Gourmet Coffee Beans

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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What makes a gourmet coffee bean? The first criteria, of course, are the growing conditions necessary for a healthy crop. Rich and well-drained soil, often volcanic, is the first of these. Following it comes well-distributed rainfall, about 50 inches a year, and a wet season. Temperatures averaging between 70° and 75° F are optimal. Frost is not an option. Elevation ranges from sea level to about 6,000 feet, with the majority growing at 1,500 feet and higher.

Roasting is the second factor in defining a quality gourmet coffee. It's the make or break determinant of a quality crop. Once the beans are picked, sorted, hulled, and graded, they move to the roaster. Those conditions are critical. One aspect is type of roast sought--from the lighter and medium to the dark espresso roasts. Controlling this is part art and part science. Temperatures below 400° F mean a pale thin coffee with little to no aroma and a sour taste. If the thermometer jumps above 480° F, however, the bean turns black and the flavor oils burn.

Coffee: 400 Billion Cups a Year

Coffee is the world's most popular drink today. More than 400 billion cups are downed each year. The share of that coffee that isn't commercially mass-packaged in cans destined for grocery store shelves is growing rapidly, especially in the last 10 or 20 years. Coffee shops, once the domain of northern and western Europe, a holdover to some extent from the 17th and 18th centuries, have spread across oceans and prairies. Gourmet coffee is everywhere, but no less gourmet for being so.

Coffee originated in Africa, specifically Ethiopia. Today, however, it thrives in Southeast Asia, Central and South America, the Middle East, and Africa. The American and Caribbean coffees are lighter in body, higher in acidity, and somewhat sweet in taste. The African and Middle Eastern varieties are fuller bodied with medium acidity, and are sometimes described as syrupy. Coffees from Indonesia and elsewhere in that part of the world are earthy, low in acidity, and heavy bodied yet smooth.

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