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Facts About Coffee Roasting
It Starts with the Beans
There are two different species of coffee trees grown commercially for producing coffee: Arabica (Coffee Arabica) and Robusta (Coffee Canephora). The seeds of the cherries from these trees are used to create coffee beans.
Arabica trees produce higher quality coffee than Robusta trees. They grow in semitropical climates near the equator, between 2000-6000 feet above sea level. These trees require a delicate balance of sunlight, shade and frequent rainfall, and it can take a long time for these cherries to grow. Ripe Arabica cherries fall to the ground and spoil so they must be carefully monitored and hand picked at intervals, requiring a great deal of extra time and effort.
Once these cherries have been hand picked, the outer covering of the cherry, called the fruit, is removed leaving the green seed or coffee bean. The coffee beans are washed and dried, and then sorted by size and graded.
The Art of Roasting Coffee
Roasting coffee beans is both an art and science, and is one of the most important steps in creating superb coffee. Green coffee beans are roasted in a large, gas heated rotated drum, at approximately 400 degrees, which caramelizes the sugars and carbohydrates in the beans and turns the raw, green coffee beans into brittle brown beans. This creates an oil-like substance called caffeol, which gives the coffee its color, flavor and aroma. The longer the coffee is roasted, the darker and more oily its appearance.
Light, medium and dark roasts
Coffee is generally roasted to a light, medium or dark roast. The length of roasting time determines the coffee's color, texture and taste.
In addition, as with wineries, a coffee farm's geographic location can greatly affect how the plant grows and how the beans taste. Beans are roasted to highlight the unique characteristics of the land in which they are grown.
Roasting coffee beans is an exact science and testing ensures that each batch is roasted to perfection. This results in specialty coffee with the richest aroma and flavor possible.
An Appreciation for Coffee
The appreciation for coffee is not unlike an appreciation for wine--the more you know, the more your experience is enhanced. There are four main characteristics of coffee, and an excellent blend will exhibit all four, bringing them to you in a pleasing and well-balanced combination.
Acidity in coffee brings a pleasant liveliness, sparkle, or snap to the drink that is experienced around the edges of the tongue and towards the back of the mouth. The acidity of a coffee may be assessed as lively, moderate, flat, or dull, and should not to be confused with bitterness.
Aroma is the smell or bouquet of the coffee. Specialty coffee will exhibit a complex floral aroma, leading to exclamations such as "Wake up and smell the coffee!".
Coffee professionals refer to this as "mouth feel." It is the impression of lightness or of weight you experiences when drinking coffee.
In addition to the "flavor" in a flavored coffee, there is also coffee taste. Taste refers simply to the taste of the coffee. Taste experiences with coffee can range from one-dimensional (as in a "straight" or single varietal) to rich and complex (as found in some blends). Look for specific taste elements described as winey, earthy, sweet, nutty, smoky, or spicy.