HOW coffee is made

According to research done by the National Coffee Association, approximately 112 million Americans were "every day coffee drinkers" in 2006.  Each year another 3-5% of the population joins in as an every day drinker racking up $18 Billion a year spent on coffee by Americans.  The average coffee drinker has 3 cups a day, which means about 336 million cups of coffee are consumed every day in America.  That number grows exponentially when you look at worldwide consumption.  Coffee is the second most popular drink after water at a staggering 1.4 billion cups of coffee consumed every day around the world.  Over 100 million people depend on coffee as a source of income.

I recently had a chance to visit one of the world's best coffee producing regions.  Kona, on the big island of Hawai'i is 22 square miles of ideal coffee-growing "terroir".  That's a wine term meaning the combination of weather, soil, climate, slope and all other elements that give a place its "placeness".  It's what makes a place unique.  Terroirs are like snow flakes, no two are the same.  Kona coffee fetches upwards of $20-30 a pound compared to the $6-$10 a pound you pay at the grocery store.  Kona coffee is known for rich, bold flavors without high levels of acid or bitterness.

Greenwell Coffee Farms is the oldest family-owned coffee producer in Kona.  Henry Nicholas Greenwell arrived in Kona from England in 1850.  He lived with his wife and 10 children where we built a successful coffee export business.  Over time, Greenwell became well known in Europe and America for having reliable quality Kona coffee.

Today, Greenwell Farms is run by fourth generation family members who still farm 35 acres of prime coffee growing land at about 1,500 feet elevation.  During my visit I learned there are a number of similarities between growing coffee and wine grapes.  For example, wine grapes and coffee trees both do well in volcanic soil, both do well in altitudes of 600-1,200 feet in elevation, both need some sun exposure (but not too much), both get pruned down to the stump after harvest and both go through flowering before they produce fruit.  Coffee trees are technically fruit trees, and the coffee fruit it called cherries.

Watching the harvesting and processing of the coffee beans was a unique experience.  The end result was a coffee every bit as good as advertised.  Greenwell's 100% Kona coffee's were rich yet smooth without any of the bitter acid reflux.  Kona coffee is famous for being low in acid.  Because Kona coffee is so popular, yet expensive, you might find coffee's that say 10% Kona on the package.  They do this to keep the price down, yet get the name on the label.

Sadly, many of the growers barely make any money even though they're selling their coffee at $20 a pound.  The reason it's so expensive is all the labor that goes into producing some of the world's best coffee.  From picking, to drying, to sorting and roasting—every step of the way requires doing it by hand.  Machines aren't used for anything during the process.  Because of that, the Kona coffee can't be made by automating any step of the process.  Greenwell employs 50 people in the production facility, which is a significant number considering they farm 35 acres.

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Vintage 2010 in Napa Valley: Sugar and Acidity

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Napa Valley
Image via Wikipedia

Two of the important things to look for in a wine are the fruit and the acidity.  There are a few easy ways to detect these markers in a wine.  You may have heard a wine described as "New World" or "Old World".  When you hear that, it's another way to say the wine is fruit-driven or acid-driven.

Basically, hot temperatures raise sugar content, and cold temperatures raise acidity.

But what do those things taste like?  Sugar content is perceived in New World wines via fruit-driven structure, and can describe wines from regions like the U.S., Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.  Acidity drives the structure in wines grown in colder climates like France, Germany and other European regions.  Many of those soils tend to be Limestone or gravel, rather than a volcanic soil like you might find in the U.S..  The way you sense acid is on the roof of your mouth towards the back.  If you swallow the wine and you get a lingering sensation in that area, you are picking up acidity.  Fruit driven wines tend to be sweeter and jammier, showing up on the front of the tongue (or palate).

In Napa Valley, there's a nice mix of temperatures that give the wines heat during the day, and cold temperatures at night.  The fruit and acidity live in concert with each other, but overall the wines are fruit driven.  This year, however, Napa is experiencing one of the coldest summers on record.  Know how you know that?  Well, besides the weatherman telling us so, Napa is usually starting harvest at this time of year.  But this year, grapes are still hanging on the vine because the fruit isn't ripe enough yet.  Harvest may not start for another three weeks  almost a month behind schedule!  That could be perceived as a bad thing, but it's not if you have the right wine maker.  What Napa may end up with is a rarity they don't have very often, which is higher than normal acid levels in the wines along with the higher sugar levels.  A winemaker who knows what they're doing may find their fruit has the best of both worlds.

Usually, Napa Valley gets a morning fog influence from the San Pablo bay that cools the grapes at night.  That blanket of fog is consistent almost every day in the summer months as the center of California heats up.  By mid day the fog burns off providing the right amount of heat and sunshine to increase sugar levels.  This is different than say, Walla Walla, Washtington where longer days at a higher latitude provide more sunshine for ripening, and cool temperatures at night.  At that latitude you're getting closer to Alaska, where summer days seem to last until midnight.  The sun is lower on the horizon, which means the heat isn't as intense.

So when you get to try any 2010 vintage wines from Napa, look for the acidity on the roof of your mouth toward the back.  The verdict on vintage 2010 will be out until the reds get released into the marketing some time in 2013.  Cheers!

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Artesian Sea Salt from Mendocino

I met Captain Bob La Mar at the San Rafael farmer's market.  Bob and his wife, Lora were looking for a way to share their love of the Northern California ocean with others.  Lora created a seasoning to give out as holiday gifts by simmering down the ocean water until it was salt.  The result was a salt with a unique taste and texture.

I'm going to experiment with some of their seasonings, especially the Sea Smoke.  It has a smokey BBQ salt smell that might be perfect for seasoning ribs.  Another possible use that might be fun is on popcorn.  I told Captain Bob there was a Pinot Noir producer called Sea Smoke in California.  Might be fun to do a Sea Smoke wine+food pairing one night.

Check out Mendocino Sea Salt on Foodzie

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Southwestern Skillet Steak with Chipotle Salsa

. In the middle of winter grills often sit covered in snow, waiting for a nice day to come along so they can once again serve as man's other best friend.  That leaves BBQ fans challenged to cook their steaks indoors and still get that grilled texture.  My father-in-law introduced me to this recipe that will scratch the itch for people who love a good grilled steak.

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INGREDIENTS for STEAKS 2 8-ounce New York strip steaks (about 1" thick), trimmed 2 TBSP olive oil 1 TSP coarse salt 1 large onion, sliced 2 large garlic cloves, chopped 2 TBSP chopped fresh cilantro 1 TBSP plus 1 TSP chili powder 1/4 TSP dried crushed red pepper 1/4 TSP Cumin 1 TBSP water 2 poblano chilies, seeded, sliced Additional chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Mix in onion, garlic, 2 TBSP chopped cilantro, 1 TBSP chili powder and crushed red pepper. Add 1 TBSP water. Cover and cook mixture 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chilies and sauté until tender about 6 minutes. Transfer mixture to plate leaving some bits in the skillet.

Rub each steak with salt, pepper, cumin and 1/2 teaspoon chili powder. Raise heat to high and add steaks to same skillet. Cook as desired, about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to platter and cover with aluminum foil. Top steaks with cilantro. Serve with onion mix on top or on the side with salsa.

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INGREDIENTS for CHIPOTLE SALSA 3 cups fresh corn kernals (about 3 ears) 4 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced separately 2 TBSP unsalted butter 2 garlic cloves, minced 1-½ TSP coarse salt 1-½ TSP ground cumin 1-TSP chili powder ½ TSP black pepper 2 plum tomatoes, finely diced 1 to 2 fresh chipotle chiles, finely diced, including seeds

Heat a dry large cast-iron skillet over moderately high heat until hot, then pan-roast corn, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Cook white part of scallions in butter with garlic, 1 TSP salt, ½ TSP each cumin and chili powder, and ¼ TSP pepper in skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until scallions are tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in corn, tomatoes, and chipotles.

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WINE PAIRINGS - With most steaks you can pair most hearty reds like Cabernet, Meritage blends or similar wines.  Because this steak has some heat, you want a hearty red with a ripe style so the sweetness offsets the heat.  Think of wines with a "jammy" component like some Australian Shiraz or Petite Sirah style wines.  The finished steak will have texture that is almost blackened.  Here's a few wines that will marry up nicely:

one of my favorite Australian wineries

The Tapestry wines are phenomenal!  And they're widely available in the U.S. in most states.  This wine should be between $15 and $20 on the shelf at most retailers.  I like it because you get the riper style without over extraction.  This gem comes in at 14.5% alcohol and is aged in French, Yugoslavian and American oak.

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Quixote wines from Napa have reinvigorated my love for Petite Sirah.  The winery sits nestled away in the hills of the Stag's Leap District right next door to Shafer.  Full throttle, dark, inky, naughty, funkified velvety goodness that'll stand up to this meal.  Enjoy!

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Presidential Rack of Lamb a la Richelieu

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When President and Mrs Reagan visited Paris in the mid 1980's they did have many official functions including a diplomatic dinner with President and Madame Francoise Mitterand at the Elysee Palace (the White House of France) Naturally, the diplomatic decorum demanded that the American guests of honor should return the invitation. The Reagans were staying at the US Embassy and decided to honor the French President and first lady with non American food. The chefs at the US Embassy were French chefs. The Lamb recipe is very fancy in terms of prestige. It was put together by chef Auguste Esccoffier at the turn of the 20th century. It was named in honor of Cardinal Armand de Richelieu, who was chief minister to King Louis XIII in the 17th century.

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INGREDIENTS 2 racks, 6 chops each., have the butcher cut the chine bone for easy serving of chops.

Marinade: 1/2 bottle of white wine 1/2 cup of quality olive oil 1 medium onion sliced 1 whole bay leaf crumbled 1/2 teaspoon of dried marjoram, or 2 TBSP of fresh if available 8 black peppercorns, coarsly crushed 1/2 TSP of dried thyme, or 2 TSP of fresh salt to taste

Marination needs to be a minimum of 4 hr. Overnight would be good. Keep turning and spoon over the rack.

Place in the oven and grill at 450 degrees for 30-40 minutes depending on cooking level preferred. Keep to lamb warm in the oven while the sauce is being made.

Sauce: Place the drippings in a fry pan. Remove some of the fat. Add a cup of port or madeira. Reduce under high heat. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of butter one at a time. Serve the sauce in a gravy boat at the table.

marinate AT LEAST 4 Hrs.

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