But First, Coffee
The Current Pickle
There seems to be an endless debate over whether coffee is good for us (though
WHO recently pulled it off the "causes cancer" list, phew!), but there's no question
we love it: coffee is the second most traded commodity on earth, coming out
behind crude oil but leaving big commodities like natural gas, gold, and sugar in its
divinely scented dust.
In its most basic, unprocessed form, coffee is a cherry-like fruit, which becomes red
when ripe; the coffee bean is really the seed inside the red coffee fruit:
So how did this seed become such a global staple?
It all started with dancing goats:
A shepherd in Ethiopia first noticed the effects of coffee when he saw his goats
getting all hyper and “dancing” after eating coffee berries. He tried them himself,
caught the buzz and started spreading the good word. (This is generally
considered legend, not fact, but it conjures great mental images so we’re going
Fast forward a few centuries, when coffee landed in America in the early 1700s: it wasn't popular (gasp!) until the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when switching from tea to coffee became something of a patriotic duty. 🇺🇸 (By contrast, today Americans collectively spend $40 billion on coffee per year.)
In 1906, George Washington invented instant coffee (no, not THAT George
Washington, this is 1906, guys! Might be time for another coffee.).
Today, to meet ever-growing demand, coffee is grown around the world in the
“bean belt” between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn:
Hawaii is the only state in America that grows coffee commercially, but coffee-obsessive Los Angelenos are trying to change that.
What's the Dillio with Labels on My Coffee?
We love the complex flavors of coffee—the complex labels, not so much.
Not every label is a guarantee of quality; here are our 7 tips to navigating the coffee package:
1. Choose a coffee that offers details about its origin. Just like with wine, the flavors in coffee vary depending on where it's from.
Not sure which region is right for you? There are detailed charts to help you, but at a glance:
- Central American coffee = chocolatey, nutty flavor, slightly sweet
- East African & Arabian coffee = fruitier, sweeter wine-like flavors
- Asian coffee = earthier, more bitter than sweet
- Indonesian coffee = earthy, with a hint of spice
- Columbian coffee = bittersweet with light, floral undertones
2. Check the roast date.
In general, the more recent the roast date, the better. Coffee aficionados will tell you to buy and consume coffee within a month of the roast date. While we're talking freshness,
3. Go Whole. Grinding whole coffee beans right before you brew is a way to preserve freshness up to the last second. If you don't have a grinder at home, have it ground for you when you buy it. Find the best grind size for your brewing method here.
4. Look for labels regarding ethics. Ethical manufacturing is at the core of Pickle values, so we rely on these stamps, which indicate the coffee was farmed in an ethical, environmentally conscious way and was traded fairly:
5. Avoid meaningless or misleading labels:
- “Ethically/sustainably farmed,” “shade grown,” and “direct trade”lack legal definition or industry standards.
- 100% Arabica, or 100% Robusta: Arabica is considered the superior of the two, but 100% Arabica doesn't automatically mean high quality.
- Vague phrasing about region—i.e., "Roasted in the heart of Costa Rica." Look for coffees that list specific regions, towns, or specific farms.
- Single-origin means the coffee comes from one place, but it’s a pretty watered down phrase. The phrase is more meaningful if a specific farm or co-op is listed.
6. Check the amount of caffeine. The amount of caffeine in a cup of regular coffee can vary greatly, depending on factors such as blend and type of bean.
Regarding decaf: to make decaffeinated coffee, the green coffee beans are steamed and then the outer layers containing the caffeine are scraped off before roasting. Unsurprisingly, this almost always affects the flavor and decaf brews may taste flat or dull, but if you're avoiding caffeine, it's better than nothing!
DYK brewed coffee has MORE caffeine than espresso, and that there are still trace amounts of caffeine in decaf?! Here is a chart on caffeine in popular drinks.
7. Choose your roast level.
Roast levels are based on how long and at what temperature the beans are roasted. Lots of us grew up with dark roasts, but now there’s a prevailing theory that dark roasts mask lesser-quality coffee, so light roasts are the new hotness. Ultimately, the darker the roast, the smokier the flavor, which may or may not be your cup of, uh, tea.
Fun fact: roasting coffee caramelizes some of the sugars in the coffee in the same process (the Maillard reaction) as when you toast bread or sear meat. Neato!
The Hot Pickle
Great, so you’ve got your coffee home!
No? Not yet? Even better, check out this list of 10 of the Most Sustainable Coffee Businesses in the United States; these are all Pickle-Approved!
Ok, once you DO have that coffee home,
Keep your coffee in an airtight, opaque container out of light. It’s fine to keep it in the bag, but seal it up as tight as possible. Avoid the freezer: moisture will eventually creep in and ruin the flavor...depresso.
Brewage (it's a word!):
We love this handy online guide for how to brew coffee at home, using every method we know of.
Pourover is all the rage, but we're partial to French Press, which gives a rich, full flavor and is eco-friendly since it doesn't require paper filters. On the opposite side of the environmental impact spectrum sit pod-based machines, and we're not fans since these create massive amounts of waste.
Maybe you've heard the hotness of Bulletproof, "KETO," or "butter" coffee. Fast Company tried it for two weeks to see what the buzz is about.
Think outside the mug!
Espresso your creative side by using coffee to perk up everyday recipes: