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Choosing Gourmet Coffee

How to Choose Gourmet Coffee - Coffee Roast Levels - Coffee Cupping

Coffee Bean Roast Levels

There are many attributes and techniques to consider when roasting coffee beans.  We won't go into roasting techniques, but will identify typically accepted roast levels to help you in selecting your coffee.  Generally, the time and temperature a coffee bean is roasted determines the roast level.


Light Roast - light brown in color, generally preferred for milder coffee varieties.  The surface of the bean is dry with no oils present.  Light roasts in order of increasing level of roast include:

*  Light City Roast

*  Half City Roast

*  Cinnamon Roast

Medium Roast - medium brown in color with a stronger flavor and a non-oily surface of the bean.  The bean is typically slightly sweeter than a light roast.  This roast is sometimes referred to as American roast, because it is generally preferred in the U.S..  Medium roasts in order of increasing level of roast include:

*  American Roast

*  City Roast

*  City Roast Plus

Medium-Dark Roast - a rich, dark color with some oil on the surface of the bean.  A medium-dark roasted bean has a slightly bittersweet aftertaste.  Medium-Dark roasts in order of increasing level of roast include:

*  Breakfast Roast

*  Full City Roast

*  Full City Roast Plus

*  High Roast

*  Vienna Roast or Viennese Roast

Dark Roast - exhibited by shiny black beans with an oily surface.  This roast produces a significant amount of bitterness.  Darker roasted beans have lower levels of acidity.  Many roasters name their dark roasts differently, and the beans can be anywhere from black to charred.  Dark roasts in order of increasing level of roast include:

*  Continental Roast

*  New Orleans Roast

*  French Roast

*  Dark French Roast

*  Espresso Roast

*  European Roast

*  Italian Roast

*  Spanish Roast

Coffee Taste & Aroma

Similar to wine, coffee has some specific tastes and aromas that are present.  Judging these characteristics can be both objective and subjective.  There are certain tastes and aromas that good coffee cuppers look for; but the bottom line is how the coffee tastes to you and what type of coffee do you typically like.  Here are some guidelines in helping choose your coffee:

Aroma - how does the coffee smell, after grinding and after brewing.  This provides an indication of how your coffee will taste.  Typical aroma characteristics can include fruitiness, floral and herbal aromas.

Acidity - this just means the level of tanginess or liveliness available from a small to a large amount for a particular coffee.  Many people like a certain level of acidity in their coffee.  In general, different coffee growing regions have different acidity levels because of the soil and climate.

Body - how the coffee feels in your mouth.  This is the thickness or heaviness of the coffee on your tongue.  The range of body in a coffee can range from light (delicate body), to medium (balanced body), to heavy (full body).

Roast - the level of roasting, ranging from a light roast to a very dark roast.  There are many degrees of roasting between light and dark.  Many of the names are similar, but rather non-standardized within the industry.  For more information please review our "Roast Levels" information area.

Balance - the overall level of combination of the above factors.  Typically ranging from low to high, a coffee with a medium or "good" balance would exhibit fairly equal levels of acidity, body and aroma.  No single characteristic would overpower another. 

These characteristics combine to provide the overall flavor characteristics of your selected coffee.

Like fine wines, coffee tastes typically evolve for an individual over time.  The more different types of coffee you try, help you determine what characteristics you like or dislike.  Over time, you will develop a preference for what types of coffees you choose.

Coffee Cupping

Coffee Cupping is a method of evaluating the aroma and taste of coffee beans.  Typically used by coffee growers, buyers and roasters to determine the quality of a particular coffee sample. 

The technique for cupping coffee first involves freshly grinding the coffee sample and adding about two tablespoons of coffee into a glass or porcelain cup.  Water that is just under the boiling point is then poured over the grounds into the cup.  The coffee is then left to steep about four to five minutes.

The next step in the cupping process is called breaking the crust.  As the coffee steeps, the grounds float to the top and form a crust on top of the cup.  A trained coffee cupper smells the crust for aromas.  The crust is then broken with a cupping spoon and the grounds are moved so the cupper can smell additional aromas from the coffee.  At this point, the cupper removes the coffee grounds from the top of the cup.

After removal of the floating coffee grounds, the cupper uses a cupping spoon (large tablespoon) to obtain a sample of the coffee.  The cupper then tastes the coffee using a slurping process.  Yes, this sounds strange, but the proper way to taste the coffee is with one large slurp.  The cupper then swishes the coffee in their mouth to pick up flavor characteristics and to determine the body of the coffee.  After swishing, the coffee is then spit out, not swallowed.

Coffee cuppers judge coffee using standardized traits within the industry.

Coffee Cupping Traits

Fragrance - the smell of the beans after grinding

Aroma - the smell after brewing (breaking the crust)

Taste - the flavors of the coffee while tasting

Nose - the vapors released by the coffee in the mouth

Aftertaste - the flavors that remain after swallowing

Body - the feel of the coffee in the mouth

Flavored Coffee

Flavored coffee is created by adding flavorings to coffee beans immediately after they are roasted.  The flavorings can be artificial, natural, or a combination of both.  The artificial flavorings can be either liquid or a dry powder and are added while the coffee beans are still warm from roasting.  Warm coffee beans are porous and absorb the flavoring while being mixed.

Flavored coffee does not contain any calories unless you add them yourself.  Flavored coffee tends to be somewhat mild but may offer a strong aroma.


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