Dateline: December 1, 2000, San Jose, Costa Rica Searching For The Perfect Cup of Coffee
One of the great advantages of working as Chef on board a luxury charter yacht, has always been meeting interesting people from around the World.
This past Summer in Alaska, was no exception. I met one person particularly who's expertise, and knowledge about coffee has surely changed my life forever.
It began quite innocently enough as the yacht M/V Explorer pulled from the dock in Juneau, Alaska for a week long charter to Sitka. Our six guests had just started unpacking their bags when an attractive couple arrived in my galley with a bag of coffee. This in itself was not unusual since many of our guests frequently bring speciality food items on board. What was unusual was when our guests asked me, How do you prepare your coffee?
Well now, I've been a professional Chef for over 27 years and this was the first time anyone had ever asked that question. Expecting the worse, I responded, How would you like us to prepare your Coffee? I was politely instructed that we should use exactly two heaping tablespoons of ground coffee for each six ounces of water. Sure, why not? No big deal, we'd be happy to make your coffee that way.
Little did I know then that the person asking me to make his coffee "that way," just happened to be the most knowledgeable person I had even met on the subject of coffee.
Later that day, as we all settled into our charter routine and everyone had a chance to introduce themselves, I discovered that my coffee man was Mr. Norman Saurage the CEO of Community Coffee from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Having lived in Texas and traveled frequently to Louisiana I'd recognized the distinctive red bag of Community Coffee, and I'm sure I had tasted their coffee before.
As our cruise to Sitka unfolded I had many opportunities to have casual conversations with Norman," a very charming and softly spoken Southern gentleman. With each conversation I became increasingly interested in Norman's background and one day I asked him When did you first start learning about coffee? He responded, When I was five years old and walked to the docks with my Grandfather to watch the coffee boats being unloaded.
Right then I knew I was hooked and had to learn more. I asked Norman whether he would consent to a formal interview that I could use for this column. Certainly he graciously replied, anytime.
Chef Patrick & Norman Saurage on board the M/V Explorer
The next day, after the other guests had gone ashore sightseeing, Norman and I sat down in the salon and this story really started to unfold.
Little did I know then that this would interview would lead me on a journey that has already taken me from Alaska to Texas and now to Costa Rica in search of the perfect cup of coffee.
Community Coffee began in 1919 when Norman's Grandfather Cap discovered a particular (and still secret) blend and roasting method for the coffee he provided the customers to his market.
By 1922 Cap's coffee had become so popular that he sold the store and turned his attention full time to the production of his coffee. Today Community Coffee is the largest selling coffee in Louisiana and they are the largest family owned coffee company in America.
They primarily market their coffee in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle.
When asked why they don't market elsewhere, Norman surprised me when he answered, "We are dedicated to serving only the freshest coffee possible and the logistics of maintaining long supply lines would compromise the quality of our product." Wow, that's dedication!
The good news; however, is that you can buy their outstanding coffee via the internet and have it delivered to your doorstep the next day. Check-out their excellent web site at http://www.communitycoffee.com/.
Community Coffee is not a new comer to the speciality coffee market. They've been providing their chicory flavored New Orleans Blend coffee to New Orleans for years and their brand is the largest selling chicory blend in the City.
Chicory incidentally, is the root of the French endive plant and was the first flavored coffee. The use of roasted chicory as a coffee flavor, began during the Civil War when the flow of coffee was cut off to the South by the Union Naval blockade and ground roasted Chicory was added as a filler to ground coffee. It remains a local favorite today and over two-thirds of the coffee sold in New Orleans is flavored with chicory.
What does it take to make a good cup of coffee, I asked. First, Norman responded, you've got to use good fresh coffee and lots of it! He continued to explain that most people do not use enough ground coffee when they make a pot.
Well my first thought was that this is coffee salesman's answer...the more you use, the more coffee you'll buy. However, my later research has proven that his answer was absolutely the truth.
Despite the type of coffee, degree of roast or blend that you use, you must first start with enough fresh ground coffee, brewed correctly, to enable the true depth of flavor of the bean to express itself.
Chemically about 30% of the mass of ground coffee is extractable. However, it is only about 18 to 22% of that mass that contains the real flavor. The remaining 8% is mostly made up of bitter and undesirable flavor compounds. If you use too little coffee your cup will be bitter because you will have over-extracted the coffee.
If you prefer a less strongly bodied coffee your best bet is still to brew the coffee correctly but then add a little hot water to your cup to dilute it for your taste.
Regarding the freshness of the coffee, Norman proved to be quite an authority on that subject as well. Community Coffee was the first company to introduce the vacuum sealed paper bag. This required the development of a special one way valve that allows the gases to escape from the bag while simultaneously preventing the bad oxygen from entering the bag.
In it's green state coffee beans will maintain their optimum quality for up to a year, however, once roasted, the quality will quickly deteriorate when exposed to oxygen. Furthermore, once the roasted bean has been ground it begins to deteriorate immediately.
Norman's next advice about making a good cup of coffee was, Buy it fresh, use it now! That statement explains why his company goes to such extreme measures to insure that their product is the freshest available to their customers.
As our interview ended, I began to realize just how little I really knew coffee. I was somewhat embarrassed that after 27 years of providing quality food and beverages to my customers that I didn't really know anything when it came to good coffee.
Our cruise ended in Sitka as scheduled, but for me a new journey had begun. In departing Norman said that if I ever made it back to Texas, he would be happy to introduce me to some of his employees and arrange a cupping of some of their speciality coffees.
Two months later I found myself in Austin, Texas sitting in CC's Coffee Shop, a subsidiary of Community Coffee, ready to embark on Part Two of Searching for the Perfect Cup of Coffee.
In Part Two of this article, I will discuss coffee cupping, types of coffee, a little history of the bean, proper brewing and storage techniques.
For more information about Community Coffee and coffee in general you can visit their informative web site at: http://www.communitycoffee.com/
More to come...soon!
Ciao from Costa Rica