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Coffee beans, akin to any agricultural yield, originate from Mother Nature's bountiful lap. Specifically, they're the seeds of cherries growing on trees, far from any factory-made product.
Freshly brewed coffee beans are the pinnacle of taste and aroma. They're at their zenith a few days post-roasting when the sugars are at their sweetest, the oils are brimming with aromatic vibes, the acids exude a crisp balance, and bitterness is virtually nonexistent.
Specialty Coffee changes our approach to coffee being fueled by not just a rich flavor profile, but also adding globally conscious ethics, an appreciation for high quality, embracing diversity and empowering a thriving community of farmers across the globe.
So, specialty coffee is –
Light roast beans are usually a dark tan hue with no discernible oiliness on the surface. Given that they are 'minimally roasted,' they retain more unique flavors and traits of the source farm.
Light roasts embody a vibrant, crisp acidity that amplifies the brighter flavors of the beans. Distinct floral and fruity tones are more noticeable, aided by the sharper acidity. These roasts also boast a light body, captivating aromas, and zero bitterness.
Grinding light roast beans may seem challenging due to their denser nature. Don't fret if your grinder encounters some resistance.
A notch darker, medium roast beans portray a light brown shade and seldom exhibit surface oils. These beans embody most unique traits of the origin farm but present them in a more palatable, smoother flavor spectrum.
Medium roasts subtly smooth out exotic flavors. They develop a delightful caramel or honey-like sweetness, muting the acidity somewhat and establishing a better balance. A hint of bitterness might sneak in, but it's minor and contributes to the overall well-rounded flavor.
Dark roasts of specialty coffee aren't as dark as the commodity coffee roasts. These beans showcase a dark brown hue and often possess a thin oily gloss.
Flavor-wise, dark roasts may seem less reflective of the beans' origin, but they're anything but monotonous. They offer diverse and gratifying experiences. The brighter acids and more exotic notes are smoothed over, the aromas become profound and rich, a darker sweetness like chocolate or molasses takes shape, and hints of spice, earth, and wood emerge.
There exists an extensive array of coffee plant species across the globe, primarily rooted in Africa. However, the commercial coffee industry majorly revolves around two species: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephore, also known as Robusta. These species yield distinctly different coffee, so being aware of your purchase is crucial.
Arabica plants are the elegant dancers of the coffee world. With fewer branches, limited coffee cherries, and a delicate disposition, they might seem fragile. But it's this exact trait that works to their advantage. Fewer branches allow each coffee bean to absorb more nutrients, leading to the rich, intricate flavors characteristic of specialty coffee.
Arabica coffee finds its home in specialty coffee shops worldwide, known for its flavor diversity, crisp acids, sweet sugars, and minimal bitterness.
Contrastingly, Robusta coffee plants resemble the football players of the coffee landscape. They're large, dense, and produce an abundance of cherries each season, consequently reducing the price. However, the higher cherry yield hinders nutrient distribution, resulting in less distinctive flavors.
To top it off, Robusta plants generate a myriad of bitter compounds, which aids in deterring pests on the farm but leads to a bitter and unpleasant brewed coffee. Interestingly, one of these bitter compounds is caffeine.
Specialty coffee's flavor diversity is what sparked the rise of "single origin" coffees. Yet, they aren't for everyone, and blends still occupy an essential spot in the coffee world. Let's delve into their differences and potential preferences.
A single origin coffee is fundamentally from a single farm or occasionally a micro-lot on a farm. Given that all the beans in the bag hail from one location, the unique flavors and traits are starkly prominent.
The perception of blends has transformed significantly over the past decades. Previously, blending beans was a method to camouflage the less palatable flavors of low-grade coffee. Today, it's about combining complementary flavors to curate unique experiences.
The Natural Process, also known as the 'dry process', is a technique rooted in simplicity and patience. This method heavily relies on the sun's radiant heat to dry out the harvested cherries over a course of two to four weeks. This period sees the cherries transform into a shriveled, dark purple state, indicating the readiness for beans extraction either manually or using a de-pulping machine. After the extraction, the beans enjoy another sunbathing session until they reach the ideal moisture level of 8-12% for storage and transportation.
Natural Process coffees, while not always making the cut for specialty-grade, have a distinct character when they do. For example, Ethiopian coffee boasts extraordinarily fruity notes of strawberries or blueberries, creating an exciting palette that awe professionals in the specialty coffee world.
The Washed Process, or the 'wet process', follows a more technologically-driven, controlled approach. Harvested cherries undergo a fermentation process in water for one to five days.
This expedited process strips the beans of the wild fruity flavors found in Natural Process coffee, yet the Washed Process beans still possess a fascinating range of flavors. These flavors come through more clearly, giving an impression of cleanliness, accompanied by lower body and crisp acidity.
The Honey Process acts as a bridge between the Natural and Washed processes, incorporating elements from both and adding a unique twist. The harvested cherries are initially soaked and rinsed similar to the Washed Process. However, unlike the full removal of the cherry in the Washed Process, a layer of mucilage is left intact on the beans as they dry.
Contrary to some beliefs, decaf coffee is just as healthy as regular coffee. There are three main methods employed to produce decaf coffee:
This method submerges the beans in a peculiar state of CO2 that's neither completely liquid nor gas. The caffeine-saturated CO2 then undergoes a charcoal filtration process for reusability.
The beans are soaked in hot water for hours, and the brew is transferred to a separate tank containing either Ethyl Acetate or Methylene Chloride. These chemicals quickly bond with the caffeine molecules, making it easy to filter them out.
The beans are soaked in pressurized warm water for hours, and the caffeine-rich green coffee extract is passed through a charcoal filter. Fresh beans are then introduced to this extract, from which the caffeine gets extracted, leaving the other flavor compounds intact.
While commodity market prices for coffee remain stagnant, rising living costs in producing countries necessitate a reconsideration. Specialty coffee companies, aiming for their farming partners' growth, pay higher prices for their beans, passing some of these costs to customers.
For sustainably sourced specialty coffee, expect to spend between $15 and $25. The cheaper supermarket options often stem from unsustainable practices, which can discourage young farmers from coffee cultivation.
But remember, pricing alone isn't a perfect measure of quality or sustainability. Look for transparent sourcing practices, sustainability certifications, and fair-trade agreements to ensure your coffee purchase contributes positively to the industry.
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