Coffee Energizing Biofuels Research

January 23, 2018 - NREL scientist Phil Pienkos' research at NREL

Photo illustration by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

By Phil Pienkos, NREL

When it comes to sustainability in the coffee supply chain, industry members have been finding creative ways to conserve on every level, from the farm to the coffee shop. But what happens to the grounds after the coffee’s brewed?

Many coffee shops already have composting programs, but what if there were a way, not only to divert used grounds from the landfill, but to use those grounds to produce energy? Research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is exploring this question — and is starting to see some exciting developments with help from the coffee industry.

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Year in Review: Our Top 5 Coffee Posts of 2017

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2017 was a big year for coffee.

What – and where – we drink is changing. Specialty trends moved into the mainstream, from the cold brew craze to the rise of RTD. Today, consumers have unprecedented control to customize their beverage, from unique flavors to nutrition-driven additives (oat milk, anyone?).

To reflect how these changes are reshaping our industry, the NCA even added a new “gourmet” category to our National Coffee Drinking Trends report.

Yet at the same time, the fundamentals of coffee remain as relevant as ever.  Whether you’re a brewing beginner or a brilliant barista, understanding the basics of what makes a quality cup is still crucial to developing and refining new brew methods and flavors. For instance: Extraction will always be a factor, and your equipment needs to be clean.

We’re looking forward to what the next year will bring – we’re seeing a lot of exciting new research on coffee and health, opportunities to improve industry best practices, and critical developments in sustainability.

But the New Year is also an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been. Here are the most popular NCA blog posts in 2017, highlighting the importance of both innovation and tradition in the world of coffee.

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Back to the Grind

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“Extraction is arguably the most important and least understood aspect of coffee brewing,” says Barista Hustle’s Matt Perger in this guide on the topic.

Put simply, extraction is the method of pulling the flavor from your coffee beans. It’s the magic that turns water and beans into a beautiful beverage. As water passes through the grounds, it dissolves all sorts of compounds that end up in your cup.

But this is where things get tricky: As Food and Wine notes, “Some of those compounds taste great, but others are kind of nasty. To get the good ones, and the right amount of them, you need to properly extract your coffee, meaning that the water dissolves the right stuff, and the right amount of it.”

As a general rule, brewing methods with longer contact time require a coarser grind (and vice versa – your espresso should be very fine). If this seems like a lot to consider before your first cup of coffee, don’t worry.
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