From Bean to Cup
The Best Coffee Bean
The commercial world of coffee today knows two major varieties of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta.
Robusta beans are bigger, but flavor-empty, and with double caffeine content than Arabica. The Robusta plants grow at low altitudes and are very resistant to diseases. Due to that, Robusta beans are cheaper on the coffee market and considered lower quality. They are used with prevalence in the processing of instant coffee.
Arabica is a small tree that loves the subtropical climate of Indonesia, Africa, South America, Central America and Mexico, and best develops at high altitudes (between 2000 and 6000 feet). The flowers of the Arabica coffee tree are white, with a delicate smell that resembles jasmine and they self-pollinate. Arabica beans are better than Robusta, as they provide more flavor and acidity in the coffee cup.
The wild Arabica tree grows 14 to 20 feet tall, but on the coffee plantations it is pruned to 6-8 feet, in order to allow the coffee reapers easy access to the fruits. The coffee tree is an ever-green. The most famous Arabica species are typica and bourbon.
Varying with the climate (more rainy or more dry), the coffee cherries ripe differently. In a warm, rainy climate, the fruits ripe homogeneously. In a dryer climate where rain falls sporadically, flowers and ripe fruits may cohabitate on the twigs. In this case, selective picking is required.
The best (and most expensive) coffee results from manually, individually picked fruits. This method, while more complicated and laborious, provides uniformity to the coffee crop and does not allow leaves, twigs or other litters to interfere with coffee fruits. Usually you find twin-seeds in each coffee fruit but there are anomalies that occur. The most common of all is the developing of a single seed in the fruit. Those specimens are sold separately on the market as peaberry coffee.
The Drying, Sorting and Grading Processes
After the harvest the coffee beans are cleaned of the fruit-remains. There are three methods that can be used:
the dry ("traditional") method - the fruits are left into the sun to dry; if you are lucky and it doesn't rain, the coffee taste won't be ruined; the resulted coffee is also called 'unwashed' or 'natural';
the wet method, from which the 'washed coffee' results, consists of removing the fruity-pulp before it gets dry on the seed;
the semy-dry method - is a combination among the previous two: the skin is removed from the fruits while they are fresh-picked and then the pulp is allowed to dry on the beans.
After drying, the beans are cleaned and sorted (by eye & hand, by color, by size & density). Hand sorting is also called 'European preparation' and is the only way-to-go for specialty beans.
The grading process includes categorization: the bean size, the altitude, how the beans were picked and dried, how frequently defective beans appear etc.
The Roasting Process
In the roasting process the bean dehydrates and becomes smaller; then, the sugars start to caramelize and the coffee bean releases oily substances that are flavor carriers; every crop of coffee beans is different, thus no roast will resemble another; we can't enunciate any rule to guarantee a perfect cup. Commercial coffee is roasted professionally. Specialty beans are usually roasted by the consumer himself/herself. The final quality depends on individual skill and taste. It is said that a cup of coffee tastes as bad as the weakest link in the chain from crop to cup. See the Coffee Roasters Section to learn more about roasting and roast types.
The Grinding Process
Using pre-ground coffee is usually a blasphemy to the passionate coffee consumer. If there is no other solution, we recommend buying vacuum packs. Even so, there's no way to know when the coffee was roasted and how long it was before grinding and packing. Sometimes, the ground may be uneven and too coarse, certainly not the type you need for your gourmet espresso cup. Not to mention the beans' grade you'll never know. Read about home coffee grinding; no effort you can save is worth a bad taste in your coffee.
The Art of Blending
Blending coffee can be as rewarding as any handcrafted item that we finally get to enjoy for our own use, or share with our friends. The reasons we blend:
similar coffee roasts from different origins is to cut the coffee cost, while keeping a certain level of quality and consistency in taste;
different roasts of the same origin is to pursue the changes in complexity of roast taste;
decaffeinated with plain coffee is to keep a low caffeine level while enjoying the thickness an flavors of real coffee;
different families is to combine two or more dominants; some coffees have an acidic dominant, while others a sweet, a winy or flowery one; a blend of two coffees with a similar dominant would be useless;
The Art of Brewing
Finally, the last step before savoring. The last but not least in importance, brewing is both a matter of skill and taste. If the first lacks, you can always blame the second.
Just a few "golden" rules of brewing, and we leave the brewing process to the indulgence of your taste buds and bank account.
Never use coffee beans that have been roasted more than three weeks before. The best roast is 24 hours old.
Never boil coffee.
Never mix old with fresh coffee.
Never reheat coffee.
Never leave the coffee in contact with the grounds after brewing.
Always keep the coffee appliances thoroughly cleaned.
When the environment allows, spit the sip that tastes bad.