We’re in the third wave of the coffee craze, Claude Hammond says, and he’s happy to submerge himself in the thriving, centuries-old craft.
The first wave brought ground coffee in a can, to be brewed in a percolator on the stove or a coffee machine on the counter.
“The second wave of coffee is best-represented by chains such as Starbucks where greater care is taken toward the purchase and roasting of beans and toward the preparation of the coffee beverage,” the beverage aficionado noted. “The third wave takes it even farther,” a refinement of quality and taste by select sourcing, preparation and more.
Hammond baptized a group of locals in the crest of that wave Tuesday, visiting Brigitta’s Hungarian Restaurant on Hwy. 31 with a variety of pots, presses and beans.
“Just as you can have wine grapes from a certain region or a certain farm for a very distinct beverage, the same is true of coffee,” he said. “It can have just fabulous and unique characteristics that are just wonderful.”
His passion developed in the Middle East, and Hammond’s invested time, energy and funds in learning and perfecting his experience with the classic brew. He and his wife, Dr. Chris Baker, make their home near Abu Dhabi. Their primary occupation is tied to her work as a pediatric dentist and orthodontist: “We’re the top provider of continuing education orthodontics to general pediatric dentists around the world.”
Spending most of the last decade in the United Arab Emirates, Hammond has found multiple opportunities to hone his skills.
“The Arabian peninsula is really the birthplace of coffee and its use as a beverage. It’s a symbol of hospitality,” he said. “It’s so important, they have a coffee pot on their main currency.
“It’s a great, symbolic beverage. When you’re asked over for coffee by a local in that country, you end up usually staying for lots of food. It’s considered a gateway to showing somebody love, and showing somebody hospitality in your presence.”
The peninsula is home to some of the oldest coffees in the world, Hammond added, tucked away in the mountains of Yemen, where it arrived from Ethiopia a millennium ago.
In monasteries, “They liked to pray all night and they discovered if you drank coffee it would keep you up and you could pray,” he said. “With Yemen being such an active trading area for so many years, the coffee became popular with people like the Dutch. You find some of the great coffee-growing regions are also former French and Dutch possessions from back in the colonial era.
“The Middle East now, it’s a gateway to some of the world’s finest coffee-growing areas, East Africa and Yemen and places farther east. Coming home to Texas you realize Texas is a gateway to some excellent coffee growing places too in Central and South America and parts of the Caribbean.”
It’s a great time to catch the wave, he says, always eager to talk coffee, especially in group settings like Brigitta’s Feb. 5 exhibition and art show.
Hammond prefers Arabica beans – grown at higher altitudes, they have half the caffeine of Robusta beans.
“When you buy a can of Folgers or Maxwell House, Robusta is probably the majority of those beans,” he noted. “Robusta beans are more impervious to insects – the higher caffeine count keeps most of them away,” but his palate prefers the less bitter Arabica.
He’s very careful about the water, too.
“You can have a beautiful coffee but if you make it with tap water you’re likely going to spoil the batch. I use a spring water that has certain minerals in it that accentuate the taste, but no chlorine, no fluoride, nothing that you would find in tap water that would affect the taste.”
Start with excellent coffee beans. Ensure they’re prepared well, roasted – don’t be taken in by marketing, Hammond insists.
“You see all these labels bandied about on bags of coffee,” such as ‘Certified Organic,’ ‘Bird-Friendly,’ ‘Rainforest-Friendly’ or ‘Fair Trade.’ “The one label that I like is ‘Direct Trade,’ because it means you’re dealing directly with the farmers or the cooperative of farmers. You’re putting money directly in the pockets of farmers.
“Right now world coffee prices have been depressed. A lot of these countries where they farm coffee are not wealthy countries. Direct trade ensures that the farmer makes more money.”
Also, for Hammond, farmers yield the better beans.
“What we call a coffee bean is actually a seed – it’s a seed inside a fruit,” he added. Mass harvesting by machines means every fruit is picked, not just the ripe ones. Hammond trusts farmers, their families and their workers, to judge the best time: “What is important is that you pick it when it’s ripe.”
Hammond’s now turning his side passion into a side-occupation.
“We’re actually starting a coffee business in East Texas where we’re sourcing very special coffees from farms and areas in Central and South America and the Middle East and bringing them to Texas, making them available to individuals as well as select restaurants and cafés,” he said. Wo Wo Joe Coffee is on the way: “We’re not in full swing yet, but we’re getting there.”
Learn more about the forthcoming brand at wowojoecoffee.com.