So for those of us who love our caffeine… and if you know me, you know I love my caffeine, we have two very important plants. Coffea Arabica, and Camellia Sinensis, or for those of you who don’t speak ze Latin – Coffee and Tea. Now, you might be thinking “hey, I get my caffeine from soda, Red Bull, etc. etc.” and I assure you that I love my Red Bull just as much as the next caffeine addled person, but really it all boils down to these two traditional drinks. (Also for those of you playing the home game, yes there is Coffea Robusto… but we’re talking quality here, not quantity.) So what I’d like to do here is explore these two deliciously wonderful plants, and possibly educate a bit. Let us begin.
Coffee is awesome. Coffee beans are really the seeds of berries, which supposedly taste a bit sweet, and are quite good. The seeds are roasted to get that wonderful flavor that we coffee drinkers know and love. And then of course there is light and dark roast, with a quite a few varieties in between. The basics are Light, Full, Dark (French) and Turkish (charred), in really there are quite a few more. For a full description check out this Wikipedia page. The caffeine level of the beans also goes down the darker the roast, so if you want the most caffeine per bean you’re going to want the lightest roast, but remember the lighter the roast the more acidic it is as well. Personally I prefer a medium roast… something around a City Roast or Full City Roast, which can be surprisingly hard to find in the Eastern United States (or at least used to be). Darker roasts are also used for Espresso, which might seem confusing to the uneducated, because I did state that the darker the roast the less caffeine, right? Well the difference is the concentration. Espresso is a more concentrated drink, so you get more caffeine per liquid volume. Isn’t science wonderful? Generally you can get almost the same amount of caffeine from a shot of espresso (about 51mg of caffeine per 1 oz. of liquid) as you can from 3 oz. of drip brewed coffee (about 18 mg of caffeine per 1 oz. of liquid). So in reality, you’re getting more caffeine from that cheap 6 oz. cup of homebrew (about 108mg of caffeine) than you are from that expensive ounce of espresso from your local coffee shop. And it’s still even more than that 8 oz. can of Red Bull (about 80mg of caffeine). Worth it? Note that the amount of caffeine per roast is actually almost negligable… it might come down to 1mg of difference between the lightest and darkest roast, depending on volume.
And of course, if you really want your caffeine kick you could always order some Black Blood of the Earth – a FORTY times concentrated coffee for people like me… About the equivalent caffeine as a half gallon of coffee. The creators recommend no more than 3.5 oz. per serving…
So why drink anything but coffee if that gives you the best caffeine? Well obviously taste is the biggest factor there. I love the taste of Red Bull. I also love the taste of coffee. And tea. So for me, why pick one just because of the caffeine, when I know I’ll want multiple cups a day anyway? I might as well have one of each! And yes I am looking for a heart attack by the time I’m 40… Now of course there are many drinks containing a decent amount of caffeine, but you also have to consider the other other ingredients. Preservatives you can’t even pronounce (and neither can I), high fructose corn syrup, that lovely sweetener that rots your insides (this is not scientific fact… just a fairly certain assumption… so don’t complain about that one), and coloring chemicals that have been proven or rumored to cause impotence and other health problems. Just want I want to imbibe constantly. On the other end of the spectrum? Tea.
Tea is easily the healthiest beverage you could possibly drink. It has a small amount of caffeine (about 60mg per 8 oz. of liquid) which (in moderation) is healthy for you. It has antibiotic effects, boosts mental alertness and helps prevent the decline of mental capacity with age, and a wide variety of others. It even has the potential to help HIV patients! So really, if you want to talk about health drinks, just brew yourself some tea, add a little honey and lemon, and drink up. (Please note that I am not a doctor, nor am I a health expert, so do not take my word as fact on these matters.) But what kind of tea is the best? Well, all types of tea actually come from the same plant. The differences actually come from when the leaves are harvested in their life cycle, and how quickly they are dried after being picked. Your typical black teas are allowed to wilt and oxidize before being dried, where as green teas are dried quickly after being picked. Imagine, all those different flavors from one plant. And separating between black, oolong, and green doesn’t even begin to cover the variety and complexity of flavors of tea. And I’m not even talking about herbal teas or fruit teas…
So you’ve figured out your favorite form of caffeine consumption now, yes? Good, if it’s coffee or tea, keep reading. If not, keep reading anyway for interesting informaton.
So now that you know what you prefer, you can just waltz down to your local Starbucks and pick up a cup right? No. No no no. Starbucks coffee is horrible. It’s burnt and overbrewed, usually stale, and nasty. Same goes with their tea. Same goes for Dunkin Donuts. I’ve actually gotten coffee from DD, and had to go back to the counter and ask for a new one because the cup they gave me tasted so bad I thought it would make me sick. Please do yourself a favor and do not purchase coffee or tea from these places. Independent coffee shops are usually really good, same goes for tea shops. But honestly, the best way to get an excellent cup of coffee or tea, is to make it yourself.
There are some surprising similarities to coffee and tea. it should always be stored in the closest to original form it can be (whole beans for coffee, loose leaves for tea) in an air-tight container at room temperature. Coffee and tea do both go stale, so it’s important to only keep around as much as you’re going to use in say… a one month period. Both stay good for longer than that, but why risk it? Also, both coffee and tea get a lot of their flavor depending on the water you use to brew them. That’s right, the better the water, the better the flavor. The easiest way to control this is to filter your water. Some coffee makers have built in filters, but what about for your tea? Simplest solution – Brita filter, or something similar. This way you control the quality of water, not your local water company/well. The water has to be boiled to around 200 degrees (Fahrenheit, I live in the US…). The general rule for tea is about 220 for black, 200 for oolong, and 180 for green. Coffee is always around 200. Okay, so you have your ingredients! Now, the next important thing is how to add them to the water. With coffee, you should always grind right before brewing for best flavor, and grind 2 tablespoons per 6 oz. of water. Tea is similar, with 2 teaspoons per 6 ox. of water. However, a teaspoon here doesn’t refer to the actual measurement, but rather the utensil – a “teaspoon.” In both cases, what you add to the water should be loose, a “gold filter” for coffee, and “loose in the pot” for tea. Most people use a metal mesh to hold the tea in place while brewing, but this actually detracts from the flavor. Tea expands drastically while brewing, and allowing it space to expand will improve the flavor. It is much better to pour the tea through a strainer to catch the leaves, rather than brew them in a strainer.
Okay, so now you’re brewing. Excellent! Allow approximately four minutes for your coffee or tea to brew fully, another similarity. Once it is fully brewed, pour yourself a nice cup, and enjoy.
What what if you want it to go? Easy! Pour it into a carafe or thermos and take it with you. What if you want it cold? The easiest way is to brew it, then let it sit. What if you want different flavors? Add them! You can add almost anything during the brewing process to alter the flavor of your coffee or tea. Just don’t add too much! Remember all things in moderation.
If you want some more information on coffee or tea, check out the Good Eats episodes on both – True Brew, and Trew Brew II – over on Youtube.