An energy-giving wonder berry, discovered in the Ethiopian highlands by a shepherd, the beans of Coffee have travelled around the equator and reached far and wide. Commonly taken as a morning dose, for many, coffee kicks in before reality does! Every day, 2.5 billion cups of coffee are consumed world-over. While we all have our Grande extra hot low-fat milk Indian roast double espresso latte order memorized like the 2-tables, how many of us can actually tell what makes good coffee so good?
It’s all in the beans (and the roast)
A complex formula, coffee boasts of over 800 flavors and aromatic profiles to be as enticing as it is. Coffee connoisseurs nit-pick about aroma, flavor, color and depth to conclude between good and bad coffee. For the most part, however, the roast or the blend and the type of beans used determine the quality of the produce.
There are mainly two types of coffee beans that are commercially cultivated:
Coffea Arabica beans possess a bright body and are satisfyingly acidic. Though milder, they tend towards an intricate mesh of fine flavors and aromas. They are considered the gourmet beans and account for more than 60% of the world’s coffee production.
Arabica plants require quite a bit of TLC and are fussy in terms of geography. They produce the best results in higher altitudes that receive steady rain and shade. One for the more refined palate, Arabica is best served hot and freshly-brewed using drip coffee technique.
Robusta beans are shorter and rounder than their Arabica counterparts. What they lack in terms of depth, they make up for in dose (50-60% higher caffeine content than Arabica). Very well suited for mass production, Robusta is named rightly so for its hardiness. It is most commonly used in instant coffee mix.
Good quality Robusta may have hints of chocolate associated with its profile. A one-hit-wonder drug, Robusta does exactly what it says and is best served with cream and sugar. It also does better than Arabica when iced.
Other types of beans
Liberian coffee, Bengal coffee, Sierra Leonian coffee and Congo coffee are the other types of coffee beans. However, none of them, except the Liberian, are available for sale in commercial markets.
Time to roast!
While what coffee beans you use are mostly dictated by whether you like your coffee hot or cold, the main distinction in taste and aroma comes from the roasting process. The fresh green coffee beans themselves are quite bland and possess an earthy flavor – roasting elevates the properties of the beans through a process called the Maillard reaction. There are 4 distinct roasts that are used in commercial settings:
Characterized by a light brown color, light roasts are carried out for the least amount of time until temperatures reach around 356OF. Light roasts have the most amount of caffeine and the origin flavors (determined by geography and environment among other factors) are easily distinguishable. The high acidity tends to give a citrusy pushback, which some may find pleasing.
Slightly brown, medium roasts are the preferred choice for the average coffee drink. They tend to have well-balanced flavors and the acidity also lies somewhere in the middle.
Roasted until internal temperatures reach around 466OF, medium-dark roasts tend to show oil on the surface of the bean. A richer and fuller flavor profile characterizes these roasts.
Dark roasts possess a full-bodied flavor and tend to be sweeter due to the caramelized sugars in the beans. Dark roasts typically won’t show any origin characteristics. French roast is considered the darkest roast and has a smoky tone to it.
Blends, as the name suggests, is a unique combination of different roasts and beans from different regions blended together, to give a superimposition of flavor profiles.
No matter what bean you choose, consume the coffee quickly after the roasting process and don’t let it get shelved for too long. Time weakens the strength of the aromatic compounds in the beans.
Coffee is the magic drink that fuels the world, go grab a cup right away. May your coffee be strong and Mondays be short!