About Coffee

What are coffee beans?

Coffee beans are the seeds of the coffee "cherry"; two seeds normally grow within each cherry. On the tree, the beans are covered by the silverskin (a vestigial remainder of the fruit's development, also called the spermoderm). The silverskin is covered by a parchment skin (the endocarp), which is covered by a slimy layer (the parenchyma), surrounded by a thin layer of pulp (the mesocarp), all covered by an outer skin (the exocarp). These layers must be removed prior to roasting, though some silverskin often remains attached.


Arabica and robusta

All coffee beans come from plants in the genus Coffea. Although there are thousands of species of plants within this genus, with tremendous variance in size and shape, only two are of commercial importance: Coffea arabica, and Coffea canephora, the latter more commonly called robusta, after a prime variety. A third species, Coffea liberica has found some localized production in Liberia, but it is of minor significance in the global market.


Arabica is genetically distinct: it has four sets of chromosomes, whereas robusta, and liberica each have two.


Sensory descriptions

The taste of arabica beans differ between varieties and growing regions--the same variety grown in different parts of the world will taste different. These taste notes can be as varied as berries (blueberry is often particularly noted in Ethiopian Harrar), earthy (a characteristic associated with Indian and Indonesian coffees,) citrus (common with Central Americans), or chocolate.


On average, a robusta will be harsher. One importer likened a particularly bad origin to dung, though very fine robustas can, potentially, compare favourably to a quality arabica. Premium robustas are essentially reserved for espresso blends, where they are primarly used to greatly improve the crema and to add a certain bite to the shot. The difficulty is in finding an exceptional robusta; growers and processors are often not willing to dedicate as much effort to robusta as they are to arabica, since the only potential market is for those blends. Robustas are rarely sold straight; instead, in addition to premium robustas used in espresso blends, poor quality robustas may be added to freeze-dried coffees or to coffee-flavoured frozen drinks where the sugar and cream overwhelm the off-notes. Robusta has notably more caffeine than arabica.


Jamaican Blue Mountain

Often used as a synonym for coffee excellence, Jamaican Blue Mountain refers to a specific region on the island of Jamaica: the Blue Mountains, of which Blue Mountain Peak is the highest point on Jamaica at 7,402 feet. Only coffee grown on certain estates may be called "Blue Mountain": Wallenford, Mavis Bank, Silver Hill, and Moy Hall registered the rights to call their product Blue Mountain, and Old Tavern Estate was in recent years awarded the right to use the name. The sale, roasting, and export of Blue Mountain coffee is strictly controlled by the Jamaican government and the Coffee Industry Board


Why are some coffees aged?

Unroasted coffee beans that are properly stored will change their taste profile. Acidity decreases and the perceived body deepens, while certain defects can become less apparent. Those coffees given the appellation "aged" are usually held for a number of years under carefully controlled conditions, and may have extraordinarily rich bodies. However, some aged coffees simply taste old and flat. Make sure you buy aged coffee from a reputable dealer who has sampled ("cupped") that particular batch.


What's a monsooned coffee?

Monsooned coffees have been held in open-sided warehouses and exposed to the steady, damp monsoon winds. In a matter of weeks, the beans yellow, and gain a flavour reminiscent of, but distinct from aged coffees. By far the most common monsooned coffee is Indian monsooned Malabar. Again, buy from a retailer who is personally familiar with the particular batch of coffee you are considering purchasing. Monsooned coffee isn't for everyone, but it should be sampled.



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