Note to self: do not leave Latin America if you are a coffee lover!
But seriously, folks, it's true. There are two main locations for the coffee drinkers of the world, Africa and Latin America. The coffee that they produce is not the same; African coffees have stronger overtones of flavor such as berry or citrus, while Latin American coffee tends to have a strong coffee flavor, especially when dark-roasted. I am sure that the coffee tasters can tell at once if the product that they are sampling is African or Latin. Other contenders for coffee excellence include the Caribbean and South Asia, where the climate is amenable to the coffee trees.
Considering the lifestyle options overall, I think it wouldn't be unusual to choose Latin America as the go-to place for coffee, at least until Africa comes to a more stable political environment. I mean, they may be growing coffee successfully in Somalia, but the only recommendation I can make is that anyone who wants to live government-free ought to consider retirement there. Take your arsenal with you.
As I was returning from Costa Rica to Tucson, then, we passed through Mexico City, where I noticed at once that the coffee was brewed lighter than coffee farther down the Central American land bridge from Mexico. If you like your coffee strong, you will love Central America--and Europe, for that matter, since the triple-strong coffee that I loved in Tahiti is directly influenced by coffee as it is served in France.
But once we are at home in Tucson, having shopped for some whole-bean coffee that will have all the overtones and subtleties of flavor that coffee can have, what do we do to produce the best possible brew? Here are my top five rules:
1. Drip brew your coffee using paper filters. The Internet is full of articles comparing different brands of electric coffee systems such as Senseo and Mr. Coffee, and you can find the claims of the various manufacturers and also the experiment results of publications like Consumer Reports magazine.
After the whole Costa Rica experience, by the way, I find that I do not get the kind of coffee that I want from my Senseo coffee machine. I think that is because the ground coffee contained in single-use paper filters simply cannot maintain its fresh taste. My guess would be that the Keurig type of coffee maker would do better because the coffee is sealed in airtight plastic containers even if it is already ground.
Another aspect of the K-type coffee machines is that you can get various brands of plastic re-usable brewing cups for which you can grind your own beans. This will produce one cup of fantastic coffee, I'm sure.
The simplest drip coffee pot is the Chemex, which is not much more than a beaker. It was invented, so the story goes, by scientists who wanted to work through their coffee break in the labs, so one of them invented the Chemex with its hourglass shape that holds a conical filter. Chemex is simple and elegant, and you can get one at Cost Plus World Market in Tucson.
2. Clean your coffee pot thoroughly and often. Run a cleaning solution, or vinegar (which will work) through your electric coffeepot. Use a brush or sponge to get to the inside of your Chemex. Clean the plastic baskets, cups and filters by running them through the dishwasher or soaking them in a hot detergent solution. But bottom line--keep them clean.
3. Use only filtered water--some purists say distilled water--for your coffee. There is disagreement about the distilled issue, though, and I find that any water that has been cleaned of its chlorine and other chemical content will make coffee that is noticeably better than that which was made with water from the sink. I hasten to add, though, that if nothing else is available, go for it.
4. Buy whole-bean coffee and grind it yourself. This is a cliche by now, but you will, over time, learn what you like best in coffee beans and it doesn't matter what that is, as long as you know and buy what tastes best to you. I recommend the simplest of the selection of coffee grinders that you see in the store, and they are not expensive. If you look at some of the cutesy catalogs that you get in the mail, you might find a hand grinder, which would be fun to experiment with as well.
5. Get Arabica beans only. If you cannot find a statement on the package that says something like, "100% Arabica coffee beans" or, "Pure Arabica coffee," find another package that does have that message. The major brands of ground coffee that are packed in large cans probably do not contain only Arabica beans. There is another variety of coffee beans that do not produce the kind of coffee you will find in the coffee houses, and you don't want it.
If you shop at Safeway in Tucson, you can find not only a Starbucks coffee counter in the store, but a rather extensive selection of their various blends. It was at Safeway where I first found their Blonde Roast coffee, and they also feature Latin American varieties that are clearly labeled.
For those who want to get into this like some people get into wine, go to Gevalia online and sign up for their coffee deliveries of various specialty blends. I did get them at one time and they were fantastic, although I don't do it anymore because I have not yet gotten to the bottom of what is available at the typical supermarket nowadays. That's an improvement that I really appreciate; you may recall when I complained that Whole Foods cut their coffee back severely (for no good reason that I can think of). Fortunately that situation has been reversed and Whole Foods is now right up there with everybody else, offering lots of fine coffee again.