Put on a pot of coffee. Right now. Seriously — I’ll wait. You’ll be craving it by the time you’re done with this post. Bonus: It will be like reading in Smell-O-Vision.
Got your cup of giddyup? Let’s go.
I’m feeling a little bit like a coffee expert at present. I went to Caravan Coffee in Newberg recently and got caffeinated and educated.
Operations manager Pat McGarraugh opened my lesson by showing me how to make a delicious cup of coffee. She started with heating water to 200 degrees. Meanwhile, she rinsed out a paper filter to make sure it was flavor neutral, and dropped the filter into a pour-over coffee maker. In it she scooped precisely 27 grams of coffee. Next, she warmed up a glass carafe with the hot water. She poured a little water into the coffee, let it sit for 25 seconds — “pre-infusion,” she called it — and then poured in the rest of the 400 milliliters of water.
The result was piping hot and just absolutely delicious.
Pat told me that the proportion of coffee to water is a matter of personal preference, but I like her formula. Strong, too. It definitely put some bounce in my step.
Caravan Coffee does tastings, called cuppings in the business, on Friday mornings. Stop by and taste unbelievably fresh coffee and learn a little about the beverage and the business. Pat served me my coffee black so I could get the full flavor. She had me searching for all the taste elements — flavor, body, sweetness and acidity. Acidity, by the way, refers to how the coffee affects your mouth, not your stomach, she said. That’s part of the slightly fruity flavor a coffee might have.
Coffee is more complex than wine, she told me. And each blend benefits from different preparations. I have a French press at home, so I asked her if that’s a method she recommends.
“You know, they all taste different,” she said of drip, French press and espresso. When they get a new coffee, they try it all three ways; espresso is usually more complex.
Besides roast and preparation, an endless supply of variables can affect flavor. “It’s the soil, the altitude, volcanic ash sometimes,” Pat told me. “I had an Ethiopian coffee that tasted just like blueberries. Different coffees just come with different tastes.”
My coffee lesson started really, truly at the beginning — with a coffee cherry. Coffee Caravan has a tree in the tasting room. It was a little sweet, a little tart with an earthy finish.
Inside was a small, greenish and familiar looking pit — a fresh, raw coffee bean. Roasted beans are brown and split in two. This guy was whole and more round. Fun fact: A coffee bean that doesn’t split is called a peaberry.
The tree looked fine to me, but in their natural habitat they’re more lush and bushy. Coffee doesn’t grow well in Oregon; it’s a tropical fruit. Want to grow a coffee tree? Move to Brazil, the top coffee-producing nation in the world.
The lion’s share of my Java 101 class was a tour conducted by Alexander Rehm. Caravan’s coffee steward knows a lot about his business. I’ve got pages and pages of notes. The quick version is that Caravan buys all different kinds of coffee from growers all over the world. Their roastmaster, Paul Allen, roasts it in small batches and ships it out immediately. Stale coffee is a very, very bad thing, according to Alexander. There’s a special area in the warehouse for organic coffee, and the roasters are careful to keep it from touching non-organic-certified beans.
Caravan Coffee always strives to use cleanly and ethically produced beans, Alexander told me. “This industry is neat because we have the unique opportunity to have a humanitarian impact,” Alexander said.
Alexander’s personal favorite is the Organic Sumatra Mandheling brewed with the pour-over method. “It’s medium to low acidity,” he said. “Not a very complex cup.” According to Alexander, roaster Paul Allen’s favorite is Guatemala Antigua. The preference stems as much from a love for the region as love of the flavor. Nothing ties a person to a favorite place better than food and drink.
Which is why I spent an afternoon indulging in coffee culture. It’s something we do really, really well here.