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Coffee Basics 101 – Choosing a Great Coffee!

"I’m searching for a really fantastic cup of coffee — what variety should I buy?"

I’ve been questioned this question many times over the years and I always provide the same answer — "That depends!" Early coffee drinkers used to choose their coffee for the caffeine jolt it provided. But times have changed, and in today’s world, when choosing a fantastic coffee — it’s all about the taste, and the taste depends on many things.

The taste of a fantastic coffee depends on the climate, soil and cultivation methods involved in the beans’ production. Coffee beans contain hundreds of compounds that give them their flavor and aroma. The type of coffee bean you choose, arabica or robusta makes a huge difference in coffee quality and taste. Arabica beans are of a much higher-quality compared to robusta beans, which are normally used as filler for most lower-end coffees. The roasting and brewing process used on the beans can also greatly affect the taste. All of these factors, together, have an enormous impact on coffee taste and quality, and as a result, they do determine whether the coffee is really fantastic or not.

But, I also reckon that when it comes right down to it, the most vital factor that ultimately determines whether a coffee is really fantastic or not is whether you the consumer like it. Not everyone prefers the same characteristics in a coffee; some prefer it light and mellow, while others prefer it heavy and full-bodied. So when asking what variety to buy in order to get a really fantastic cup of coffee, you really have to look at your own personal likes and dislikes in a cup of joe.

Most people, when choosing their cup of preference, weigh the quality of a coffee by its aroma, acidity, flavor and body.

The aroma of a coffee is basically one’s first impression or "sniff" as the gases released from the brew hit your nose. Words like "earthy," "fruity" and "herby" can be used to describe a coffee’s aroma.The acidity of a coffee is the "pleasant sharpness" you taste when you take a gulp (or a sip). Acidity is excellent in a coffee, in that if it had no acidity, the coffee would taste flat. A low acidity coffee is a pleasant-tasting, mellow coffee, whereas a high acidity coffee is very robust and knocks your socks off!The flavor factor of a coffee is the perception in your mouth of those hundreds of aromatic elements or compounds of the coffee bean. It also refers to any specific taste you notice in the coffee, such as a "nuttiness" or "spiciness."Finally, the body of a coffee is the impression of weight and texture that the coffee leaves in your mouth. This is known as "mouthfeel" and can often be described as "heavy," "watery" or "light."

Coffee comes from three main growing regions of the world: the Americas, Africa, and Asia/Pacific. Each region instills its own distinct characteristics into its coffee. So keeping in mind the four cup characteristics described above, and your own personal likes and dislikes, you can narrow down your search by having a look at some of the characteristics each coffee variety/region has to offer.

The Americas

Brazil — smooth, sweet and spicy with hints of allspice and cloves. Complex aroma, mild acidity, medium body. Look for Santos coffees, with Bourbon Santos being the best.Colombia — rich, full aroma, mild with excellent acidity, sweet caramelly taste, medium body. Look for Excelso and Supremo grades.Costa Rica — the SHB (Strictly Hard Bean) grade has a excellent aroma, high acidity, and a fine body. The GHB (Excellent Hard Bean) grade has a excellent aroma, very excellent acidity and a excellent body. Both provide a sweet, smooth cup. Look for Tarrazu.Guatemala — aromatic, a soft mild flavor with a subtle smokiness, heavy body.Haiti — very mellow and flavorful with a mild sweetness, heavy body.Hawaii — the well-known Kona coffee has a splendid aroma and is rich with a mellow character. Very flavorful with a hint of cinnamon and cloves, full-bodied.Jamaica — Blue Mountain being the best, it has a delightful aroma, is extremely mellow and sweet-tasting with a full body. High Mountain Supreme comes in second with a medium to sharp acidity and a excellent body.Mexico — wonderful aroma, sweet, medium acidity, hints of hazelnuts in the flavor, smooth body.Nicaragua — excellent acidity and mild flavor with a hint of cognac. Look for Matagalpa.Panama — smooth and sweet, excellent acidity and mild flavor with a heavy body.Peru — excellent acidity with a mild flavor and brilliant body.Venezuela — fantastic aroma, smooth and mellow with low acidity, rich and delicately winey, a small on the sweet side, light body.Africa

Burundi — high acidity with a rich strong flavor and excellent body.Ethiopia — incredible aroma of cinnamon, strawberries and fresh-mown grass, very acidic, winey, pungent, earthy flavors, spicy and complex, full-bodied. Look for Harrar – Longberry and Shortberry, and Yirgacheffe.Kenya — Very fragrant and floral, sometimes winey, a mild coffee with a delicate acid flavor, and a fantastic smoothness.Rwanda — high acidity, strong flavor and excellent body.Tanzania — rich and mellow with a delicate acidity. Look for peaberry varieties.Zaire — rich, highly acidic, brilliant flavor and body. Look for Kivu.Asia/Pacific

India — spicy aroma with hints of cinnamon and cedar, delicate acidity, complex and very rich, full-bodied. Look for Nilgiris and Monsoon Malabar.Indonesia — rich with low acidity, spicy, strong flavor, heavy body – nearly syrupy. Look for Sumatra, Celebes or Sulawesi.Papua New Guinea — sweet and full-bodied. Look for Sigri and Koban.Yemen — age ancient Mocha coffee – uniquely smooth and complex with a bit of sharpness, tremendous flavor, can be winey with cherry notes, heavy body. Look for Mattari or Sunani.Once you have narrowed down your selection to a choice few, try to buy some sample sizes and start slurping! You may learn you really delight in one particular variety, or several different ones. Nothing incorrect with having more than one favorite! Nonetheless, once you’ve found your favorite beans, always buy them freshly roasted, and make sure to store them properly to maintain their freshness for as long as possible. Even a really fantastic cup of coffee can turn into a dud if the beans were roasted ages ago, or left out to go stale.

Mary E. MacDonald is the owner of The JavaPot, an online tea and coffee shop that offers a premium line of thejavapot.com” target=”_new gourmet tea and coffee, with an emphasis on organic products. You will also find more fantastic articles, some unique coffee and tea -related gift items, tasty recipes, and product reviews. Check out The JavaPot for more details about current thejavapot.com/coffee.php” target=”_new whole bean coffee and thejavapot.com/tea.php” target=”_new loose leaf tea offerings.

Copyright 2007 – Mary E. MacDonald. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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