Types of Coffee: A Guide for the Casual Consumer
Over 50 percent of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee on a regular basis. Its most popular utility is as a stimulant, waking us from our morning lethargy, but with time, many of us develop a taste, and let’s face it, a habit for that bitter goodness. With a Starbucks or a Dunkin on every corner, it’s safe to say that America’s affinity for coffee isn’t going anywhere, but do we know what we’re drinking? Words like “Arabica” and “Light Roast” probably only hold vague significance for people who opt for whatever costs the least or mask the coffee flavor with cream and sugar. Let’s face it, most types of coffee taste about the same unless you’re a connoisseur, but as a general rule, isn’t it better to be educated about the things we consume? Here are some things that may be good to know the next time you make a coffee purchase.
Where coffee comes from
Coffee beans are acquired from the berries that grow on the coffee tree. Coffee grows best in the “bean belt,” which are the countries in between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.
Types of Beans
Arabica: Grown at higher altitudes and therefore difficult and expensive to grow. They have a lower yield but of the two types of coffee beans, Arabicas are superior due to their more delicate flavor and low acidity, creating a higher demand.
Robusta: By contrast, Robusta can be grown at lower altitudes, hotter climates and with less moisture. It therefore has less growing restrictions, but also a less desirable flavor, selling at lower prices than Arabica. It also is more caffeinated than Arabica. Most mass market commercial beans are of the Robusta variety.
While there is only the two types of coffee beans, the regions in which they are grown and harvested produce different flavors, so the variety is rather great. Also, coffees from different parts of the world are often combined into custom blends to create more complex and interesting flavors.
Refers to the flavors produced through the roasting of the beans. Flavor depends on the length of time the beans were roasted for.
Light: Provides smoother, delicate flavors, though often more acidic. Because the beans are roasted for a shorter period, the bean’s original flavor is allowed to shine through.
Medium: More full-bodied, toasty flavor with less acidity. Light and Medium roasts are the most commercially popular.
Dark: Strongest, most smokey flavor with the least acidity. Roasted to the point where sugars in the bean caramelize and oils rise. Used most commonly for specialty coffees and espressos. Less popular due to its more bitter taste, but growing in popularity with chains like Starbucks exposing people to it and promoting dark roasts.
Different roasts are often combined to make custom blends, creating more complex flavor profiles than a single roast can provide.
Not all coffees are created equal. The variety can be daunting and many of us are happy with whatever’s poured out of the local diner’s coffee pot, but the next time you’re in the coffee section of the supermarket, take your time and see what the world has to offer, it’s fun to try new things.