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Finding the “Best of the Best” in Coffee

  • Posted on May 29, 2018 at 2:45 pm

Tips for Finding Perfect Premium Coffee…

There is coffee and THERE IS COFFEE! You likely know about the generic quality coffees you find at the supermarket, using the inferior Robusta beans. And, in contrast, there is the alternative: the coffee regularly termed Gourmet Coffee you buy direct from roasters around the country. Popular large volume roasters, like Starbucks as well as most of the the smaller roasters dispersed about town, essentially utilize this far better grade, high altitude, shade grown Arabica bean.

That being said, and broadly known by all nowadays, how can you siphon out the crème de la crème of gourmet coffee beans to purchase?

To begin with, let’s hone in specifically on taste. Nowadays, coffee has become a “drink of experts”…
evolved into an art of reflection! We’ve begun to savor our coffee…flavor identify and define the subtle hints and nuances, as well as the qualities that identify the bean’s continent of origin. You as a coffee drinker, can begin to explore and experience the undertones of your coffee’s region, but better yet, begin to revel in the independently specific flavors of the bean defined by the specific hill and farm where it’s grown.

Coffee Cupping: Defining Coffee by its “Underlying Flavors”

There are, nowadays, a limited number of coffee roasters that independently test their coffee beans for taste observations and aromas. These beans are graded and assessed just like fine wine. This activity is called Coffee Cupping or Coffee Tasting. Professionals known as Master Tasters are the assessors. The procedure involves deeply sniffing a cup of brewed coffee, then loudly slurping the coffee so it draws in air, spreads to the back of the tongue, and maximizes flavor.

These Master Tasters, much akin to wine tasters, then attempt to measure in detail, every aspect of the coffee’s taste. This assessment includes measurement of the body (the texture or mouth-feel, such as oiliness), acidity (a sharp and tangy feeling, like when biting into an orange), and balance (the innuendo and the harmony of flavors working together). Since coffee beans embody telltale flavors from their region or continent of their origin, cuppers may also attempt to predict where the coffee was grown.

There is an infinite range of vocabulary that is used to describe the tastes found in coffee. Descriptors range from the familiar (chocolaty, sweet, fruity, woody) to the conceptual (clean, vibrant, sturdy) to the wildly esoteric (summery, racy, gentlemanly).

Following are a few key characteristics as defined by Coffee Geek. (http://coffeegeek.com/guides/beginnercupping/tastenotes)

Key Characteristics

Acidity:

The brightness or sharpness of coffee: It is through the acidity that many of the most intriguing fruit and floral flavors are delivered, and is usually the most scrutinized characteristic of the coffee. Acidity can be intense or mild, round or edgy, elegant or wild, and everything in between. Usually the acidity is best evaluated once the coffee has cooled slightly to a warm/lukewarm temperature. Tasting a coffee from Sumatra next to one from Kenya is a good way to begin to understand acidity.

Body:

This is sometimes referred to as “mouthfeel”. The body is the sense of weight or heaviness that the coffee exerts in the mouth, and can be very difficult for beginning cuppers to identify. It is useful to think about the viscosity or thickness of the coffee, and concentrate on degree to which the coffee has a physical presence. Cupping a Sulawesi versus a Mexican coffee can illustrate the range of body quite clearly.

Sweetness:

One of the most important elements in coffee, sweetness often separates the great from the good. Even the most intensely acidic coffees are lush and refreshing when there is enough sweetness to provide balance and ease the finish. Think of lemonade…starting with just water and lemon juice, one can add sugar until the level of sweetness achieves harmony with the tart citric flavor. It is the same with coffee, the sweetness is critical to allowing the other tastes to flourish and be appreciated.

Finish:

While first impressions are powerful, it is often the last impression that has the most impact. With coffee the finish (or aftertaste) is of great importance to the overall quality of the tasting experience, as it will linger long after the coffee has been swallowed. Like a great story, a great cup of coffee needs a purposeful resolution. The ideal finish to me is one that is clean (free of distraction), sweet, and refreshing with enough endurance to carry the flavor for 10-15 seconds after swallowing. A champion finish will affirm with great clarity the principal flavor of the coffee, holding it aloft with grace and confidence like a singer carries the final note of a song and then trailing off into a serene silence.

Coffee Buying Caveat

Buying coffee simply by name instead of by taste from your favorite roaster (in other words buying the same Columbian Supreme from the same “Joe’s Cuppa Joe Roaster”) definitely has its pitfall! According to Coffee Review, “Next year’s Clever-Name-Coffee Company’s house blend may be radically different from this year’s blend, despite bearing the same name and label. The particularly skillful coffee buyer or roaster who helped create the coffee you and I liked so much may have gotten hired elsewhere. Rain may have spoiled the crop of a key coffee in the blend. The exporter or importer of that key coffee may have gone out of business or gotten careless. And even if everyone (plus the weather) did exactly the same thing they (and it) did the year before, the retailer this time around may have spoiled everything by letting the coffee go stale before you got to it. Or you may have messed things up this year by keeping the coffee around too long, brewing it carelessly, or allowing a friend to pour hazelnut syrup into it.”

Your savvy coffee-buying alternative is to look for roasters who buy their beans in Micro-Lots- smaller (sometimes tiny) lots of subtly distinctive specialty coffees. According to Coffee Review, “These coffee buyers buy small quantities of coffee from a single crop and single place, often a single hillside, and are sold not on the basis of consistency or brand, but as an opportunity to experience the flavor associated with a unique moment in time and space and the dedication of a single farmer or group of farmers.”

Coffee Review: Coffee Ratings

And finally, look out for the very small community coffee roasters that will submit their coffees to be 3rd-party evaluated by Coffee Review and other competitions for independent analysis and rating. Coffee Review regularly conducts blind, expert cuppings of coffees and then reports the findings in the form of 100-point reviews to coffee buyers. These valuable Overall Ratings can provide you with a summary assessment of the reviewed coffees. They are based on a scale of 50 to 100.

Bottom line for a certain premium purchase: To find the coffee that will ascertain most flavor satisfaction, seek out beans that been independently reviewed and rated. This approach will, without a doubt offer you the advantage of being able to choose the flavor profile suits you best in a bean. What’s more, it gains you certainty in quality due to its superior rating. The higher the rating, the better the flavor. True premium coffees start from the upper 80’s. By finding a roaster that consistently rates within the 90’s will ultimately buy you the best java for your buck!

Coffee Roasts 101 – What Are You Drinking?

  • Posted on May 29, 2018 at 2:31 pm

You’re new to the world of coffee and you want to digest as much information as possible in the simplest way to consume. You’ve been drinking your father’s Yuban for years and you just know there has to be something better out there. You want to buy good coffee, but you’re not sure where to start. This guide will serve as your starting point, your beacon of hope in the night.

Let us begin with simple terminology and then we’ll move on to a more refined glossary. There are three ‘main’ categories of roast. There is the Light Coffee Roast, Dark Coffee Roast, and Medium Coffee Roast. To put it simply any coffee you choose is going to fall upon this range of flavor. Each roast is denoted as such by the time spent in the roaster, the temperature it is roasted at, and the color of the bean after the roast.

Coffee Roasting:

This is the process of transforming a green coffee bean into its more noticeable self, the roasted coffee bean. Coffee roasting can last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes and goes through multiple stages of low to high heats in order to capture the complexities and flavors that are sought in the final production. Coffee has a large spectrum of flavor and color that denotes its characteristics.

Light Coffee Roast:

A light coffee roast is perhaps the least popular of all coffee roasts, but that isn’t to say that it is the least desired coffee or that it is inherently worse than a darker roast. Quite the opposite is true in that a light coffee is more apt to capture the true flavor of a coffee bean. Because its flavors will stay intact a green coffee bean of high quality and desired taste is much more suited to a lighter roast. A lower quality coffee bean will be roasted longer and at higher temperatures to mask its inferior taste.

A light coffee roast will typically have more caffeine than its darker counterpart. As a coffee bean roasts longer the caffeine is ‘burned off’ thus a lighter roast will keep more caffeine intact.

Certain regions and blends are more apt to produce a high quality light roast coffee. Roasters often choose a particular region of green bean coffee to use in their light roast coffee.

How to tell if you’re drinking a Light Coffee Roast?

A light coffee roast is denoted by its light body, full taste, and its bright liveliness. The first impression you will experience is the taste. Because the green coffee bean has been roasted for as little time as possible the true flavors are still in tact. As the coffee is tasted across the palate you will be able to extract the full flavor of the bean. The finishing taste of the light coffee is often described as sweet or lively. A bad light roast will have the acidic taste of grass left on your palate. A good light roast will have a slightly acidic, floral aromatic finish to it often described as citrus or fruity in flavor.

Dark Coffee Roast:

The dark coffee roast is the second most popular of all the coffee roasts, but that isn’t to say that it’s the best roast available. It is often characterized as a dark roast because of the amount of time spent in the roaster and the temperature at which it is roasted. A coffee bean that has been subjected to longer roasting times and higher temperatures will lose a majority of its true green coffee bean flavor. This results in a more uniformed taste and consistency. Often times lower quality coffee beans will be dark roasted because of this. However, there is still a large difference that can be noted when high quality coffee beans are dark roasted.

Just about any green coffee bean can be dark roasted and still have a drinkable taste. Because the process of roasting a coffee to its breaking point nullifies any of the off tastes and inconsistencies that can be found in a green bean, the region of the green coffee bean is of less importance to the roaster when creating their dark coffee roast.

How to tell if you’re drinking a Dark Coffee Roast?

A dark coffee roast is denoted by its full body and its smooth liveliness. The first impression you will experience is that the taste is more neutral when compared to a light roast. As the green coffee bean is roasted longer it neutralizes any off tastes and creates a more uniform taste. The dark coffee will be most noticeably smoother than its light counter part. The longer the green coffee bean spends roasting the less acidity is left to impart on the palate. It will have a finishing taste that is less pronounced and considered smoother as a result.

Medium Coffee Roast:

The medium coffee roast covers the full gambit of coffee that fall somewhere between a light and a dark coffee. Entirely up to the roaster and the region of the coffee bean it can have a medium to full body flavor and either a smooth or slightly acidic after taste. Its goal is to provide the best of both the light and the dark coffee. It wants to capture the flavor of the green bean without leaving its off marks in place. It is a highly artisan practice to create a well balanced medium roast.

You will find that most coffee blends you drink will be considered of the medium roast variety. A roaster will carefully choose which regions to blend together to capture the just the right flavor from the roasting process.

How to tell if you’re drinking a Medium Coffee Roast?

A medium coffee roast is denoted by its medium body and its smooth-bright liveliness. Because it covers such a wide range of flavors, the medium roast is perhaps the most popular coffee. It allows the roaster flexibility to derive the most flavor from the green coffee bean. If the coffee you’re drinking lingers on your palate and finishes with a lively flavor you’re probably drinking a medium roast coffee.

Conclusion:

Coffee comes in all different forms. There is no right or wrong choice, simply put; it is a matter of personal opinion. When choosing your coffee roast a general rule of thumb is that as the sun rises in the morning it is time for a light coffee roast and as the sun sets it is time for a dark coffee roast. In between the two, feel free to drink the medium coffee roast.