An Esquire Guide: Coffee 101
The skills, tips and knowledge every man requires to look and be his best.
BY Lestari Hairul | Jan 9, 2017 | Food & Drink
What else is there to know about coffee? Just a wee bit more as it turns out. We speak with Jennifer WF Liu, founder of Coffee Academics.
Coffee waves: The easy-peasy guide
What’s all these waves, and what do they have to do with coffee? It’s not all that hard. Here’s a brief introduction, and a tl;dr version in case you need something even briefer. Take note that these waves mostly apply to American drinking culture, although it’s been adopted worldwide. Traditional coffee-drinking cultures don’t function in “waves”. They have their own types of brews and coee specialties that have been subsumed under the third wave.
Americans being the doyens of all things fast, instant and readily available kicked off the fƒirst wave with the aggressive marketing of instant coffee back in the 19th century with Folger’s. Soon, everyone had ready access to coffee, even the men in the trenches of both world wars. In fact, during World War II Italy, American GIs requested diluted espressos to mimic the taste of their watered-down instant coffee from home, leading to the birth of the Americano. Also, the invention of the automatic drip coffee machine, Mr Coffee in the ’70s, lead to the eventual ubiquitous and quintessentially American office leisure activity of “coffee hour”.
TL;DR: Instant coffee and a coffee machine helped to keep everyone awake.
A reaction to the ƒfirst wave. Bad coffee abounds with mass-produced powders and people want more information about roasting techniques, as they start to see coee as a lifestyle choice. Enter coffee shops—as in the ang moh version and not the place where you can also eat economy rice—and Starbucks best exemplifes this. Carrying a branded takeaway coffee cup becomes a thing. Starbucks along with the San Franciscan chain Peet’s Coffee and Tea eventually help to herald the next wave.
TL;DR: Thank it for obnoxious Starbucks culture.
The wave that we’re currently in—first coined in 2002 by Trish Rothgeb who also delineated the three waves—is a natural progression. Coffee gets caught up in the rise of the hipster and the obsession with everything artisanal and handcrafted. The focus is on the product, as opposed to the aggressive marketing seen during the first wave, or the social drinking experience of the second wave. You see greater focus on the source of beans, new-fangled blends and the best way of drinking. And snooty hipsters judging you on your choice.
TL;DR Keyword “artisanal”.
There are more ways to brew coffee than simply dunking some grounds in hot water and, well, however you do it. Here’s a look at some contraptions. Over-roasting can’t mask bad coffee, so if you use these fancy tools, it’s best to utilise good quality, lightly roasted beans. There is a point to all this artisanal stuff after all!
“The cold brew is one way that we serve coffee. In the ice blend system, you drip coffee over a bed of ice for eight to 12 hours. You can enjoy ice coffee in a wine glass without milk and sugar,” notes Liu.
“This is the steampunk, a new technology to serve either coffee or tea. It uses a quick extraction method that draws the coffee or the tea up to above boiling point, and then quickly lets it cool down,” says Liu. The swoosh of the bubbles in the tubes makes for some interesting videos.
“The AeroPress was supposed to be an anti-espresso machine, but then, it developed a different character,” says Liu. “The Chemex is like a paper filter in a glass flask. You just pour it slowly, let it drip, and enjoy it hot. Generally speaking, it gives you a cleaner taste without the crema, which the espresso machine is all about. But it will give you a better idea of the original taste of the coffee.”
How much more artisanal can you get than drinking coffee processed through the bowels of an animal? While some may praise it to justify the often-exorbitant prices, ethical concerns come into play as reports have surfaced about the abuse of both civet cats and the labourers who toil to collect the beans.
“Of course, the taste is interesting—it went through their systems, their enzymes, and all of that. But we have so many other natural products that we can enjoy, so I don’t see a point for us to carry civet cat coffee,” Liu explains.
“The price that you can command is very high, but I think, for us, commercial isn’t the most important thing. We should educate our clients to enjoy coffee ethically.”
Things are a little different with elephant dung coffee. Available only in three luxury resorts in Thailand, including The Siam Bangkok, 33kg of coffee cherries are eaten by elephants to produce about 1kg of the ‘final product sold by Black Ivory Coffee.
Since they are herbivores, it is claimed that the coffee produced is far better than that of the civet cats—with bonus points for the more ethical business involving rescued elephants at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation.
The pachyderms don’t absorb the caffeine, although their herbivorous nature plays a huge part in the coffee’s taste.
Totally not bitter, and with vanilla, fruit and chocolaty notes, the fermentation process happens in the elephant’s belly. The mahouts then pick, wash and roast the pooped-out beans.
Coffee by cities
Singapore: According to Liu, more relaxed than fast-paced Hong Kong, and a lot more of the artisanal stuff by comparison.
Hong Kong: Espresso-based drinks are de rigeur. “Hong Kong is always about speed, so they wouldn’t want to wait for their handcrafted coffee they just want to come and go,” says Liu.
Kuala Lumpur: Can you say, “Café haven”? Or is it a deluge? It’s a good thing that Malaysians drive way more because some of the cafés are nigh impossible to access by public transport, hipster as they are.
Melbourne: A super-chill lifestyle, great produce and excellent dairy products are key to making the Australians the greatest bearers of the third-wave coffee movement. Liu adds, “Milk is a very important component of lattes and cappuccinos. Together with its great produce, Australia is in the best position to be doing great coffees. I think they’re probably the main pushers for third-wave coffee. And Australians also run specialty coee houses with great food.”
Seoul: South Korea is Asia’s largest coffee consumer.
Tokyo: Japan is the oldest coffee-appreciating country in the region.
If you can’t drink coffee... Blame it on the caffeine. If you still wish to indulge in the world of beans, Liu recommends a decaf instead. “We use a Swiss water process method. The caffeine is washed away not by chemicals, but by a water-purifying process. The process uses multiple washings to remove the caffeine. We actually manage to do away with 99.7 percent of the caffeine from the beans so that what’s left in the decaf is one of the lowest of the low right now.”