Arabica coffee plants are grown at high elevations (3,000 ft to 6,000 ft), just below the frost line. Growing coffee at higher elevations produces a denser, richer bean; because there is less oxygen, the plants grow more slowly giving the beans a more concentrated flavor. Such high quality comes at a price: because Arabicas are grown on mountain terrain, they are difficult to plant and harvest, and the fruit must be handpicked. This time-consuming, labor-intensive process is reflected in the price. Arabica plants need adequate water to flower and bear fruit. On average, an Arabica plant will bear fruit once or twice a year depending on the rainfall. If the rain is distributed evenly throughout the year, you will find the plants simultaneously producing flowers, ripening fruit and bearing fully ripened fruit.
Dark roasts can range in color from a medium chocolate brown with a satin-like luster to an almost black bean with an oily appearance. The flavor of the coffee takes on a smoky character because the sugars in the beans have started to carbonize.
Dry Method Processing
Also known as the natural method, dry method processing is the simplest way to process coffee. The cherry is dried on the tree, or dried in the sun for about one month, after being picked. The green coffee beans are then removed from the dried, leathery fruit skins by grinding them between stones, or in special machines. Most small farms and cooperatives use the dry method of processing since it requires few resources.
About two minutes into the roasting process, before the beans begin to brown they turn a golden yellow. After about eight minutes into the roast, a cracking sound, similar to that of popcorn popping, can be heard. This first crack is caused by moisture escaping from the coffee beans, and by chemical reactions, which cause the beans to swell and expand. The coffee beans do not explode like popcorn, but they do increase in size by more than 50%, while at the same time being greatly reduced in weight. During the first crack, the chaff—or papery skin—on the beans is carried away with the air moving through the roaster. At this point, the roast master must make crucial adjustments to the temperature controls of the roaster to ensure optimal roasting for each coffee origin.
This list of words was developed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) to help people describe the various flavors of a cup of coffee:
General Flavor Characteristics:
Richness: refers to body and fullness
Complexity: the perception of multiple flavors
Balance: the satisfying presence of all the basic taste characteristics where no one overpowers another
Desirable Flavor Characteristics:
Bright, Dry, Sharp, Snappy: typically used to describe African coffees
Caramel-y: candy-like or syrupy Chocolate-y: having an aftertaste similar to unsweetened chocolate or vanilla
Delicate: subtle flavor perceived by the tip of the tongue (typical of a washed New Guinea Arabica)
Earthy: soil-like characteristic (typical of Sumatran coffees)
Fragrant: aromatic characteristic ranging from floral to spicy
Fruity: aromatic characteristic reminiscent of berries or citrus
Mellow: round, smooth taste, typically lacking acid
Nutty: aftertaste similar to roasted nuts
Spicy: flavor and aroma reminiscent of spices
Sweet: free from harshness
Wildness: gamey flavor which is not usually considered favorable, but which is typical of Ethiopian coffees
Wine-y: aftertaste reminiscent of well-matured wine (typical of Kenyan and Yemen coffees)
Undesirable Flavor Characteristics:
Bitter: perceived by the back of the tongue, usually a result of over-roasting
Bland: neutral in flavor
Carbon-y: blunt, charcoal-like overtones
Dirty/Earthy: mustiness reminiscent of eating dirt
Flat: lacking acidity, aroma, and aftertaste
Grassy: aroma and flavor reminiscent of a freshly cut lawn
Harsh: caustic, clawing, raspy characteristic
Muddy: thick and dull
Musty: slight stuffy or moldy smell
Rioya: starchy texture similar to water in which pasta has been cooked
Rough: sensation on the tongue similar to that caused by eating salt
Rubbery: aroma and flavor reminiscent of burnt rubber
Sour: tart flavors reminiscent of unripe fruit
Thin: lacking acidity, typically a result of under-brewing
Turpeny: turpentine-like in flavor
Watery: lack of body or viscosity in the mouth
Wild: having gamey characteristics
In this level of roasting, the beans begin to acquire a light sheen as the oils begin making their way to the surface. There are no visible droplets of oil, just a light gloss. The flavors of the coffee at this point are quite developed and intense, with a balanced liveliness and body. Light roasting complements a coffee whose brightness and delicate flavors you want to accentuate.
Medium roast is the point in the roasting process at which visible droplets of oil begin to form on the surface of the beans. The color is just a bit darker than that of a light roast, but the spots of oil give the illusion that it is much darker. At this point, the sugars in the bean have begun to caramelize, and the coffee will have a natural, slightly sweet flavor.
Pyrolysis is the transformation of an organic substance when subjected to high temperatures. It is what causes the transformation of green coffee beans into the delicious, consumable coffee beans with which we are familiar. The heat that is generated by the roasting beans breaks down raw components like sugars, and forms the complex, aromatic compounds, which contribute to the coffee’s particular flavor.
Robusta coffee plants grow at altitudes below 3,000 ft. They are a heartier plant than the Arabica, being markedly more resistant to parasites and disease. They grow best on flat land at low elevations. Since Robustas are more readily available, they are lower in price than (and have nearly twice the caffeine of) the higher quality Arabica beans. To keep costs down, many coffee companies blend Robusta beans into their coffees. For decades, this was the American consumer’s only coffee choice, and many were fooled into thinking that this was what good coffee tasted like.
Anywhere from one minute to three minutes after the first crack is heard during the roasting process, a second crack occurs. Most coffees reach their peak roast just as the second crack begins. At the end of the second crack, the cellular structure of the coffee is ruptured, allowing the oils to escape to the surface of the beans. It is extremely important that the roast master stop the roasting (“dumping”) at precisely the right time. Dumping seconds too soon or too late can destroy an entire batch of coffee.
Wet Method Processing
Also known as the washed method, wet method processing is more complex than dry method processing. Coffee cherries are hand-picked to ensure uniform size and ripeness. Then they are carried down the mountain in baskets or sacks, and dropped off at processing stations. The entire basket of coffee cherries is dumped into a water-filled receiving tank where stones, twigs, leaves, and floating cherries are removed. (Floating cherries are either empty inside or unripe.) Next, coffee is de-pulped by cutting away the fruit that surrounds the beans. Finally coffee beans are separated by size so that they can be assigned an appropriate fermentation period. In the critical fermentation stage, beans are held in water tanks for a day or two to remove the jelly-like mucilage from their surface. Timing is everything; if the beans are fermented too long or not long enough, the coffee will be ruined. After fermentation, beans are spread out to dry in the sun, or they’re machine dried in rotary tumblers. The large coffee estates and plantations with a commitment to quality tend to favor wet method processing.
Every coffee plant in the world is thought to be a descendent of plants from Ethiopia, the only country where coffee grows wild, and where the fascinating history of the world’s most popular beverage begins.
300 AD: Goats Discover Coffee
Legend has it that one day, a young Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi found his goats bounding over the hillsides in a joyous frenzy. He watched the goats closely and found that they were eating “cherries” from a nearby tree. He tried a few of the “cherries” for himself and felt instantly rejuvenated.
The Monks Get Involved
News of Kaldi’s discovery spread throughout Ethiopia. Monks from a local monastery collected the “cherries” and ate them in order to stay awake during long prayers and religious services.
400 AD: Arabs Become First to Cultivate Coffee Plants
Ethiopia’s magical “cherries” made their way to southern Arabia (now Yemen), where coffee was cultivated for the first time. The Arabs also created the first recorded word for coffee: quawah (KAH wah), which means “Arab Wine.” Coffee becomes, well, coffee. Up to this point, coffee beans were eaten as food, or fermented in water to create a medicinal wine. Thank the Turks for roasting the beans over open fires, crushing them, pouring hot water over them, and creating the beverage we love.
1654: First Coffeehouse Opens in Italy
The first coffeehouse opened in Venice a full seven years before the first public restaurant opened in Paris. The coffeehouse concept spread quickly throughout Europe, and by the mid 1600s, there were over 200 coffeehouses in Venice alone.
1696: Dutch Create First Blend
Coffee was planted on the Dutch colony of Java, making the Dutch the first Europeans to grow the plant. Java quickly became one of the world’s best coffees, second only to Arabian Mocha. By taking the two coffees and mixing them together, the Dutch created Mocha Java, the world’s oldest coffee blend.
1700: Coffee Discovers America
French naval officer Gabriel de Clieu nurtured a lone coffee plant during a journey across the Atlantic. This one plant, transplanted to the Caribbean island of Martinique, multiplied to nearly 20 million trees by 1777, and is the source of the coffee plants found in Central and South America today.
1700s: Voltaire Single-handedly Contributes to Coffee’s Popularity
The French philosopher is reported to have drank in excess of 50 cups of coffee a day.
1822: First Espresso Machine Invented in France
1908: First Drip Coffee Maker Invented
For the first time, coffee was passed through a filter.
1933: First Automatic Espresso Machine is Created
1995: Coffee Surpasses Tea as World’s Most Popular Beverage
In the past three centuries, more than 90 percent of all people living in the western world have switched from tea to coffee.
2006: Coffee is a Giant Global Industry
Today, the coffee industry employs more than 20 million people worldwide. The commodity ranks second only to petroleum in terms of dollars traded. Over 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year.
Unless specified, drinks are made with fresh whole milk. Skim milk, soy, half and half, and 2% may also be requested.
Caffe au Lait
Caffe con Leche
Caffe con Panna
Double Tall Skinny
Double or Triple Shots
Non Espresso Based Drinks
An espresso that has been diluted with hot water to make the flavor less intense.
Mixing two or more varieties of roasted coffee or different roasts (light or dark) to produce a balanced, pleasing taste. Many shops feature a "house" blend. Wired Coffee Bar features Armando’s Blend.
Caffe au Lait
French style coffee made by simultaneously pouring drip coffee and steamed milk into a cup.
Caffe con Leche
Espresso with enough steamed milk to fill an 8 ounce cup.
Caffe con Panna
Espresso served topped with a dollop of whipped cream.
Espresso with steamed milk. Adding a flavor creates an individual choice. A caramel latte uses caramel syrup, a vanilla flavored syrup is used for a vanilla latte.
Espresso marked with 1 to 2 tablespoons of foamed milk. (Macchiato means "marked" in Italian).
Espresso, chocolate syrup, and steamed milk, topped with whipped cream and cocoa powder or chocolate syrup.
Espresso and frothed milk. The frothy "cap" may be garnished with chocolate or caramel syrup for example.
The tan foam formed on the surface of the espresso during the brewing process. The crema makes a "cap" which helps retain the aroma and flavors of the espresso within the cup. The presence of crema indicates an acceptable brew.
Double Tall Skinny
Double espresso and steamed nonfat milk.
Extra foam. As the foam settles your drink may appear to be less than a full cup.
A method of quickly extracting the heart of coffee flavor, under pressure, from specially roasted, finely ground Arabica beans. 1-1/2 ounces of Espresso is known as a "shot" and serves as the basis of many delicious coffee drinks.
The term given to milk which has been made thick and foamy by aerating it with hot steam.
Double espresso, milk, flavored syrup or chocolate, ice, and polar powder blended then served in a 16 to 24 ounce glass.
Double espresso, milk, flavored syrup or chocolate, and ice served in a 16 to 24 ounce glass.
A mocha combines espresso, steamed milk, and chocolate and is often capped with whipped cream and chocolate syrup. If white chocolate is used, then the mocha becomes a white mocha.
Coffee with added shot of espresso.
Latte made with 1 percent or nonfat milk.
Double or Triple Shots
If you want extra flavor and power, you can ask for your drink to be prepared with more than one shot of espresso.
Non Espresso Based Drinks
Frozen varieties such as Chocolate Crème, Vanilla, and Carmel to name a few can be made without espresso.
Hot Chocolate is made with fresh milk or half and half steamed with a premium chocolate.
Steamers, a hot steamed milk with any flavor, are also available.
Chai Tea can be served hot, frozen or on ice.
Italian Soda, which is club soda flavored with any syrup is another refreshing option.
Enjoy the flavor of any of your favorite drinks without the caffeine, hold the espresso or choose decaf.
What’s in the taste?
What makes a good cup of coffee? is a complicated (and often subjective) question. In the coffee industry, “cuppings” are held in an attempt to find the answer. A cupping is to coffee what a tasting is to wine; cuppers look to describe the five main factors that give a coffee its unique character: acidity, body, flavor, aroma and finish. Here we outline the meaning of these terms so that you can better describe your own perfect cup.
A crispness and clarity associated with the most interesting coffees. Acidity produces a sensation of dryness under the edges of your tongue, and on the back of your palate. Without sufficient acidity, coffee will tend to taste flat. Words used to describe acidity are crisp, clean, lively and snappy. Don’t confuse acidity with acid level (pH). All coffees have approximately the same pH as a carrot—far less than even a glass of orange juice. Acidity is the product of climate, region, soil, elevation and processing. In general, coffees grown in Africa and Costa Rica possess the highest levels of acidity, coffees from Indonesia the lowest.
A measure of how thick or heavy a particular coffee feels in your mouth. To better understand body, imagine how milk feels in your mouth. Whole milk has a heavy body; it feels creamy and thick. Conversely, skim milk has a light body; it feels thin and watery. The body of a coffee is related to the amount of oil and solids extracted during brewing. Typically, Indonesian coffees will possess greater body than coffees from South and Central America.
The predominant taste a coffee introduces to your palate. Flavor is highly subjective; two people can taste the same coffee and note very different flavors. Even coffee crops grown on the same estate can yield different flavors, much like grapes from the same vineyard can. Acidity, aroma and body are all components of flavor. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) has created its own vocabulary list to describe coffee’s many flavor characteristics.
The scent of a particular coffee. Strictly speaking, aroma cannot be separated from acidity, flavor and body. Acidic coffees smell pungent, sharp and lively, while richly flavored coffees smell heavy and rich. Without our sense of smell, our only taste sensations would be sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Aroma contributes to the much more complex flavors we discern on our palates.
The aftertaste coffee leaves in your mouth. The finish can make or break a cup of coffee.