Coffee Primer

Choosing the Right Bean What's in a Name?

The names of the beans normally do not refer to the kind of coffee plant they come from; instead, the name can refer to any of the following:

  • Origin: Quite simply, a name may designate where the bean was grown (Ethiopia, Colombia, Kenya, Yemen). Sometimes the name of the plantation is included in the coffee's name as well. Coffees can be designated as "single-origin" coffees -- that is, originating from one country only -- or "blends," a combination of beans from a variety of geographical areas. Generally, blended coffees produce more complex brews than single-origin coffees.
  • Roasting Style: Once at their destination, the green coffee beans are roasted (that is, heated in a large roasting drum to develop a desired flavor and color). Generally, the longer the beans roast, the darker their color -- and the stronger their flavor. Knowing how strong you prefer your brew will help you decide which roasting style you prefer.
  • Roaster's Preferences: Often, coffee roasters will put their own mark on a batch of beans, blending and roasting the beans according to the roaster's preferences. Often, names such as "House Blend" will tell you little; but the names sometimes give clues as to how the roaster envisioned the coffee to be enjoyed, such as "Eye-Opener Roast" or "Dessert Blend."

Coffee-Roasting Styles

  • French and Italian Roasts: Dark, heavy-roasted beans that are almost black in color and produce a strongly flavored coffee.
  • American Roast: A medium-roasted coffee, which produces a coffee that's neither characteristically light nor heavy.
  • European Roast: Two-thirds heavy-roasted beans combined with one-third medium-roasted beans.
  • Viennese Roast: One-third heavy-roasted beans combined with two-thirds medium-roasted beans.

Decaffeinated Coffee

Decaffeinated coffee beans do not grow on trees! They're simply regular coffee beans that have had the caffeine extracted from them, either through a chemical process that uses a solvent to extract the caffeine, or by a Swiss water method, wherein the beans are steamed and the caffeine-rich outer layers removed. Most coffee lovers agree that a good-quality decaffeination process will not take away from the pleasure, aroma, or flavor of coffee.

Choosing the Right Bean

So, how does all this translate into what's best for your cup? Because coffees grown in the same parts of the world can have similar characteristics, knowing your coffee's origins can help you decide if it will be one you like. Coffees from Africa are often imbued with the aromas and flavors of berries, citrus fruits, cocoa, and spices, while coffees from Latin America are known for their lighter body and cleaner flavors. Coffees from Southeast Asia are often full-bodied and smooth. Once you've got this overall picture of origins and roasting styles in your mind, honing your personal likes and dislikes involves the enjoyable task of trying a little of this and a little of that when you have a chance.

Continued on page 3:  Caring for and Grinding Beans


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