One question we get asked fairly regularly is if it’s true that a light roast has more caffeine. It’s a reasonable question and the short answer is that it’s about the same either way. However, only viewing caffeine levels in relation to roasting is too narrow of a looking glass and in anything it leads down a path of general confusion and misinformation.
Now, for a combined crash course in general botany, chemistry and organic chemistry, read on.
Coffee is a plant, a tree shrub to be exact. Plants by nature produce an inordinate amount of chemicals and secondary compounds. Chemicals are bonds and interactions of compounds found within the periodic table of elements. In botany secondary compounds are compounds produced by a plant that aren’t necessary for its primary metabolic growth and nutrition functions. Primary metabolites include things like photosynthesis, respiration protein building, lipids, and carbohydrates – without these the plant has a zero chance of living. So, secondary metabolites are the substances produced beyond the basic, primary living function. One of the groups of secondary metabolites are called alkaloids.
Alkaloids brings us to caffeine. An alkaloid is a nitrogen-based, organically occurring chemical compound of a plant origin which has a physiological effect on humans and animals. Caffeine is just one of those alkaloid chemicals. Other alkaloids you probably know include: nicotine, cocaine, quinine, ephedrine, and opium drugs like morphineand codeine.
So, what we know so far is caffeine is one of many alkaloid chemical compounds produced by plants. Notice we said plants, not coffee. This is because people tend to automatically equate caffeine exclusively with coffee and to a lesser extent, tea. But the caffeine alkaloid is actually produced by some 60 different species of plants, including: cacao beans, yerba maté, kola nuts, and guarana (often used in energy drinks & weight loss supplements). Caffeine’s role in nature varies, but in general it is produced by the plant as 1) An insecticide or sterilant to defend against harmful insects and, 2) As a stimulant in the flower’s nectar to attract and energize bees and other pollinating creatures.
When it comes to the coffee plant, Rubiacea Coffea, there are two primary species in commercial use, Arabica and Robusta. Within the arabica and robusta species there are literally hundreds of common cultivar and hybrid varieties. At any given time your local roastery café probably has half a dozen to a dozen different varieties of the Coffea plant. The caffeine content within a coffee seed (bean) fluctuates, sometimes widely, between every Coffea species, variety and hybrid.
The above graph pointed illustrates that the primary driver of caffeine content in coffee has more to do with the plant’s biology than anything else. A lot of people still think that coffee just sort of happens. They don’t know that coffee is a crop with growing regions, seasons and harvests, let alone that it has different species and varieties. Moreover, people generally base their purchase on either the perceived acidity level or a country of origin, such as, Ethiopia, Brazil, Sumatra, etc, but farmers don’t plant fields will all the same variety. So, even within a single bag of a single origin, single farm coffee you‘re not likely to see beans will similar caffeine levels.
Regarding roasting level and caffeine. Roasting is a dry heat cooking method and the chemical thermodynamics of roasting coffee are extremely complex. The whole point of roasting is 1) to degrade the cell structure so the coffee can be ground for brewing, and 2) to augment the desirable flavors and aromas already contained within the bean. In specialty coffee, caffeine isn’t the goal – brewed flavor is. One consequence of roasting is that the thermal decomposition of methylxanthine stimulants (caffeine, theophylline and theobromine), so, yes, caffeine levels do decrease in darker roasters, however, when you look at the temperature degredation of caffeine, coffee roastingtemperatures are insufficient to sublimate (evaporate) caffeine from its chemical matrix. So, in reality the caffeine loss during roasting of any degree is negligible.
So, back to our original question, “Is it true that a light roast has more caffeine than a dark, or vice versa?” Roasting darker will slightly impact caffeine levels, yes. If you’re drinking only a light roast for more caffeine or a dark roast for less, then your approach is mistaken, because, as we’ve explored, the plant variety has far more to do with caffeine levels than roasting ever will.
Within the coffee world the cortado has already made its way through the elements in the Diffusion of Innovations curve, having reached critical mass in the US just a few years ago. However, since you’re likely a person living your life in the real world, you’ve probably just seen “Cortado” as just another item on the menu – then ordered your usual.
A cortado is actually a Spanish coffee drink and has permeated most Spanish cultures from Cuba, Latin & South America, and on to parts of Europe. Any honest coffee shop in the United States will admit that our cortado emphatuation is just now catching up to the rest of the world. Blue Bottle Coffee can be credited with starting the Cortado trend in the States in the early 2000’s in Oakland, California, near the epicenter of Modernist Cuisine. Along with being credited as one of the pioneers in coffee’s current Third-Wave trend, Blue Bottle is also the innovator of NOT offering WiFi in their cafes. Again, a less-honest shop staff may have you believe that they were among the first to think of those things.
Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. The basis for most coffee drinks is nothing more than a shot of espresso with steamed milk. A macchiato, cortado, cappuccino, and latte are all just some sort of variation of espresso with steamed milk. A cortado, however, has a couple key differences. A cortado sits midway between a macchiato and a cappuccino. It is served in a 6 oz Gibraltar glass with roughly a 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk. The cortado is all about balancing the taste of great espresso with the taste of great milk.
Getting the milk right in a cortado is essential. It should be steamed for volume, taste, texture, and temperature. The optimal serving temperature is just a touch above 140°F. Why? Because at 140° the milk’s sugars are in their simplest form, completely dissolved, and the proteins which normally hold the surface tension are relaxed. In effect this allows the milk to coat the maximum area of your taste buds with the maximum level of sweetness. Any hotter than 140° and sugars start burning, any cooler than 140° and the milk isn’t optimal. So, if your barista hands you a tepid drink and repeats something their boss told them that sounds scientific, feel free to laugh yourself out the door.
That’s a cortado and done correctly it’s a beautiful thing. When you find a shop and a barista that can consistently nail getting a cortado right it’s a place worth going back to. Essentially, a cortado is a litmus and it tells you if the barista know what they’re doing and how much they care about the process.
We coffee drinkers love and need that morning jolt. In fact if we don’t get it we’re probably miserable and extra grouchy until at least 2 in the afternoon, so coffee for us is a necessity. However, once you’ve finished your morning brew what do you do with those grounds? If you’re like most folks you probably just toss them out for the garbage man, but there are actually some really cool uses for coffee after you’ve consumed it.
Composting. This one’s pretty obvious, but the reason why coffee is good for composting is because it contains high levels of nitrogen and acidity. Most gardens and compost piles need plenty of nitrogen, particularly if you regularly grow tomatoes and potatoes. One way to re-nitrogenate the soil is to plant legumes every other year in that space. Or you can mix in coffee. Some plants love the acidity too; Nikko Blue hydrangeas come to mind. You can actually manipulate the flower’s colors from pink to blue depending on the acidity level of the soil. Know your plant, however, because not all of them will thrive in highly acidic, unbalanced soil.
Smells on hands. Ever cut up garlic and can’t get the smell off your hands no matter how many times you wash them? Well, that’s because garlic contains high levels of sulfur. When you peel and cut things like garlic and onions the sulfur molecules end up on your hands, but when you wash them the sulfur turns into sulfuric acid. One method to inoculate the sulfur is to squeeze a lemon on your cutting board, knife, and hands. Another method is to grab something made of stainless steel, like a sink faucet. Our favorite method of removal is to wash our hands with a little bit of coffee grounds.
Air freshener. Another great use of spent coffee is to dry it out, wrap it up in a coffee filter, secure it with a rubber band and use it as an inexpensive air freshener. Keeping one in the refrigerator helps eliminate odors. Keeping one in your car makes it a joy to step into, especially on warm sunny days.
Wood stain. An old furniture stain trick is to use coffee to color wood. It doesn’t work so well if you’re trying to do an entire rocking chair or dining room table, but as your wood furniture, baseboards and such get nicks and scratches rub a little bit of wet coffee grounds into the notches and indentations. Before long you won’t know it was ever there – that is until the neighbor’s kid (not yours, of course) throws a toy against it again.
Face and body scrub. Coffee works as a great exfoliator, making your skin feel smooth. In particular the caffeine is the enemy of cellulite, temporarily helping remedy those baggy eyes. It’s also thought that coffee’s antioxidant properties help fight skin aging too. Consult your dermatologist before attempting your own skin therapy treatments and remedies.
Those are just a few of the many unique and helpful uses of coffee grounds. So, next time think twice about just tossing them to the curb. As always, whenever you need a good, local and reliable source for coffee, we’re here for you.
In 1971, long before many of our current, often times self-proclaimed, coffee aficionados were even born, a relatively unknown chef opened a restaurant in Berkeley, California. Chef Alice Waters, armed with little more than a dream to entertain her friends, opened a quaint restaurant, Chez Panisse. As time went on and her customer base grew Chef Alice ran into supplier problems, something that most every owner of a growing business has to overcome.
To maintain ingredient consistency and supply volume Chef Alice began to build her local, Bay Area network for fresh, organic foods. Along with other contributions of the time from industry leaders like James Beard and Woflgang Puck, the Chez Panisse business model of fresh, organic, locally sourced ingredients with an emphasis on elegant presentation eventually led to what we know of today as California Cuisine. This food movement has grown well beyond just California and has revolutionized how we think about all things cuisine – including coffee.
Like cuisine, coffee has its own movements and trends and coffee’s most current movement has been dubbed “Third Wave Coffee.” Third Wave Coffee can be roughly generalized into an expectation for organic or at least non-chemical processing methods, a general push toward knowing where the coffee came from, a feeling of connection to the farmer, exploration of alternative preparation methods, and a high degree of emphasis on the end presentation. Third Wave Coffee is essentially where cuisine was in the 1970’s & 80’s during the California Cuisine movement. Like Peter Allen sang in 1985, “Everything old is new again.”
As the coffee industry progresses into the culinary arts arena, freshness tends to be a moot point. For example, a roaster in our nearby city imperiously proclaims that their coffee which was harvested at least two years ago and has been stored in an off-site, non-temperature controlled warehouse is roasted fresh daily….Not sure about you, but in our summation it is a misnomer to classify that as fresh. Additionally, coffee is a plant that yields a harvest and just like how a garden bears fruit at different times all summer long, coffee will come to harvest at different times of the year in different regions around the world for various lengths of time. A more appropriate way to classify freshness would be to use the coffee harvest cycle as the timeline, not some “roasted fresh daily” gimmicky catch phrase.
• New Crop/Current Crop: Refers to the newest available coffee derived from the beginning of the harvest cycle.
• Old Crop: Refers to the end of the harvest of the current crop’s cycle.
• Past Crop: Coffee that has been held in a warehouse from the previous year’s harvest.
• Mature Coffee: Coffee that is 2-3 years post-harvest.
• Aged/Vintage Coffee: Coffee that has been held for several years and beyond.
So, to us, roasting a Mature or Vintage Coffee from 2 or more harvest cycles ago is not something we’d be proud of nor touting as fresh. What we do at Copper Canyon Coffee, however, is specialize in obtaining Current & Old Crop harvests and roasting them to showcase the hard work of the farmers.
Roasting coffee is kind of like Grandma’s cookies; only a handful of relatives can actually replicate them. There is an adeptness to roasting that not everyone knows. Roasting well requires a fairly comprehensive knowledge about coffee; a familiarity with farming practices, understanding brewing principles, knowing about cooking chemistry, a little bit of rudimentary physics, and some basic math are all necessary.
Now, roasting sounds like a fancy word, but it’s really just a dry heat cooking method. With coffee roasting, we are merely managing the heat which is causing thermodynamic (heat) reactions to occur. These reactions transform the composition of the beans into something that we can grind, brew, and enjoy. (more…)
Coffee roasting in its simplest form is nothing more than cooking the seed of a coffee plant. The operator pulls some levers, pushes some buttons, adjusts a knob, and after about 12-14 minutes beautifully browned beans spill out.
Roasting coffee is one thing, but being a coffee roaster is a completely different animal. (more…)
Did you know the way your grinder grinds up coffee beans can affect the taste of your daily brew as much as water or other contributing factors? When the grinder burrs wear down, it can greatly affect the size of the grind particles, no longer offering the previous consistency when the grinder was fresh out of the box. We have put together a handy chart to highlight the most frequently used burr grinders to show when is the best time to change out the burrs as well as some useful tips on how to prolong the life of your grinder. If your burr grinder is not listed below, contact us and we will find out the best time to perform maintenance on your particular model. (more…)
Walk into a supermarket or a local grocer and you will see products lining the shelves. Some have flashy labels, some more natural looking. Others will have little official logos attached to the labels stating the product is “Organic Certified,” or it is part of the “Rainforest Alliance” or that it is a “Fair Trade Certified” product. But what do these logos and labels really mean? Do only the best products have these labels? What if you like a product that does not have this certification does that mean it’s bad? (more…)