Strong Coffees

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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For a very long time, strong coffee meant espresso and only espresso. Americans traveling abroad were generally--and we are talking 20 and more years ago--dumbfounded and somewhat overwhelmed, certainly on the continent of Europe. But espresso isn't, in fact, the ultimate of strong coffee. Its cousin Turkish roast puts espresso, both French and Italian, to shame. Where Robusta beans roasted dark for espresso are ground very fine indeed, those ground for Turkish are ground to a powder. Strong coffee, however, is far more than espresso, whether French, Italian, or Turkish. Let's move back a step or two.

What Is Strong Coffee?

If we look at coffees overall, we can better understand the nature of coffee as a crop and as a beverage. Two varieties of coffee, for a start, predominate worldwide. The Robustas (scientific name Coffea canephora robusta) grow at lower elevations, mostly along the west African coast, and are decidedly higher in caffeine; their aroma and taste are understandably more potent. The Arabicas (scientific name Coffea arabica) grow at higher elevations, in Africa, Central and South America, and Indonesia. As a group--being smoother, lighter, and lower in caffeine--they are far more popular.

Robusta beans are used in the espressos. Some Arabicas are as well, but only the minority. The range of Arabica beans is wide. The difference that roasting makes broadens that range considerably. From the smooth and low acid Brazilan Santos to the Sumatra Mandeling, for example, you have two strong and full bodied coffees. Each is strong, but mellow.

Strong coffee doesn't have to mean espresso. One crop of beans, divided into two lots, both roasted in accepted conditions and standard temperature range, but at different temperatures for different times, will yield very different coffees. The higher the temperature, the more the oils within the coffee bean are released, and the stronger the taste and more distinctive the aroma.


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