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  • Writer's pictureTori Dahm

Black Gold

Have you ever been scammed by self-made social media influencer “foodies?” They make high-quality videos of low-quality cafés, post them on TikTok, get your brother’s fiancée to force you to drive 2 hours away because we “have” to try this coffee shop and take pictures for their own social media, only to get there and wait 45 minutes in line and the $7 latte you get is so bad you have to dump it in the bushes. Or does that just happen to me? I’m not sure what drives these “foodies” to lie to their viewers or themselves. Is it money, power, Le Chatelier’s Principle? Who knows? They only have on average 60 “likes” on their posts, but I guess they do exude power as I have fallen for their traps. It seems that I have been to 109 coffee shops and I can never seem to assimilate to the taste of their drinks. But why are they so gross? Am I the only one not caught in the hypnosis of these foodies? Or are their espresso drinks just truly disgustingly made but the flavor is masked by all the pomp and sugar? I would argue that my palate is not that unique nor picky, and these over-priced coffee shops are not as innocent as they seem.

When I go into a coffee shop, I cannot help but notice all the beans sitting in the hopper of their espresso machine; I have trained myself to notice the warning signs of a bad espresso. The first thing I notice is the physical characteristics of their coffee beans of choice for their espresso. I bet that I’ve tried 6 gorillion different types of beans, and there has been only one type of bean that has quenched my thirst and satiated my palate. Through trial and error, I have come to be an ardent crusader for an oily bean; much like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I salivate at the sight.

Seeing an oily hopper is a sure sign that I will at least get a decent iced quad shot espresso. Another observation I make is when the espresso is being extracted, it should come out in a dark, rich, opaque stream and not a transparent, watery one. It shouldn’t look like the espresso is coming out of the portafilter from an unfiltered tap in Flint, MI. Much like a sommelier would check the depth and hue of his reds, I check the color and opaqueness of my espresso. If I can see through my twice double shot espresso, I do not want it; it should be murkier than Lake Okeechobee.

But how does a quad become desirable as such? It all comes down to the bean. Have you ever walked into a coffee shop and ordered an espresso drink and it tasted and looked like they rung out a wet rag used to mop the breakroom of a Home Depot? Then you take a look at their hopper and notice the beans are as dry as Yosemite National Park. Then you found the answer to this metaphysical question: “what is the meaning of life if my quads taste like I already spent an eternity in hell?”

No matter the espresso machine, the blend of beans, or the skill of the barista, dry beans used for espresso drinks always taste like the streets of London circa 1300. It is at least consistent in flavor profile; sometimes I get hints of London, other times Paris. It really does take my taste buds on a tour of plague-torn Europe. Every time I go to a coffee shop, I know I will waste at least $5 on a drink that I could’ve made better at home. But why are these beans so bad and what’s the alternative? I honestly do not know what could possibly make these beans so bad other than the craft of Satan himself. It could quite possibly be God’s punishment on man for our transgressions against his Holy Will. It is similar to Sodom and Gomorrah, where God is raining hell’s fire on the earth with these unholy dry beans and I, Lot’s wife, looking back out of lust for a good quad and curiosity of a good bean, am turned into a pillar of salt. I have learned my lesson and am never again partaking in such a wasteful and almost sinful event.

There are a number of different areas that could contribute to making a bad espresso drink: the machine, the grind size, the water, the portafilter, the cleanliness of the machine, the number of grinds, the experience of the user, the bean, etc… I would like to assume that these baristas are more trained than I am with their industrial espresso machines and years of experience in the field of espresso extracting. So, I can rule out user error for myself; I have had an at-home espresso machine for not even a year now, and I can make better quads than any barista that has ever served me. I can also rule out water quality and cleanliness of the machine because my water is so hard a Boeing 767 🏙 couldn’t even go through it; and the descaling light has been on for 3 months now. If that isn’t a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is. But, oddly enough, they taste delicious. I would also like to assume with these advanced machines these coffee shops have that they are able to optimize the grind size and quantity of grinds for the bean blend they are using.

So, this really comes down to the bean type that is being used. Obviously, there are a lot of qualifiers that go into beans and bean blends: the location of the bean being roasted, how old the beans are, the type of bean being used, the ratios of the beans being used; a lot goes on here. But one bean qualifier that is the make or break is: is it oily or not? That is really all it comes down to for me.

I know at this point you might have a lot of questions for me; I am making a lot of claims and begging you to believe me so you don’t make the mistakes that I’ve made. But not everyone is so trusting. So, what makes a bean oily? How does one locate an oily bean? Why are oily beans so good?

First let me go into the chemistry of it all. Coffee beans contain thousands of compounds such as aromatic flavor compounds, melanoidins (nitrogenous and brown-colored compounds), lipids (oils), and CO2 gas. In fact, there is quite a lot of CO2 contained in the beans, 6-10 L/Kg of beans. I can’t say too much more on that, or soon enough, we will be taxed per bean. Just take a look at this very believable satellite image (not an artistic rendition nor a composite photo) of earth, showing the effects of coffee beans melting the polar ice caps.

During the roasting process, many different reactions occur at various temperatures, creating the diverse flavor components, acidity, aromatics, and body of the coffee roasts. The first step in any coffee bean roasting process is the Maillard reaction, where the green unroasted bean develops its color and flavor. That potent “coffee” aroma and flavor, 2- furfurylthiol, is formed here, when carbohydrates react with amino acids in the beans. During this time, at temperatures between 150° C (302°F) and 200°C (392°F), the sugars are also caramelized, browning the sugar and releasing aromatic and acidic compounds. If you stop the roasting process here, the bitter tasting compounds will not thermally degrade and your coffee will taste like a mixture of gefilte fish and battery acid. At this point, the bean will go from a green/yellow color to a light brown color.

The next step starts around 205°C (401°F), which is referred to as the “first crack”. At this temperature, the water inside the bean vaporizes, causing the bean to expand and crack. This is when light roast coffee beans are finished. You might be wondering why would one stop here. Obviously from the name, there must be a second crack if there’s a first crack. I would argue that someone who stops at a light roast is just lazy, impatient, and poor. This roast will be sour and acidic with nearly no viscosity (think acetone) when used to extract espresso. However, it is quick, safe, and you can easily roast at home without fear of a house fire.

A little after the “first crack,” at 220°C (428°F), pyrolysis occurs. The heat causes a chemical change within the bean and the eventual release of the CO2. This does result in some smoke emanating from the roaster. Once released, the CO2 interacts with the oxygen in the air and creates this oily or glossy shine on the bean. The color also changes during this step to a medium-brown color. This reaction continues to about 225-230°C (437-446°F), when the infamous “second crack” occurs. This crack is the cellulose in the endosperm of the coffee bean breaking apart, releasing even more aromatic compounds. A medium to a medium-dark roast is taken out anywhere between the first and second crack. A dark roast is removed anytime right after the second crack or a little longer thereafter. The general rule is to not exceed 482°F or else your property will resemble that of Northern California. So, I would argue to roast until 481°F. These beans will have had a longer time to marinate in the heat, becoming oily. They will also have a less acidic taste, as most of those acidic compounds are degraded. Extracted as an espresso, this roast will be thicker and creamier, a viscosity ranging from spent motor oil to a non-Newtonian fluid.

Typically, the longer the bean is roasted, the oilier it will be and the darker roast it is. The only valid argument that I have ever heard against oily beans is that they can clog your grinder. But that is a price that I am willing to pay to drink a good quad. A topic that could be an article in itself is where does the crema come into all of this. Crema is the foamy substance on top of the extracted espresso. This occurs when the hot water emulsifies the oils from the bean. So, the darker the roast of beans, that is the oilier beans, the more crema produced.

Why do oily beans taste so good? If the crema is any indication of a good espresso shot (it is), then that answers part of the question. According to various personal blogs that I’ve carefully selected and read because they validate my claims, dark-roasted coffee beans have a stronger flavor and are less acidic than a medium-roasted bean or a medium-dark roast. That acidic “flavor” of the dry, medium roasted beans, creates a pungent sensation in my mouth that causes my tongue to undergo transient fasciculations and subsequent muscle paralysis, much like the depolarizing neuromuscular blocking agent, succinylcholine, when it adheres to post- synaptic cholinergic receptors of the motor endplate. Refer below to this peer-reviewed study, reviewed by my peer (Lawrence Dahm), showing the mechanism of action of a dry coffee bean causing fasciculations and eventual paralysis via persistent depolarization of the neuromuscular junction.

Which brings me to the topic of “Espresso roast” coffee beans, which are a lie perpetuated by “Big Coffee” to sell the same beans as normal medium-dark roast coffee but with a novel label slapped on. This is how far capitalism has come and this is precisely why it must be destroyed. But I digress...I would avoid the “espresso roast” at all costs and opt for the darkest roast you can get. Essentially the bean needs to be roasted long and hot enough to a point where your George Bush senses start tingling; just a sniff and you will be certain that they are harboring weapons of mass destruction.

Why is it so hard to find these extra dark-roasted beans? I suppose

part of the reason is that it is more expensive and riskier for the roasters due

to a potential fire. Your typical grocery store rarely ever carries the oily dark-

roast beans. Don’t let the nice employee at Trader Joe’s convince you that

his exotic Trader Joe’s Kenya Wanawake Small Lot Coffee Medium Roast

bean makes the best espresso that he’s ever had and you need to stock up

on it. Even the reviews on Trader Joe’s website say this bean is insipid and

astringent. For a readily available oily bean, I would recommend the

Starbucks French Roast. I am unsure what the goal of these fake bean

intelligence agents are, perpetuating the lie that dry beans make good

espresso, but I can only assume there are nefarious underpinnings. My

source: trust me.

~ Tori Dahm

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