Coffee History

African Origins – (Circa A.D. 800)

Goats will eat anything. Just ask Kaldi, the legendary Ethiopian goatherd. Kaldi, the story goes, noticed his herd dancing from one coffee shrub to another, grazing on the cherry-red berries containing the beans. He copped a few himself and was soon frolicking with his flock.

Witnessing Kaldi’s goatly gambol, a monk plucked berries for his brothers. That night they were uncannily alert to divine inspiration.

History tells us other Africans of the same era fueled up on protein-rich coffee-and-animal-fat balls—–primitive powerbars—-and unwound with wine made from coffee-berry pulp. Coffee later crossed the Red Sea to Arabia where things really got cooking…….

Escape From Arabia – (Circa 1000 to 1600)

Coffee as we know it kicked off in Arabia, where roasted beans were first brewed around A.D. 1000. By the 13th century Muslims were drinking coffee religiously. The “bean broth” drove dervishes into orbit, kept worshippers awake and splashed into secular life. And wherever Islam went, coffee went too: North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, and India.

Arabia made export beans infertile by parching or boiling, and it is said that no coffee seed sprouted outside Africa or Arabia until the 1600’s—–until Baba Budan. As tradition has it, this Indian pilgrim-cum-smuggler left Mecca with fertile seeds strapped to his belly. Baba’s beans bore fruit and initiated an agricultural expansion that would soon reach Europe.

Europe Catches the Buzz – (Circa 1615 to 1700)

“The Turks have a drink of black color…I will bring some with me…to the Italians”. Thus a merchant of venice introduced Europe to coffee in 1615. But the end product didn’t amount to a hill of beans to many traders—-they wanted the means of production. The race was on.

The Dutch declared the initial hurdle in 1616, spiriting a coffee plant into Europe for the first time. Then in 1696 they found the first European-owned coffee estate, on colonial Java, now part of Indonesia. Business boomed and the Dutch sprinted ahead to adjacent islands. Confident beyond caution, Amsterdam began bestowing coffee trees on Aristocrats around Europe…

A Swashbuckling Scheme – (Circa 1714 to 1720)

Louis XIV received his Dutch treat around 1714—-a coffee tree for the Paris Royal Botanical Gardens, the Jardin des Plantes.

Several years later a young naval officer, Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, was in Paris on leave from Martinique, a French colony in the Caribbean. Imagining Martinique as a French Java, he requested clippings from his king’s tree. Permission denied.

Resolute, de Clieu led a moonlight raid of the Jardin des Plantes—-over the wall, into the hothouse, out with a sprout.

Mission accomplished, de Clieu sailed for Martinique. He might have thought the hard part was over. He would have been wrong…

Crossing the Atlantic – (Circa 1720 to 1770)

On the return passage to Martinique, wrote de Clieu, a “basely jealous” passenger, “being unable to get this plant away from me, tore off a branch”.

Then came the pirates who nearly captured the ship; then came a storm which nearly sank it. Finally skies grew clear. Too clear. Water grew scarce and was rationed. De Clieu gave half of his allotment to his stricken seedling.

Under armed guard, the sprout grew strong in Martinique, yielding an extended family of approximately 18 million trees in 50 years or so. Its progeny would supply Latin America where a dangerous liaison would help bring coffee to the masses…

Coffee Blooms in Brazil – (Circa 1727 to 1800)

1727: Brazil’s emperor wants a cut of the coffee market; but first he needs an agent to smuggle seeds from a coffee country.

Enter Lt. Col. Francisco de Melo Palheta, the James Bond of Beans. Colonel Palheta is dispatched to French Guiana ostensibly to mediate a border dispute. Eschewing the fortresslike coffee farms, suave Palheta chooses a path of less resistance—-the governor’s wife. The plan pays off. At a state farewell dinner she presents him a sly token of affection: a bouquet spiked with seedlings.

From these scant shoots sprout the world’s greatest coffee empire. By 1800, Brazil’s monster harvest would turn coffee from an elite indulgence to an everyday elixir, a drink for the people

Coffee Growing


For propagation of arabica coffees, ripe red cherries are collected , pulped, and the mucilage is removed by fermentation. The freshly picked seeds can either be planted immediately or dried for later use. Drying takes place on wire mesh trays in the shade. Dried seeds can be used up to a year or more if properly stored. Seeds are pregerminated by spreading on a sand bed and covering with moist burlap bag sacks or straw. The seeds are watched closely and removed as soon as radicals emerge. An alternative method is to mix the seeds with moist vermiculite or expanded polystyrene and keep in the polythene bag. Seedlings are grown in mursery beds or polybags and are planted in the coffee fields when they reach 20-40 cm.

Growing Seedlings in Nursery Beds

Once pregerminated, the seedlings are planted in nursery beds containing soil consisting of well rotted cattle manure (10-20 liters per meter) and phosphate fertilizer (100 g per meter). Nursery beds should be built to be 1 meter wide and 50 cm deep and seedlings are spaced between 12-15 cm apart (for 20 cm tall plants) or 20 cm apart (for 30-40 cm tall plants). The nursery beds are shaded 50% for the first couple months. Shading is reduced slowly and completely removed the last two months before the seedlings are planted.

Growing Seedlings in Polybags

Polybags, made of black diothene (200-guage), are commonly used and filled with a mixture of topsoil, well rotted cattle manure, course sand, gravel, coffee pulp, and coffee husks. A ratio of three parts topsoil to one part course sand and one part cattle manure is often used. A top dressing of nitrogen is applied by applying 20 g urea in 5.0 liters of water per meter of bed.




Before any coffee is sold it is classified by the number of defects, screen size, and cup quality. The defect count is supposed to give a general idea of the quality of cup. Two green coffee classification methods have been described here. The SCAA Green Coffee Classification Method is excellent for specialty coffees, whereas the Brazilian Green Coffee Classification Method is more precise, but is also more time consuming.

SCAA Green Coffee Classification

The green coffee classification standard provided by the SCAA is an excellent method to classify coffee. It is superior over some systems in that it better accounts for the relationship between the defect and the cup quality. However, it leaves out a few of the important defects that can occur in the coffee (See the Brazilian Green Coffee Classification).

Three-hundred grams of properly hulled coffee should be using screens 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. The coffee remaining in each screen is weighed and the percentage is recorded. Since classifying 300 grams of coffee is very time consuming, 100 grams of coffee is typically used. I recommend that if the coffee is a high quality with few defects to use 300 grams. If the coffee is of a lower quality with many defects 100 grams will often suffice in a correct classification as either Below Standard Grade or Off Grade. The coffees then must be roasted and cupped to evaluate cup characteristics.

Specialty Grade (1): No more than 5 full defects in 300 grams of coffee. No primary defects allowed. A maximum of 5% above or below screen size indicated is tolerated. Must possess at least one distinctive attribute in the body, flavor, aroma, or acidity. Must be free of faults and taints. No quakers are permitted. Moisture content is between 9-13%.

Premium Grade (2): No more than 8 full defects in 300 grams. Primary defects are permitted. A maximum of 5% above or below screen size indicated is tolerated. Must possess at least one distinctive attribute in the body, flavor, aroma, or acidity. Must be free of faults and may contain only 3 quakers. Moisture content is between 9-13%.

Exchange Grade (3): 9-23 full defects in 300 grams. Must have 50% by weight above screen size 15 with no more than 5% of screen size below 14. No cup faults are permitted and a maximum of 5 quakers are allowed. Moisture content is between 9-13%.

Below Standard Grade (4): 24-86 defects in 300 grams.

Off Grade (5): More than 86 defects in 300 grams.







Great coffee does not stop when it is delivered to you. The brewing process is the last and probably the most important stage in enjoying great coffee. Therefore, we highly recommend you read this entire section so you get the most out of your Serda’s Coffee. The recipe for brewing a great cup of coffee relies on four fundamentals:

Proportion, Grind, Water & Freshness
We recommend using two tablespoons for every six ounces of water to extract the full flavor of your Serda’s Coffee. If your brewed coffee tastes too strong, add small amounts of hot water to taste. Using too little coffee can result in over-extraction of the coffee and bitterness in the cup.

Always use the correct grind for the brewing method. Grinding the beans just prior to brewing, results in about a fourth more flavor in the cup. If coffee is ground too fine for the brewing method, over-extraction will produce a less desirable, possibly bitter cup of coffee. Likewise, too coarse a grind will lead to under-extraction, and a lifeless, weak cup of coffee. Since beans should be ground before brewing each time, it is an art you will master after only a few trials.

In general, the longer that coffee and water spend in contact during the brewing process, the coarser the grind you should use. Here’s a chart of recommended grinds for various brewing methods:

  • French Press (Press pot) – Coarse flakes like bread crumbs, feels like a coarse sand paper.
  • Automatic Drip Brewer – Flat bottom paper or metal (gold) wedge shaped filters – medium grind. Your fingers should be clean if you run them through the coffee.
  • Paper wedged shaped filters – Just a bit finer than flat bottom filters.
  • Espresso – Very fine, has a consistency between flour and table salt.

Always use fresh, cold water. If the tap water where you live is distasteful due to hardness or treatment, consider using bottled water or a filter system. Never use softened water! Remember, a cup of coffee is 98% water. If the water doesn’t taste good, the coffee won’t either.

The temperature of the water is also important. When brewing coffee using a hot water method, generally the ideal temperature should be between 190-200 Fahrenheit. This permits ideal extraction of essential flavor and oils from the grounds. Water that is too hot will over-extract, yielding a less than desirable cup of coffee. Likewise, water that is too cold will under-extract, yielding a thin lifeless cup.

Always start with freshly roasted gourmet coffee. Coffee maintains its peak freshness best, when kept in an airtight container, in a cool, dry place. There is much controversy as to whether it should be stored cold or not (i.e. refrigerator / freezer); Cold storage is probably only necessary when sealed, long-term storage is desired. Ultimately, the most important factors to remember are keeping the coffee away from air (oxygen) and moisture, which can degrade the freshness of your coffee.

A few other things to remember:
Coffee is best if served immediately after brewing, and will retain its peak flavor for up to 20 minutes on the warmer. We recommend you transfer your brewed coffee to a thermal carafe to hold for a longer period of time. Don’t forget to take care of your equipment! A clean coffee brewer is critical to great tasting coffee. Periodically, use a mild detergent or baking soda to remove build-up, film and oil.


Cupping is the technique used by cuppers to evaluate the flavor profile of a coffee. To understand the minor differences between coffee growing regions, it is important to cup coffees from around the world side by side. Cupping is also used to evaluate a coffee for defects or to create coffee blends.

Cupping Technique
Table preparation:
In a cupping session the table is usually set up with 6 to 10 cups per coffee. These are fashioned in a triangular manner. At the top of this triangle you should place a sample of the roasted coffee and a sample of the green coffee. In the center of the table place a cup of room temperature water and an empty cup containing the cupping spoons. I heavily recommend covering both the green sample and roasted sample until the cupping session is over and the fragrance, aroma, and flavor profile have been documented. After this time the samples could be uncovered and additional comments can be written base on appearance. This method will help reduce the common “eye cupping” technique.

Sample Preparation:
To prepare the samples place 2 tablespoons of freshly roasted and freshly ground coffee in a 6 oz. cup. Ideally one should use 55 g of coffee per liter of water. The grind should be between French press size and a drip coffee size. The coffee should be roasted light (Agtron65). In the industry, we often stop the roast about 30 seconds into the first crack long before the start of the second crack. This allows us to fully evaluate the coffee for defects and for the sweetness and aroma that are burned off at darker roasts. The roast should be similar for all of the coffees evaluated. During an important cupping session the roast similarity can be verified visually by grinding a portion of each ample and lining the samples up next to each other on a black sheet of paper.

Fragrance and Aroma Analysis:
While the filtered water is boiling, smell the grounds and write down your observations. The smell of the grounds (before water is added) is referred to as the fragrance.

Then add hot water just off the boil to each cup. At this time you should also add hot water to the cup containing the spoons so that the spoons stay tat the same terperature as the cups containing the coffee. Smell each cup without disturbing it and write down your initial observations of the aroma.

After 1-2 minutes break the crust of the coffee using one of the preheated spoons. Put your nose directly over the cup and push the coffee down. This is the most potent burst of aroma you will have during cupping and is the best time to evaluate the aroma. As you break the crust, stir the cup a little to make sure all of the coffee is covered in water and to help the coffee sink to the bottom of the cup. Add any further description of the aroma to the description you wrote before breaking the crust.

Rinse the spoon in hot water and move to the next sample. After evaluating the aroma of all of the samples, scoop out any grounds that continue to float. Due to the high density of the lightly roasted coffee most of the grounds will sink.

Flavor Profile Analysis:
After the coffee has cooled sufficiently, take some coffee into the spoon and slurp the coffee strongly to aspirate it over the entire tongue. It is important to aspirate strongly since you are trying to cover the entire tongue evenly. Aspirating strongly also causes tiny droplets of coffee to be distributed into the throat and into the nasal passage where the nose can act as another powerful tasting tool. Most of the flavor observed in a coffee is a result of aromatic compounds present in the coffee. This effect can be demonstrated by plugging your nose while drinking coffee. While the nasal passage is blocked, the coffee will likely taste similar to instant coffee due to its lack of aroma. When the nasal passage is opened a full rainbow of flavors will immediately become evident.

Write down your observations of flavor, acidity, aftertaste, and body. Move to the next cup and try to compare the different cups. As the coffee in each cup cools, it is often possible to detect new flavors. Therefore, it is important to cup a coffee when it is both warm and when it has cooled to just above room temperature.

If you are cupping more than a couple cups of coffee, it is advisable to spit out the coffee after evaluation. When cupping several coffees it is possible to have too much caffeine, which can adversely alter your cupping ability.

The key to cupping is practice and humility. The best cuppers I know are modest and always eager to learn more. I have served on cupping juries with some of the best in the world and we do not always agree. The beauty is that we agree to disagree while respecting and trying to identify the characteristics that other people find.

Do not be intimidated by people that try to impress you with some abstract description of a coffee. This is more of a romantic tribute to a coffee rather than a reality. Cupping should be fun and interesting, but not a contest of who is more articulate. On the other hand, your description should be more substantial than a reiteration of a textbook definition of a coffee.

Despite the strict, scientific-like protocol to cupping, the method followed in the industry is quite varied and almost every good cupper has his or her own permutation. Cup under conditions you like, but try to stay as close to the standards in case you need to cup with other people. The secret to becoming a good cupper is simple: trust yourself by practicing regularly and be humble enough to continue to learn from others


The best espresso should be extraordinarily sweet, have a potent aroma, and flavor similar to freshly ground coffee. The crema should be dark reddish-brown and smooth, yet thick. A perfect espresso should be enjoyable straight with no additives, yet bold enough to not disappear in milk. A pleasant and aromatic aftertaste should linger on the palate for several minutes after consumption.

The following steps describe in detail how to make espresso. You will also learn about the various factors and problems with espresso that limit its perfection. If any of these factors are off, you will not achieve a high quality espresso.

Blend – Without a good espresso blend you cannot have a good espresso. The best espresso coffee beans are blended to achieve the sweetness, aromatics, and smoothness desired in espresso. The espresso blend must also be fresh. We recommend using espresso within four days of roasting.

Roast – Too often you will find espresso roasted very dark. This results in a bitter, charcoal tasting brew. People that know how to make an espresso will roast light to preserve the aroma and sugars. For more information, read the section about espresso roasting

Grind – The grind must be continuously monitored throughout the day to achieve an extraction time of 25-30 seconds. Do not change the pressure you tamp with to compensate for a grind that has become too large or small. For more information, read the section about espresso grinding.

Grinder – A high quality burr grinder is essential for espresso. A conical burr grinder is preferred to flat burrs since the particle size is more even, they last longer, and the coffee is not heated during the grinding process. If the burrs become hot the coffee aroma will be diminished. A conical/parallel hybrid blade is considered the best design by many coffee professionals.

Dosing – Coffee must be freshly ground to achieve peak flavors. Grind and dose on demand. When someone orders an espresso grind only what is necessary for one shot, dose properly, tamp, and brew. Discard any espresso grounds that are not used within 30 seconds. For more information, read the section about espresso grinding and dosing.

Distribution – Distribute the coffee evenly after dosing in the porta-filter before tamping.

Tamping – Tamp the coffee once very evenly with 5 lbs of pressure, then once with 30 lbs of pressure, and polish 720° with 20 lbs of pressure. For more information, read the section about espresso tamping.

Water mineral content – The water used for espresso must be filtered. Some cities must even compensate for the mineral content of their water. Over time oxygen will be forced out of the water in the espresso machine leading to off tasting water. Try filling a small glass with water, letting it cool, and tasting it for off flavors. If the water tastes strange you may want to dump the tanks daily and begin with fresh water.

Water temperature – The water temperature should be stable and somewhere between 92-96°C. Choosing the best espresso machine is very important to both water temperature and temperature stability.

Temperature stabilizing – A stable temperature helps ensure that you prepare excellent espresso. For more information about stabilizing the temperature of your espresso machine, read about espresso temperature stabilizing.

Water pressure – The pressure of the water forced through the espresso should be between 9 and 10 atm. This pressure is responsible for the development of the crema.

Boiler pressure – The boiler pressure determines the amount of water to be incorporated in the steam. If your milk is not foaming correctly as described in the section on latte art, you may want to experiment with different boiler pressures. Boiler pressure, however, should only be altered by professionals. You can check your boiler pressure by looking at the boiler pressure gauge on the front of most espresso machines.

Extraction time – Extraction time to fill two 1-oz cups should be between 25-30 seconds. Despite the time the pump should be turned off if the espresso becomes slightly lighter in color. The goal is to have a dark red espresso take approximately 25-30 seconds to brew with no change in color. Fore more information, read the section on extracting espresso.

Porta-filter and basket – The porta-filter should always remain the same temperature as the water used to brew the espresso. Therefore it should always remain in the group head. The basket should hold 16-18 grams of coffee and must be straight walled. Curvatures in the basket will lead to uneven extraction.

Timeliness – Act quickly, but carefully. You should spend no longer than 30 seconds for the time it takes to dose, distribute, tamp, pre-heat, and brew the espresso.

Espresso machine cleanliness – Coffee machine cleaning is probably the biggest problem with espresso today. If the machine, basket, and porta-filter are not cleaned regularly, the espresso will always taste rancid.

Espresso grinder maintenance – Everyday the burr blades should be swept clean. Between shots you may want to brush out the excess espresso that gets stuck between the burrs and the dosing chamber. The burrs must be replaced at least yearly so that they continue to produce coffee granules with a maximal surface area.

Environmental Factors – The humidity and temperature will change throughout the day. Since coffee is hydroscopic (absorbs moisture), the grind size must be changed throughout the day to achieve a brew time of 25-30 seconds. The temperature will not affect the espresso like the humidity, but it is important to avoid exposing the coffee to any high temperatures until brewing.

Espresso cup – The espresso cup should be pre-heated from a source other than the espresso machine. Filling a cup with water from the espresso machine prior to brewing the espresso will lower the temperature of the water in the boiler and the espresso extraction will be uneven. The espresso cup should have thick walls and a narrow mouth to retain heat and aroma, respectively.

Practice – If you want to learn to make espresso, it is essential to practice and experiment. The key to making espresso is to realize that it always has further potential. By changing any one of these factors you can improve or diminish its potential. Espresso preparation is an art that demands the precision and dedication of science. I have never achieved, nor have ever seen anyone make a perfect espresso. A perfect espresso is more of a concept than an actuality. The beauty is that espresso is volatile and difficult. If it were easy, we would develop a machine that knows how to make a perfect espresso every time. There are so many factors involved in espresso preparation that only a human mind and a passionate heart can begin to understand and control its complexity.






For proper extraction, grinding properly is essential. Freshly grinding coffee before brewing is on of the most important steps for achieving a quality cup of coffee. Coffee should not be ground more that 2 minutes before brewing or major staling (oxidation) begins to take place.

There are two main types of grinders available. Blade grinders sell for about $20, grind the bean unevenly, and are messy. Burr grinders are about $60-$125, grind evenly, and are clean and easy. The extra money for the burr grinder is one of the best investments one can make for improving cup quality and ones sanity.

For any specific analysis, a blade grinder is unacceptable due to it’s lack of reproducibility.

Burrs should be replaced periodically (every 600-2000 lbs. of coffee), but for typical home use it is only necessary to clean the burrs.

Each brewing method required a different grind size: Drip coffee requires a medium size grind, espresso requires a fine size grind, a French press requires the largest grind size, while the vacuum pot also requires the largest grind. For cupping, it is preferred to use a French size press.


For proper extraction, grinding properly is essential. Freshly grinding coffee before brewing is on of the most important steps for achieving a quality cup of coffee. Coffee should not be ground more that 2 minutes before brewing or major staling (oxidation) begins to take place.

There are two main types of grinders available. Blade grinders sell for about $20, grind the bean unevenly, and are messy. Burr grinders are about $60-$125, grind evenly, and are clean and easy. The extra money for the burr grinder is one of the best investments one can make for improving cup quality and ones sanity.

For any specific analysis, a blade grinder is unacceptable due to it’s lack of reproducibility.

Burrs should be replaced periodically (every 600-2000 lbs. of coffee), but for typical home use it is only necessary to clean the burrs.

Each brewing method required a different grind size: Drip coffee requires a medium size grind, espresso requires a fine size grind, a French press requires the largest grind size, while the vacuum pot also requires the largest grind. For cupping, it is preferred to use a French size press.


The porta-filter is the entire assembly of the handle, the basket, and the spouts. The porta-filter is always made of metal and must always be warmed before extracting espresso. If you see the porta-filter resting on the tray of the espresso machine at your local coffee shop you should walk out the door. Pre-heating the porta-filter can be done using the hot water nozzle or water from the group head itself. It is not recommended to ever use more than 1-1.5 ounces of water at a time since excess use will cool the hot water reservoir inside the machine. It is essential that you learn how to “temperature surf” on your machine to accurately control the temperature at which the espresso is brewed. Some people recommend leaving used pucks of espresso in the basket to help maintain heat. This advice seems advantageous, but make sure you allow about 1 oz of water to flow out of the head to rinse the screen after pulling each shot.

A note on cleanliness: Although most porta-filters are black inside, they are supposed have a shiny metallic surface. After one day of not cleaning the porta-filter coffee oils will accumulate, go rancid, turn black, and ruin any shot your prepare. If your espresso comes out thin, white, and rancid tasting this is usually the problem. Although most people think it is impractical, I believe it is important to clean the porta-filter, basket, and screen heads hourly. To clean these components use tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) or Puro Caff and use a 1 inch square piece of a green brillo pads. Scrub thoroughly, but quickly to avoid cooling too much, and rinse thoroughly. While scrubbing the porta-filter, back flush for 30 seconds with the blind basket in place and a teaspoon of TSP for 30 seconds, and follow with at least 5 rinsing cycles. If you have never cleaned your porta-filter before, place it upside down in a milk pitcher, fill the pitcher with water covering only the metal, add a couple teaspoons of TSP, and boil the water using the steam wand. Scrub periodically. This should get out the worst rancid coffee oils. If all else fails order a new porta-filter.

Steam Wand
The steam wand ejects steam in order to froth the milk. The steam wand should be cleaned after it is inserted into milk and at the end of each day. Do not allow the steam wands to soak in water overnight since some of the dirty water can be sucked into the boiling tank inside the machine.

With a semi-automatic espresso machine, the keypad can be used to push a predefined amount of water through the coffee pellet. The keypad is easy and useful, but is not the best way to determine shot size. It is essential to watch the shot brew and stop the flow of water before the crema turns pale in color. This pale color crema deteriorates the crema already present in the cup and ruins the delicate flavor. Typically, there is a on/off switch next to the keypad which should be used instead of the keypad. Typical shots are 1-1.5 ounces, not the 2 ounces that you are normally served.

The espresso tray is used to catch excess water, to pour out drinks, etc. It should empty into a drain. If the espresso tray does not have a drain, make your own by drilling a 1/2 inch hole in the tray, attaching the appropriate fittings, and then running a high temperature hose to the sink. The tray should be cleaned each day with a sponge to remove excess grounds.

Pressure Gauge
The boiler pressure gauge on most espresso machines measures the pressure of the water tank as well as the pressure that is forced through the espresso. The pressure for brewing should be between 9 and 10 atmospheres. The espresso machine pressure has the essential role of forming the aromatic and volatile crema, and without this component, espresso would only be strong drip coffee.