Sunday, January 27, 2008

What Is Italian Roast, and Why is it so Oily?

Ever been transfixed at the market by open containers of gleaming coffee beans? Reflecting light like something measured in carats not ounces, Italian roast coffee shines dark among all the other types of bean. But what is Italian roast? And why does it emit such lustre?

A young Mozzadrella wondered if the Italian roast was named so because of its greasy texture…was “Italian Roast” a plainclothes ethnic slur?

Well, coffee grows closer to the equator than Italy—the name has nothing to do with the source of the beans, but how long they are roasted for (12-13 minutes between 370 and 540 degrees). At times these beans are referred to as “espresso beans,” although really the fine grind of the bean defines “espresso,” not the bean’s color (I am told both light and dark beans do just fine in the large steaming machine).

Italian roast is the penultimate stage in the roasting spectrum, beat to the punch by the French, which, I suppose, invalidates the ethnic slur theory:

(The Italian roast is second from right)

As it turns out, the roasting process itself brings these oils to the surface of the bean. The gloss is sometimes called cafeoil, though my findings to support this are paltry. I’m told that the oils impart much of the coffee’s flavor and “body” (I sort of hate the subjective concept of body to describe a liquid’s heft. It’s confusing and synesthesic, but alas).

However, greasy glossy coffee in your market is bad bad bad (however, I love Sahadi’s so I will continue to grace them with my revenue). When exposed to oxygen, the oil from the coffee bean causes it to self-destruct, so open vats of dazzling coffee translate to wilting flavor in your cup. Buy your coffee vacuum packed, or at a place that roasts on site, for the least amount of damaging grease.

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