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While coffee may be one of the most popular drinks known to humankind, still, millions of Americans unwittingly drink sub-par, flat, stale, bitter and down-right nasty sludge that the big brands want us to believe is a “gourmet” product. But don't be too hard on yourself, it's not your fault. Truth in Advertising has gone the way of the Dodo bird. And, if you ask me, that sludge is not “good to the last drop”!
You've taken a first step to learning about what truly good coffee is.
You may have heard that a truly good cup of specialty coffee has a lot in common with a fine Italian wine. That is true! They are rare and have exceptional tastes and aromas. They are an highly sought-after experience, which is usually why they cost a great deal more than their grocery store counterparts. But even among the highest quality specialty coffees there are surprisingly affordable options; even for those of us on a tight budget.
Coffee Is Broadly Defined As Specialty Or Commercial Grade
Commercial coffee is usually roasted and packed in huge factory-style plants, under nationally advertised brand names. Specialty coffee is usually roasted in small shops or “Roasteries” using traditional methods and technology, and is often sold where it has been roasted.
Commercial Coffee - Is a definition used to define coffee in the Commodity Market, also known as the “C-Market”. In this market, commodity coffee is often traded on international stock exchanges. They are usually purchased and roasted by national brands. Commercial-grade coffees typically have more defects, may have insect damage among other quality issues. Commercial-grade coffees tend to score below 80 points by Q-graders.
Specialty Coffee - Is the opposite of commercial coffee and very big on quality. Specialty grade coffees are usually grown in unique microclimates and have a distinct and unique flavor profiles. They are mostly of fine Arabica grade (although Specialty Robusta is fast becoming a thing, a topic for future article perhaps) and on the cupping table, Q-graders use rating protocols to judge coffees on their acidity, sweetness, cup cleanliness, uniformity and aftertaste. For coffees to be considered specialty, they must score between 80 to 100 points.
Variety Is The Spice Of Life
There are a myriad of coffee varieties, origins, roasts and blends that determine the tastes and aromas that present themselves in the cup for the coffee connoisseur. But you don't have to be a connoisseur to enjoy a great cup of brew but you will benefit with a good understanding of the basics of coffee quality.
Mixing The Good With The Not-So-Good
Many big-brand coffee roasters roast a combination of low-cost commercial-grade Robusta beans with higher-quality Arabica beans to find that “sweet-spot” of broadly palatable flavor that consumers are both; willing to drink, and pay money. Arabica beans have a finer aroma, a richer flavor and more body than the less expensive beans which helps cover up the nasty bitter flavors found in commercial-grade coffees.
The perceived quality of the coffee is dependent on the proportions of the mix of these beans. Often, a coffee might be advertised as a premium blend of gourmet beans when in fact there are only small traces of quality beans in the blend. This is often the case with Jamaican and Kona coffees.
While there are many things that contribute to quality coffee, primarily, coffee gets it's flavor from the region, micro-climate and the soils they are grown in. Historically the best beans come from mountainous volcanic regions near the equator.
Freshness Is Key To Experiencing Great Coffee
Get It While It's Fresh! While coffee is technically not a “perishable” product in the traditional sense, like meat and lettuce. Those delicate tastes and aromas we love in our coffee have a very short lifespan once roasted. Coffee should always be made from whole beans that are freshly-ground just prior to brewing.
Commercial Or Specialty – How Do You Know What You're Looking At?
Comparing a big-brand coffee with a specialty coffee is easy enough, even for a coffee newbie. For the home consumer, a specialty Arabica coffee is typically found in a small bag, usually 12ounces or less. It has a small one-way valve near the top, it will have a “Roast Date” or “Roasted On” stamped or hand written on the bag. You should also find other information on the bag such as the Region (also called Origin), Farmer's name or Co-op name, the Variety of the plant, the Elevation at which it was grown and the Processing type.
Put On Your Adventure's Hat
You can buy coffee from all the different regions around the world and discover each one has its own unique flavor, aroma and rich history. Once you experience the taste of freshly-roasted specialty coffee you'll wonder how you made it so long before discovering the amazing tastes of specialty coffee.
The best way you can be reasonably assured of quality and taste is to buy freshly roasted coffee from a local source. And the best way to find a local source for specialty coffee in Michigan is to browse our Roasters Directory where you'll find roasters from all over the state. Remember to tell them you found them on Micoffee.org!
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