Gourmet selections.BaristaGuru - Selecting Gourmet Coffees

The Best of the Beans

Gourmet coffees differ from one another for a variety of reasons, including cultivation practices, growing area, altitude, soil, and climate.

Like fine wines, gourmet coffees will also vary from country to country, region to region, and year to year. Yet by purchasing gourmet coffees, you are assured of drinking the best beans each coffee-producing country has to offer.

Arabica coffee beans, which are the coffees found in gourmet and upscale retail stores, receive special care and attention throughout their cultivation and growing processes. They usually grow at high altitudes (above 3,000 feet) between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and require the right combination of sun, shade, and moisture to thrive.

Gourmet coffees are carefully handpicked, processed, and sorted in the growing country and then roasted to perfection when they arrive in the United States. The pleasure of selecting gourmet coffees to suit your specific taste requirements is left to you.

What's in a Name?

A significant number of gourmet coffees are labeled according to their country of origin. These unblended coffees, each of which exhibits distinct taste characteristics, are sometimes referred to as "varietals." In addition to carrying the name of the country in which they were grown, many coffees also denote the region of growth, altitude of growth, or the grade.

For instance, Sumatra coffee denotes a growing region in lndonesia while Kenya AA denotes the top grade of coffee from Kenya. Other coffees, such Brazil Santos, are named after the ports through which they are commonly exported.

You may see coffees graded as peaberry - the product of a coffee cherry that produces one rather than two beans. Generally, peaberries are smaller and rounder than typical beans.

In addition to drinking various origin-labeled (varietal) coffees, you can experiment with a wide array of roasts, flavors, and blends offered by your coffee merchant.
Bag of gourmet beans.

Degrees of Roast

Green coffee beans must be roasted to develop their flavor characteristics. The roast's color depth (darkness), which can range from light to very dark can depend a great deal on the country of origin or blend used.

In many cases, coffees from different countries will need different degrees of roast to develop their optimal flavor characteristics. for example, a light brown color that releases desirable flavor characteristics from one country's coffee may not produce as satisfactory results for another country's coffee.

In the United States, coffees with a light brown roast color and no traces of oil on the beans' surface are known as an American, or Traditional, roast.

A Vienna or Full City roast is usually a dark brown with perhaps a small amount of oil on the beans' surface, while an Italian or French roast appears almost black. Darker roast coffee beans will also appear shiny - the result of oils that rise to the surface of the beans during the roasting process.

Roast color terminology is not standardized within the U.S. coffee industry, so be sure to ask for an explanation of the terminology used by your coffee merchant.
Gourmets in jars.

Infinite Options

Each gourmet coffee has distinctive characteristics that many people prefer to enjoy straight when coffees are blended, the characteristics can be mixed to create an infinite array of tastes.

Many coffee merchants, using coffees that complement one another, offer a "house blend" that creates a distinctive and different taste. You may choose to create your own blend by combining different varieties or roast colors. Take one coffee you like and try mixing it with different coffees to find a customized blend that suits your tastes. There are no rules - let your palate be your guide.

Be aware that some coffees may be labeled as "styles." For example, coffee labeled as Kona Style may contain beans that are similar in appearance or taste to Kona coffee from Hawaii but may not contain any true Kona beans. When purchasing blended coffee, don't hesitate to ask which beans are used in the blend.

Many coffees are available decaffeinated, either dark roasted or light roasted, labeled by country of origin (varietal), or blended. If you prefer your coffee decaffeinated, consult your coffee merchant for the varieties available.

A World of Flavors

As another example of coffee's versatility, flavorings can be added to gourmet coffees to create new tastes such as Swiss Chocolate Almond, Amaretto, Irish Creme, and Viennese Cinnamon. Flavorings are usually added to coffee beans immediately after roasting, when the beans are still warm and absorbent.

Flavored coffees are excellent complements to dessert. Many dieters also substitute them for dessert because they offer the satisfaction but not the calories of sweetened products.

Finding your Favorites

Because every coffee has unique qualities, experimentation is the key to identifying your favorite coffees. To help you keep track of your coffee-tasting adventures, the following check-list includes the names of gourmet coffees that are often available in the United States:
  • Brazilian Santos 2/3
  • Celebes Kalossi (Indonesia)
  • Colombian Excelso
  • Colombian Supremo
  • Costa Rican Tarrazu
  • Costa Rican Strictly hard Bean (SUB)
  • (El) Salvador High Grown
  • Ethiopian Harrar
  • Ethiopian Sidamo
  • Guatemalan Antigua
  • Hawaiian Kona (fancy or Prime)
  • Indian Mysore
  • Jamaican Blue Mountain
  • Java (Indonesia)
  • Kenya AA
  • Mexican Pluma
  • Mocha (Yemen)
  • Sumatra Mandheling (Indonesia)
  • Tanzanian Kilimanjaro
  • Tanzanian Peaberry
  • Venezuelan Maracaibo
  • Zimbabwe 053

Helpful Hints

Here are additional hints to help you get the most out of every cup of gourmet coffee.
  1. Experiment with various types, roasts, flavorings, and blends of beans. Try different coffees as if you were sampling fine wines, and keep notes on the coffees you enjoy the most.

  2. Make sure the coffee you purchase is fresh. The enticing aroma of fresh gourmet coffee is unmistakable, while stale coffee beans lack aroma.

  3. Match the grind of gourmet coffee to the type of brewing method you use. Coffee is ground to different degrees of fineness to suit different methods, so it is best to follow the manufacturers recommendations for your coffee maker.

    Have your merchant grind the coffee for you, or purchase a grinder and treat yourself to freshly ground coffee every day. To maximize flavor, grind the coffee as close as possible to the time of brewing.

  4. After you open your coffee package, transfer the contents to an airtight container. If the coffee has been ground, consume it within one week to 10 days.

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