Types Of Coffee Beans

Coffee available to American consumers comes from the four corners of the globe including Sumatra, Arabia and India, but Brazil and Colombia remain the two largest suppliers.

Small trees of the madder family grow abundantly in the Colombian mountains under the watchful eye of farmers. Barely reaching heights of twenty feet at maturity, the trees simultaneously produce fragrant white flowers and clusters of crimson red cherries. And nestled within the flesh of those cherries are the seeds that fill close to ten million Colombian coffee sacks per year - many which find their way into nearly every American household. Coffee available to American consumers comes from the four corners of the globe including Sumatra, Arabia and India, but Brazil and Colombia remain the two largest suppliers.

Regardless of coffee's origins, all beans go through a similar process in preparation for brewing. Coffee trees reach maturity between three and four years when their clusters of fruit turn deep red. Farmers pluck the ripe cherries by hand and transport the full baskets by mule or truck to the processing plant. Since the coffee bean is the seed inside the sweet cherries, the fruit is forced through a manual machine to extract the seeds. While the pulp is salvaged for use as fertilizer, the seeds - or coffee beans - are soaked in cool water to stimulate a fermentation process. Next the beans are spread over mats to dry in the open sun. Rotten or disfigured beans are removed so only the highest quality coffee beans remain. Next the thick, parchment-like hull is removed to reveal a green coffee bean.

There are several species of coffee trees but most commercial coffee growers use primarily the Arabica and Robusta species. Arabica trees are believed to produce the highest quality beans. However, Robusta trees are more economically viable due to their heartiness. Coffees are rarely designated as Robusta or Arabica beans. The soil and environmental conditions play such a significant role in flavoring the beans, that all coffee beans are labeled according to their geographic origins. Kilimanjaro coffee comes from the Tanzanian foothills near Mount Kilimanjaro, for example, while Java coffee derives from the Indonesian islands.

For many years, consumers purchased green coffee beans and roasted them at home. Today nearly all beans are roasted by the manufacturers who possess the appropriate equipment. Roasting the beans enhances the coffee's flavor and releases pungent oils. Although there exist no strict conventions for classifying different types of roasts, there are some well-known roasts that have maintained a certain consistency between manufacturers. American roast produces a medium bodied coffee. This roast is used almost exclusively in average American store brands and in restaurants across the country. Brazilian roast is a slightly darker roast than the American roast. Despite its name, the roast has no connection to Brazil. An increasingly popular roast is the French roast. French roasted beans are the color of dark chocolate. The roast produces a deep, hearty brew and a touch of the bean oil should be visible on the coffee's surface. The darkest roast is Espresso. Beans are roasted until they are nearly burnt which gives the roast its distinct, sharp flavor.

All coffee is best bought as whole roasted beans. The minute the beans have been ground their flavor diminishes. Whole beans can be frozen for several months, but ground beans will last in an airtight container no longer than a few weeks. Coffee is brewed by two methods: decoction or infusion. Decoction refers to boiling the beans until the flavor is released. This method was popular before coffee machines but is now only reserved for traditional Turkish coffees. The most popular means of brewing coffee is by infusion. Infusion includes steeping coffee grounds in hot water or filtering the grounds with hot water through paper or cloth. The ideal cup of coffee depends upon one's preference, but the standard ratio is two tablespoons of coffee grounds to three-quarters a cup of water. Brewed coffee must be served immediately as oxidation will ruin the flavor.

Many coffee drinks have become popular with Americans in recent years. Espresso, made by brewing espresso roasted beans under high pressure, is a strong, black coffee served in small cups. Machiatto is espresso with a touch of steamed milk. Cappuccino is even thirds of espresso, steamed milk, and a "˜cap' of milk foam. Café latte is one-third espresso and two-thirds steamed milk. The favorite French drink, Café au Lait is made with strong coffee (never espresso) and generous portions of hot milk. Flavored coffee -- such as hazelnut, maple walnut and raspberry -- is produced by adding flavored oils to the beans during roasting. Depending on the manufacturer, the flavors can be natural or artificial.

Coffee connoisseurs rate coffees based on their aroma, acidity (liveliness), body and flavor. High quality coffees have strong, fragrant aromas. High acidity levels in beans is preferable, but their body can range from light (Mexican coffees) to heavy (Sumatra coffees). Connoisseurs describe the flavor using adjectives such as earthy, mellow or grassy. Although your average coffee consumer in America could not distinguish an earthy flavor from a mellow one, the busy neighborhood Starbucks is evidence enough that Americans love all varieties of coffee regardless.

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