Life’s a grind: some insights about Coffee

Sometimes, it’s not enough to just drink coffee. I often find myself going off in daydreams about smooth and velvety coffee varieties from around the world. It keeps me up at night (literally and figuratively).

In the UK, the consumer demand for coffee is booming. We are eclectic in our tastes but without going over the top: strong and black with a splash of milk or maybe a creamy latte or a frothy cappuccino with a neatly swirled design on top. Then there are those sleek homemade espresso makers using magical ‘pods’ which inject some oopmh into the morning routine. Coffee beans

Now, just to be clear, I wont delve into how to make ‘the perfect cup of coffee’ in this post – as is so often the case of food blogs – but I will attempt to enlighten readers with some knowledge about the coffee plant itself, before exploring some of the recent innovations in the coffee world and wrapping it all up with a fantastic coffee recipe from Latin America.

Coffee regions – who are the major producers?

Six out of the top ten producers are in Central and South America – Brazil being number one with 2,886,000 tonnes produced every year (Economist, 2010-2011). The rest comprise South East Asia (Vietnam, Indonesia), Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya) and South India. Coffee trees basically produce their best beans when grown at high altitudes in a tropical climate where there is rich soil – conditions which are found around the world in locations along the Equator.

The biodiversity of the coffee plant is truly staggering. Until recently, however, not a lot of research has gone on in the field, simply because there are so many different plants growing wild in forests across vast swathes of the different continents. So the task is a slow burner.

Based on what we do know, however, which of the major coffee producing regions make the best coffee?

Opinions of coffee are purely subjective, of course, and it also comes down to factors like experience, tradition, convention. In addition, the overall quality is affected by factors like the variety of the plant, the chemistry of the soil in which it is grown, the weather (rainfall and sunshine) and altitude.

For me, I will throw down the gauntlet and say that the top prize in coffee goes to one place: Indonesia. Their Sumatran and Javanese varieties produce some of the darkest, earthiest and slightly bitter tasting coffee; almost like drinking dark chocolate. I was lucky enough to try the region’s incredible inky-dark coffee during a visit there in late 2013 – most of which had me bug eyed and buzzing for the rest of the day. Indonesia is also the home of the infamous Kopi Luwak – “The worlds most expensive coffee” – which acquires its unique taste after the beans themselves have been eaten and digested by a civet, a small mammal the size of a cat, before being harvested and used by us humans. Still fancy a cuppa?

The retail price of Kopi Luwak has been valued at around $700 (USD) / £450 (GBP) per kilo based on current figures. So if we take an average 100 g jar of everyday coffee, do some calculations, we then reach a figure of £45 for 1 equivalent jar of Kopi Luwak.

What other kinds of coffee regions are you curious about? I’d love to hear any experiences of Kenyan, Guatamalan or even the Arabian Peninsula.

Coffee traditions and innovations

There are some amazing coffee traditions from around the world; like Turkish coffee, which infuses the brew with ground cardamom, or the Malaysian speciality: diluted with vast amounts of condensed milk. Not to limit ourselves to hot drinks or the usual run-of-the-mill cakes, biscuits and ice creams, however, as many Latin American countries have traditionally used coffee beans as a major ingredient in their food (see ‘Bean Surprise’ recipe below). In Sweden it’s also used as a marinade for lamb and an ingredient in its own right.

There’s also a decent level of innovation taking place at the consumer level right now. Just the other day I read about a new coffee label, Counting Sheep, which comes with a herbal remedy designed to help you sleep. Another coffee trend which is catching on is ‘Bulletproof coffee’ – black coffee brewed with low-toxin beans, enriched with a slick of coconut oil and 2 table spoons of butter. Let me explain…

The drink was developed and by a tech millionaire who first discovered the merits of yak butter tea after an 18,000 ft hike near Mt. Kailash in Tibet. It is marketed as a new-agey, paleo-diet, high-octane panacea designed to make you feel energised, focussed and ready to take on the world. Not only that, it’s also being promoted for weight loss.

Really? All that saturated animal fat?

It sounds like something only Homer Simpson would do.

Come to think of it, though, I think he has a point. We’ve all been told that the main dangers of weight gain are sugar and refined carbohydrates, not fats. So the natural step is to cut out anything with sugar and switch to proteins, slow-release carbohydrates (like those found in vegetables) and fats.

It’s an interesting concept. For the moment, though, the jury is out (if any readers have any first hand experience of Bulletproof coffee please leave a comment).

In the meantime, please enjoy this savoury Latin American inspired dish, which features an alluring mix of coffee, dark chocolate, red wine and mixed beans.

Recipe: Coffee, bean and chocolate ‘mole’ Green and Blacks dark chocolate

On first glance it doesn’t suggest a meal of epic proportions; more of an incongruous mix of store cupboard ingredients or a hastily thrown together student meal.

For this recipe, the choice of strong instant coffee as opposed to high-quality fresh coffee is important. The chocolate should ideally be dark with around 70% cocoa solids (the bitterness along with the heat from the chilli form a great combination with the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar/red wine).

The end result is a sumptuous, darkly delicious, soupy mixture, and one that any student would be proud of.

Recipe adapted from

Serves 4


  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, ghee or coconut oil
  • 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1  fresh chilli, minced (more if you like it spicy)
  • 1 tsp ground paprika
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 bell pepper, red & yellow, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 150g walnuts, finely chopped
  • 800g canned mixed beans (butter, kidney, black eye, borlotti, cannellini)
  • 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 250 ml water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 120 ml red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • 120 ml coffee (1 tsp instant coffee mix)
  • 60g 80% dark chocolate, broken in pieces


  • Heat the oil in a large thick-bottomed saucepan. Add the onion, garlic, cumin, chilli, paprika and oregano, and fry for a few minutes, stirring occasionally until fragrant. Be careful they don’t burn.
  • Add the peppers, carrot, parsnip and celery and let them cook for another couple of minutes. Add walnuts, beans, tomatoes, water and salt and let cook for 30 minutes more. Now add red wine, coffee and chocolate, stir around carefully and let cook for 5 more minutes.

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