers that are focused on achieving the highest form of culinary appreciation of coffee.")
Some of the most prominent "Third Wave" coffee companies are based in Chicago, New York City, North Carolina, Oregon and California. Recently a number of new small artisanal coffee shops and roasters have been rapidly taking off in cities you wouldn't expect. Atlanta, Austin and Dallas in particular.
Myth: "Java" is a universal name for coffee.
Fact: This is false. For some reason, virtually every food writer refers to coffee as "java" at least once in coffee related articles. Java is simply an Indonesian Island that coffee happens to grow on. Coffee that comes from this Pacific Island IS known as Java, however coffee that does not originate on this island should not be referred to as "Java". Does this remind you of another popular beverage?