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Coffee Connoisseur's Secrets

Coffee is far more than simply the brew that wakes people up in the morning. Coffee shops dot the city streets around the world with specialty coffee drinks drawing lines of customers. We will share the nuances of coffee from how to select the roast that suits your palate, to secret recipes of your favorite specialty drinks. We even have some marvelous recipes using coffee as a flavoring or spice to add a very special touch. If you love coffee, you will love these secrets. affiliate

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The Coffee Connoisseur's Secrets

Monday, September 05, 2005

Why Buy Specialty Coffee?

The most immediately noticeable difference between commercial and specialty coffees is packaging: Commercial coffee comes in little bottles of instant, or already ground and packed in a tin. Specialty coffee comes as whole beans, in either one-pound bags or in bulk, and needs to be ground before it's brewed. You can purchase freshly roasted coffee ground specifically to meet the needs of your particular brewing machine.

Commercial coffee is usually roasted and packed in large plants, under nationally advertised brand names; specialty coffee is usually roasted in small stores or factories, using traditional methods and technology, and is often sold where it's roasted.

Specialty coffees offer considerably more choice than commercial coffees; you can buy coffee by the place the bean originated ("Kenya," "Colombian"); by roast ("French roast," "Italian roast "); or by blend designed for the time of day, price or flavor. Commercial coffees offer only a very limited selection of blend and roast, and little possibility whatsoever of buying straight, unblended coffees. Specialty coffees offer more opportunity for the consumer to participate in the creation of his pleasure; commercial coffees are a fait accompli in a tin or bag.

The final, most important difference between commercial and specialty coffees is the way they taste and smell. The best commercial blended coffees are good. The worst are atrocious. But bought fresh and brewed correctly, specialty coffees are more than good; they are superb, and superb in a variety of ways. If you want to know how specialty coffees get to be better than commercial coffees, read on.

Species of Coffee

Coffee buyers divide the world's coffee production into three main categories: "high-grown mild," "Brazilian," and "Robusta."

High-grown mild coffees demand the highest prices on the world market. The coffee tree will not tolerate frost, but will not flourish when temperatures are extremely high either. This means coffee grows best in certain well-watered, mountainous regions of the tropics. High-grown mild coffees, no matter where they come from, are grown at altitudes over 2,000 feet above sea level, usually between 4,000 and 6,000 feet. They are also produced from berries that are picked only when ripe, and prepared with care. The responsible specialty coffee roaster uses only the finest high-grown mild coffees.

The use of the term "Brazilian" to describe the next most preferred group of coffees is misleading, since Brazil also produces excellent mild coffees. The trade term "Brazilian," however, refers to lower-grade coffees which are grown at low altitudes on vast plantations and mass harvested. These coffees at best have a middle-of-the-road, neutral flavor, with a flat aroma. Most decent commercial blends contain large proportions of "Brazilian," with smaller additions of high-grown milds.

Both "high-grown mild" and "Brazilian" coffees are produced from plants which belong to the botanical species Coffea Arabica. The Arabica is the original coffee plant; it still grows wild in Ethiopia, and was first cultivated in Yemen at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula. Coffea Arabica was then carried around the world by coffee-hooked devotees, much as European wine grapes spread to form the basis of the world's wine industry. All specialty coffees come from Coffea arabica stock, which still makes up the majority of the world's production.

Many other species of coffee tree grow wild in Africa, however, and one, the Coffea Robusta, has grown to major importance in world markets. The main advantages of the robusta are its resistance to disease, and the fact that it will grow successfully at lower altitudes than Coffea Arabica. The bean, however, does not have the fragrance or flavor of the best arabica or even a decent Brazilian, and demands the lowest prices in the world market. Robusta is used as a component in the cheapest American commercial coffees, especially instant coffees.

Processing Coffee

The coffee bean, like all beans, is a seed; it grows at the heart of a small berry, about the size of the end of your little finger. Before the coffee can be shipped and roasted the bean must be separated from the berry. Nature has been particularly lavish in its protection of the coffee bean, and removing the three sets of skin and one layer of pulp from around the bean is a complex process. If done properly, the coffee looks better, tastes better and demands a higher price.

The worst preparation would be as follows: The coffee berries are stripped - leaves, unripe berries, and all - onto the ground. This mixture is then scooped up, sifted, dried in big piles, and some time later the hardened berry is stripped off the bean. Some beans will be small and deformed, shriveled, or discolored. In poorly prepared coffee all the beans, good and bad, plus a few twigs, a little dirt, and some stones, are shipped together. The various flavor taints associated with cheap coffee - earthiness, mustiness, harshness, and so on - derive from careless picking and drying.

The best preparation would run like this: The beans are selectively picked as they ripen. The outer skin is immediately scraped loose, exposing the pulp. The beans are then soaked, and the sweet pulp fermented off the bean. More soaking, or more properly washing, follows, before the bean is dried and the last layers of skin, now dry and crumbly, are stripped off the bean. In some cases, the beans are further tumbled and "polished" to improve heir appearance.

Grading Coffees

Coffee is graded according to these three criteria: the quality of the bean (altitude and species), quality of preparation, and size of the bean. A fourth criterion is simply how good the coffee tastes and smells, what coffee people call "cup quality."

Again: The specialty coffee seller buys only the best grades of coffee, which means high-grown mild beans, excellent preparation, with high cup quality. When you buy from a responsible specialty coffee seller you should be buying top quality, no matter what country of origin or roast you choose.