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Coffee, a Brief Overview

Jerry Powell

Coffee, a Brief Overview

The coffee plant has two main species. There is the Coffea Arabica, which is the more traditional coffee and considered to be superior in flavor, and the Coffea Canephora known more commonly as Robusta. Robusta tends to be higher in caffeine and can be grown in climates and environments were Arabica would not be profitable. Robusta is also typically more bitter and acidic in flavor. Because of this Robusta tends to be less expensive. High quality Robusta is also used to blend espresso for more bite, and to lower costs.

A little known fact is that some coffee beans improve their flavor with age. It is the green unroasted beans which are aged; the typical length of time is 3 years, though there are some houses which sell beans aged to 7 years. Aged beans have a fuller flavor and are less acidic.

Growing conditions, soil types and weather patterns during the growing season all contribute to the flavor of the bean, creating the differences in flavor from points of origin, such as Kenya or Brazil. However, roasting adds its own flavor, sometimes to the point that it is difficult to tell where the beans originated from, even

The lighter the roast the more the natural flavor of the bean remains. This is why beans from regions such as Kenya or Java are normally roasted lightly, retaining their regional characteristics and dominate flavors. There is a method of roasting in Malaysia which adds butter during the roasting producing a variety called Ipoh White Coffee.

Beans roasted to darker browns begin to taste more like the method of roasting than the original flavors. Dark roasts such as French or Vienna Roasts tend to completely eclipse the original flavor. Roasting to whatever degree, while adding stronger flavor does not effect the amount of caffeine of the bean.

Fry pan roasting was popular in the 19th century, since the beans were normally shipped and purchased still in their green state. You simply poured the green coffee beans in a frying pan and roasted them in the kitchen. This process took a great deal of skill to do in a consistent manner. Fry pan roasting became much less popular when vacuum sealing pre-roasted coffee was perfected. However, in order to vacuum seal roasted beans, you had to wait for them to stop emitting CO2, as roasted beans do for several days after the roasting process. What this meant was that vacuum sealed coffee was always just a little stale as the flavors begin to turn bitter and deteriorate in just about a week after roasting.

Home roasting is once again becoming popular with the creation of computerized drum roasters which help simplify the process. There are some people who have found methods of effectively roasting beans using their hot air pop corn makers.

The region the bean is from as discussed before is a primary factor to the type of flavor you can expect from the brew, though it is very true that `new` or unexpected tastes come from every region.

Arabia and Africa grow their coffee beans in high altitudes in the rich black soils of Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Tanzania. The flavors of these beans are distinct and of legendary status.

The Americas coffees are grown in near rainforest conditions in areas such as Colombia, Costa Rica and Guatemala. Coffees of the Americas tend to be very well balanced and aromatic.

The Pacifics includes coffees from Sumatra, Java, New Guinea and Sulawesi, which are as various in flavor as the islands they come from.

Then there are the exotics such as certified Jamaica Blue Mountain and certified Hawaiian Kona. These are rare indeed and can go for as much as $60.00 per pound.

Drums Along the Congo: On the Trail of Mokele-Mbembe, the Last Living Dinosaur. - book reviews

Skeptical Inquirer , May-June, 1995 by John H. Acorn

Unlike claims for the existence of the Loch Ness Monster or the Sasquatch, the idea of a living sauropod dinosaur in the Lake Tele region of the Congo Basin of Africa has never quite captured its share of popular support. The 1985 Disney movie Baby, Secret of the Lost Legend brought the "Mokele-Mbembe" to a wide audience, but in my judgment, based on work with educational books, films, and exhibits about dinosaurs, few man took the underlying idea seriously. After all, it`s a silly idea.

Cryptozoologists, on the other hand, are often incapable of grasping the extent of their own silliness, and as a casual observer of cryptozoology I get the impression that the Mokele-Mbembe is now one of their favorite beasts. In his preface to Roy Mackal`s book A Living Dinosaur? the father of cryptozoology, Bernard Heuvelmans. referred to the Mokele-Mbembe as the "zoological craze of the 1980s." If indeed this was the case, which in retrospect it wasn`t, the impact of Mokele-Mbembe was no doubt also fueled by the recent dinosaur craze, which seems to have peaked with Steven Spielberg`s Jurassic Park.

Popular interest in this subject began with expeditions in 1980 and 1981 led by Chicago`s Roy Mackal. Mackal`s book, A Living Dinosaur? became a cult favorite among my biologist friends. To pass away the time we used to read parts of the book aloud, howling with laughter at the sorry excuses for evidence offered in support of the Mokele-Mbembe hypothesis. We especially enjoyed Mackal`s account of a supposed sauropod footprint (invisible in his photograph) that, for reasons that completely escaped us, could not possibly have been made by an elephant. The idea that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof seems never to have occurred to Mackal, although he more or less admits that he really hasn`t established the existence of anything.

Well, the good news is that the footprint is still there, visible for a fee, and that a much better writer than Mackal recently made the trip to see it. Cryptozoologists seem to me to be a harmless bunch, with no particular political or social agenda, and for "fringe-watchers" their adventures and rationalizations make for entertaining fare. So, when I picked up Rory Nugent`s Drums Along the Congo: On the Trail of Mokele-Mbembe, the Last Living Dinosaur, I expected another yarn about a pseudoscientific crackpot on a hopeless expedition. I was in for a surprise; but before I disclose why, let me quickly summarize what I believe to be the appropriate skeptical response to claims for the existence of monsters.

Every cryptozoological claim comes with at least some evidence. Sightings, photographs, footprints, hair samples, and the like, are used to argue that (1) the animal exists, (2) it will be captured soon, and (3) the zoological orthodoxy is ignoring both (1) and (2). For zoologists, and skeptics in general, two responses are appropriate. First, one can investigate the evidence for oneself and attempt to distinguish fraud and misinterpretation from real empirical corroboration. Second, one can construct alternative hypotheses that are consistent with and explain the evidence, but which have the advantage of greater parsimony by virtue of being less encumbered by poorly supported assumptions. Herein lies the difficulty for untrained or poorly trained observers: judging parsimony requires breadth of both experience and education, and is more than just a matter of following a formula for the "scientific method." For most zoologists, the idea that such things as Mokele-Mbembe exist is far less parsimonious than the suggestion that they are mythical, and in the absence of definitive proof parsimony is not just the best reasoning tool available but the only one as well.

Returning to the matter at hand, this is an enjoyable book. Nugent is a talented, intelligent writer with a sense of humor. Whatever problems he may have with credulity are compensated for by his admirable spirit of adventure. One quickly gets the impression that he really could not have cared less whether he saw a Mokele-Mbembe, which of course he didn`t. He gives no indication that he intends to follow up on his quest, and in that sense alone he sets himself apart from just about every cryptozoological writer in print. In fact, he is an adventure/travel writer, not a cryptozoological writer. To illustrate, the first 172 pages of the book tell only of his adventures on the way to the rainforest, and in those pages we meet an amusing cast of petty bureaucrats, witch doctors, and the everyday folk of the Congo. By the time Nugent reaches Lake Tele, the reader knows perfectly well that he won`t come back with a dinosaur, but by that point it doesn`t much matter. This is a book about the Congo, its man , an d one of the last remaining tracts of more or less undisturbed rainforest on the African continent. It has but 243 pages, leaving only 71 for his expedition proper.

Of course that doesn`t mean Nugent is off the hook. After all, he did set out to prove the existence of a living sauropod, and as skeptics we can`t forget that fact, even if he is a nice guy. Nugent`s credentials are never disclosed, although he does (p. 124) claim to have been part of a group of journalists. The book is liberally spiced with natural history notes, however, and these allow us to judge his credibility in a general sense. I have not taken the time to check on all his claims, but a number of problematic items popped out at me as I read. For example, the lizard photograph in the insert between pages 152 and 153 clearly corresponds with the text on page 213. In the text, the lizard is described as a "two-foot long reptile. It has a triple-horned snout and stubby tail. . . ." The photo shows neither of these features, but is readily identifiable as a monitor lizard in the genus Varanus. These lizards do not have horns on their snouts, and possess long, whiplike tails, not stubby ones. Another ob vious gaffe appears on page 183, where he refers to Lord Derby squirrels as "the best flyers among mammals," presumably unaware of the fact that bats, which fly very well, are also mammals. These examples are not alone, and they serve to underscore the need for a pinch of salt when reading the more important passages.


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