It is often assumed that measuring quality where different types of coffee beans are concerned is all about Arabica coffee vs Robusta coffee. In reality, it is nothing of the sort. In fact, it is perfectly possible for a cup of gourmet coffee made with Robusta beans to be significantly better than a low-quality Arabica coffee blend.
On one hand, it is true to say that Arabica coffee is the world’s favorite coffee bean. Of the various different types of coffee beans available, the majority of beans grown worldwide are Arabica coffee.
When you consider the world consumes approximately 520 million liters of coffee each day, that’s quite a lot of coffee!
But when it comes to identifying gourmet coffee beans when you see them, it takes more than a quick glance to know what you are looking at.
Assessing coffee quality is more about freshness than anything else, along with the origins of the beans.
Unroasted coffee beans - aka green coffee beans - have a fairly pale color, often yellowy-beige with a slight hint of green. If you come across unroasted coffee beans with dark brown or black spots, you could be looking at signs of mold growth, whereas if you see small black holes it could mean insect damaged beans.
Either way, you will definitely not be looking at the kinds of coffee beans that produce gourmet results.
With roasted coffee beans, the appearance will vary significantly in accordance with the intensity of the roast. The longer the beans have been roasted, the darker they will be in color.
If the roasted coffee beans you are looking at are almost black and have a charred appearance, they certainly have been over-roasted, which will result in a burnt flavor in the cup.
It takes meticulous care and attention to detail to grow the highest quality coffee beans from scratch. Professionals who grade coffee for a living use a 100-point scale, which indicates the overall quality of any given batch of beans.
In order for something to qualify as specialty coffee - loosely called gourmet coffee - it needs to score at least 80 points. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of beans do not come close to making the grade.
Everything coffee beans are exposed to from cultivation through to reaching the final cup will have an influence on their fragrance, flavor and quality. Today, single origin coffees and those from sustainable sources have become the products of choice for the conscientious consumer.
But even then, labels like these alone do not necessarily make for a quality cup.
You only know what real gourmet coffee is when you taste it, at which point the difference becomes crystal clear.
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