Those Elusive Coffee Beans!
by Randy Wilson
With the spread of various coffee beans into our lives, it can be more and more difficult to discern what you’re buying at the market. And that’s not surprising given the sheer numbers game.
From what we know, there are more than 6,000 types of coffees beans in the world, with at least 25 major types of beans underneath that. When it comes down to it, though, the three most commercially important types of beans are Arabica, Robusta, and Kona.
Kona is extremely small commercially compared to Arabica and Robusta, but is extremely expensive and therefore important economically. Kona beans are grown in Hawaii.
Kona offers average bite and body but is in high demand worldwide because of its powerful aroma. These coffee beans are rarely blended with others because of their high desirability in and of themselves.
Arabica coffee beans account for over 60% of coffee production worldwide. The Arabica plant is a large bush and is very susceptible to frost, disease, and pests. Because of this, its beans are more expensive.
Arabica can be used in its pure form or used as the base for coffee blends with Robusta. Arabica has a delicate flavor and is used to add body to the coffee when used in blends.
The flavor of Arabica beans varies widely according to the region of the world where they are grown. Indonesian beans produce the richest, most full-bodied cup of coffee. Hailing from Java and Sumatra, the brew is a good dessert coffee and very suitable to flavoring with cream and sugar.
Arabica beans grown in Central and South America offer moderate body and aroma. Most breakfast blends are made with American coffees, as are most flavored coffees.
By contrast, Robusta coffee accounts for almost 40% of world production. Robusta differs from Arabica in that it’s much easier to grow and is resistant to disease and weather and is therefore cheaper.
However, this does not necessarily mean that a coffee blend with Robusta is lower quality than pure Arabica - coffee blends are designed to bring out the best in different flavors. Robusta has a strong flavor and is used to give 'kick' to coffees.
Robusta doesn’t vary in flavor as widely as Arabica does. It was first discovered growing naturally in the area now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Growers in Africa produce a coffee of medium aroma and body. If you like very flavorful coffees, you will like those from Kenya and Tanzania.
Now that you understand the basics of coffee beans, the question turns to which type of beans are right for you. It really depends on with what you’re planning to serve the coffee. If you’re serving with breakfast or a dessert of fruit and sorbet, beans from East Africa (particularly Kenya and Ethiopia) or Mexico will best complement the food.
If you’re going to offer your guests light desserts like cakes, cookies, or pie, the beans of Guatemala and Cololmbia will warm up the food with their slight acidic tendancy. With rich desserts like truffles, trifles, and tiramius, Indonesian coffee beans are full-bodied and smooth enough to perfectly offset the dessert.
Another key point to consider is how much coffee you’ll need. These high quality beans shouldn’t be bought in bulk and should instead be purchased so that you have just enough for your immediate need.
They should be stored in the refrigerator for no more than a week or in the freezer for up to a month.
To discover what beans are best for your daily cup of joe, conduct a taste test. Brew several types of beans seperately. Pour each in its own cup.
Pick up each cup individually, smell the coffee, and then slowly sip and taste the coffees. Later, take a sip or two when it's cooled, as many coffees change flavor as they cool.
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