Major Cohen, Starbucks’ Senior Coffee Education Specialist visited Delhi in September. Major Cohen began his journey with Starbucks in 1995 as a part-time Barista in Boston. Today, the world recognizes him as a Global Coffee Ambassador of Starbucks. A life-long coffee fan, Major Cohen is a Senior Coffee Education Specialist at Starbucks. In 2003, he moved to Seattle and became one of nine respected coffee-education specialists at the company headquarters. Here, we caught up with him for a quick conversation with Sid Khullar to learn his thoughts on coffee.
Sid Khullar (SK): Coffee is found with increasing regularity in the health section of publications, some for it, some against it. What’s your take on coffee from a health perspective?
Major Cohen (MC): There are many things that people say about coffee and we are not the ones who create the myths or the story. We’re really pleased that science has continued to validate that coffee is something that is good for you and would never recommend any medical opinion because that is up to the doctors and the scientists. The message that we at Starbucks share, is that we’re finding the world’s greatest coffee and that we’re roasting it to perfection and then delivering it in a great way. Coffee packs a ton of nutrients which are beneficial to one’s health however everything is great when taken in the right amount.
SK: Different cultures see children beginning with coffee at different ages. Some cultures start them off at less than 10 years of age and others don’t let their young touch the stuff till well into their teens. When do you think it’s alright for kids to start drinking coffee?
MC: I remember fondly my mother telling me that I used to ask for coffee when I was too little to be actually asking for it. I was a youngster, so I would be given coffee with a lot of milk and a lot of sugar. But I’ve been drinking coffee and liking coffee for a long, long time. So I’d suggest for all mothers to do what they think is right for their kids as they know best!
SK: While coffee is traditionally a drink, quite a few people find it interesting to cook with, some chefs swearing by combinations of coffee with demi glace. Have you cooked with coffee or eaten food cooked with coffee? Tell us all about it.
MC: I have never cooked with coffee but I have tasted some mouthwatering dishes cooked with it. Moreover, I enjoy experimenting with food and coffee pairings, since coffee itself has a very independent flavour I find it interesting to pair food that complements the coffee. Listing below a few remarkable food and coffee pairing combinations that we have tried before –
Starbucks® Veranda Blend™: In Latin America, coffee farms are often run by families, with their homes on the same land as where their coffee grows. We’ve sipped coffee with these farmers for decades, sitting on their verandas, overlooking the lush beauty of the coffee trees rolling out in the distance. Most times it was a lightly roasted coffee like this one. It took us more than 80 tries to get it right – mellow and flavourful with a nice softness
- Flavour Notes – Mellow and soft
- Complementary Flavours – Milk chocolate and Toasted nuts
- Food Pairing – Almond and Butterscotch Cookie & Roasted Nuts
Starbucks® India Estates Blend (IEB): IEB Coffee is historic as it is the first coffee from India in the Starbucks World. Introduced in 2013 to celebrate the 1st Anniversary of Starbucks in India, IEB has the characteristics of all the core coffees sold in India. IEB has hints of cocoa as found in the Starbucks® Veranda Blend. It has citrus notes just like the Starbucks® Kenya Coffee & ultimate body found in Starbucks® Sumatra coffee.
- Flavour Notes – Chocolate and Herbal
- Complementary Flavours – Chocolate, cinnamon, tarragon, rosemary
- Food Pairing – Basil Tomato & Mozarella Cheese Sandwich and Chocolate Brownie
Starbucks® Sumatra: Full-bodied with a smooth mouthfeel, lingering flavours of dried herbs and fresh earth, and almost no acidity. Our roasters love transforming these unpredictable beans from dark coral green to tiger-orange to a rich, oily mahogany, revealing bold flavours that many us of us can’t live without.
- Flavour Notes – Earthy and Herbal
- Complementary Flavours – Cinnamon, oatmeal, maple, butter, toffee & cheese
- Food Pairing – Mediterranean Focaccia with Roast Vegetables & Oatmeal and Raisin Cookie
SK: Is there an ideal terroir for coffee growing too? How do different climactic conditions affect coffee bean production?
MC: When it comes to the flavours of coffee we go all over the world. Where your coffee was grown can truly define its flavor. The soil, climate and altitude a coffee tree is exposed to, as well as the method by which the green coffee is processed, affect the ultimate flavor.
We often talk about Latin America, Africa and Asia Pacific as the places that we go, and each of those places has coffee that will taste remarkably different. All of the coffee is 100% Arabica but each of the growing regions is delivering different flavours of coffee and the flavours are not coming from any flavoring. The flavours are coming from something that I describe as “the miracle of nature”. Coffee is growing on a tree and so the way the farmer, the owner of the tree treats the product when it is growing is going to contribute, but they cannot do it alone. Nature will always play a part – the wind, the sun, the rain and the earth all the things that are contributing to coffee growing are going to be very important. The second thing that will happen to coffee that will contribute flavour is going to be the removal of the outside of the seed because the seed is what we need, and the way the seed is gotten to is sometimes with a lot of water and sometimes simply with the sun. In our world we call that “processing”. The “Miracle of nature” and “processing” are what come together to give coffee its flavour.
SK: How does Starbucks promote coffee culture worldwide?
MC: For 40+ years we have been going far away from Seattle to buy the world’s best coffee and we have become really good at sourcing that coffee, really good at roasting it and more important than that delivering it. The thing that sets us apart the most is what our partners do everywhere in the globe to deliver the Starbucks Experience of the great freshly roasted and beautifully sourced coffee.
SK: Where does Starbucks source its coffee from and how does it ensure consistency of quality for its worldwide operations?
MC: We select our coffee based on very stringent requirements, we often say that we are relentlessly pursuing the world’s greatest coffee and we are extremely picky. If you look at the world’s entire crop each year, we only get about 2-3% of it because that’s all that would really match the requirements of Starbucks stringent standard.
We’ve always believed in buying and serving the best coffee possible. And it’s our goal for all of our coffee to be grown under the highest standards of quality, using ethical trading and responsible growing practices. We think it’s a better cup of coffee that also helps create a better future for farmers and a more stable climate for the planet.
Drawing inspiration from the finest Arabica beans which have been carefully selected from Tata Coffee’s estates spread across Coorg and Chickmagalur, we launched the India Estates Blend on 21 October, 2013 which is a coffee that is a 100 percent grown and sourced in India.
To ensure consistency across all the coffee that , there are four basic fundamentals: proportion, grind, water and freshness. Once you understand and follow the guidelines for each of them, you’re sure to get a great cup of coffee every time.
The general rule for coffee-making is two tablespoons (10 grams) of ground coffee for each six ounces (180 millilitres) of water. Too many coffee grounds results in over-extracted or bitter coffee. Too few grounds results in under-extracted coffee that does not achieve the full flavour of the blend. Proportion is the most common coffee-making mistake and yet the easiest mistake to correct.
Different brewing methods require different grinds. A grind that is too fine will trap water and result in a bitter, unpleasant brew. A grind that is too coarse leaves coffee weak and without distinguishing characteristics or flavours. Coffee connoisseurs agree that the best coffee – thick, rich and truest to its flavour profile – is made in a traditional coffee press.
Coffee is 98 percent water. The type of water used when brewing coffee greatly affects the final taste. Always use clean, fresh water that is filtered or free of impurities – avoid soft water or well water. Water heated to just off the boil (195º-205ºF or 90º-96ºC) does the best job of extracting the coffee’s full range of flavours. Water that is too cool will mute the flavour and dull the coffee’s aroma.
Coffee’s biggest enemies are oxygen and moisture. Store coffee in an airtight container (preferably opaque) at room temperature. Storing coffee in the refrigerator or freezer can result in moisture from condensation and is not recommended for daily use. If possible, use coffee within a week of opening. Coffee should be ground fresh each time it is made. Grinding exposes more surface area to oxygen, releasing flavour and freshness. Brewed coffee should be stored in a thermal carafe and never left on the burner or reheated.
SK: Any words for coffee aficionados who’d like to learn more about the subject?
MC: In the past few decades, I was pleasantly surprised to see the flourishing Coffee culture in India and especially Mumbai which has really led to an overwhelming need for coffee education. To all the coffee aficionados here in India, I would say if they love coffee so much then now is the time that they should begin to understand everything they can about what are the best ways of grinding the beans, a wise way of storing the coffee and the proper way of preparing it to enjoy their coffee. Being a coffee fan all my life, I have enjoyed every moment of my journey with Starbucks, learning new and more interesting things everyday about coffee.