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Gourmet Coffee Beans - a Brief Overview
The coffee plant has two main species. There is the Coffea Arabica, which is the more traditional coffee and considered to be superior in flavor, and the Coffea Canephora known more commonly as Robusta. Robusta tends to be higher in caffeine and can be grown in climates and environments were Arabica would not be profitable. Robusta is also typically more bitter and acidic in flavor. Because of this Robusta tends to be less expensive. High quality Robusta is also used to blend espresso for more bite, and to lower costs.
A little known fact is that some coffee beans improve their flavor with age. It is the green unroasted beans which are aged; the typical length of time is 3 years, though there are some houses which sell beans aged to 7 years. Aged beans have a fuller flavor and are less acidic.
Growing conditions, soil types and weather patterns during the growing season all contribute to the flavor of the bean, creating the differences in flavor from points of origin, such as Kenya or Brazil. However, roasting adds its own flavor, sometimes to the point that it is difficult to tell where the beans originated from, even by experienced cuppers.
The lighter the roast the more the natural flavor of the bean remains. This is why beans from regions such as Kenya or Java are normally roasted lightly, retaining their regional characteristics and dominate flavors. There is a method of roasting in Malaysia which adds butter during the roasting producing a variety called Ipoh White Coffee.
Beans roasted to darker browns begin to taste more like the method of roasting than the original flavors. Dark roasts such as French or Vienna Roasts tend to completely eclipse the original flavor. Roasting to whatever degree, while adding stronger flavor does not effect the amount of caffeine of the bean.
Fry pan roasting was popular in the 19th century, since the beans were normally shipped and purchased still in their green state. You simply poured the green coffee beans in a frying pan and roasted them in the kitchen. This process took a great deal of skill to do in a consistent manner. Fry pan roasting became much less popular when vacuum sealing pre-roasted coffee was perfected. However, in order to vacuum seal roasted beans, you had to wait for them to stop emitting CO2, as roasted beans do for several days after the roasting process. What this meant was that vacuum sealed coffee was always just a little stale as the flavors begin to turn bitter and deteriorate in just about a week after roasting.
Home roasting is once again becoming popular with the creation of computerized drum roasters which help simplify the process. There are some people who have found methods of effectively roasting beans using their hot air pop corn makers.
The region the bean is from as discussed before is a primary factor to the type of flavor you can expect from the brew, though it is very true that 'new' or unexpected tastes come from every region.
Arabia and Africa grow their coffee beans in high altitudes in the rich black soils of Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Tanzania. The flavors of these beans are distinct and of legendary status.
The Americas coffees are grown in near rainforest conditions in areas such as Colombia, Costa Rica and Guatemala. Coffees of the Americas tend to be very well balanced and aromatic.
The Pacifics includes coffees from Sumatra, Java, New Guinea and Sulawesi, which are as various in flavor as the islands they come from.
Then there are the exotics such as certified Jamaica Blue Mountain and certified Hawaiian Kona. These are rare indeed and can go for as much as $60.00 per pound.
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