All About Coffee – Guide to Roasts and Storage

Coffee is the most popular beverage in the United States, plus, I’m a real coffee lover. There’s so much on this site about making coffee; I thought that it was essential to have a complete guide all about coffee.

What Is Coffee?

Most people are familiar with what a roasted coffee bean looks like, but when the coffee is still on the tree, it’s not a bean; it’s a coffee cherry.

Coffee is grown on carefully groomed trees, typically in South and Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. Where coffee is grown may determine the type of coffee that is from that region. There are two main types of coffee. Roughly three-quarters of all coffee grown around the world is Arabica coffee. Arabica trees descend from the first coffee trees discovered in Ethiopia. Arabica coffee is grown throughout Latin America, East and Central Africa, India, and Indonesia. Arabica trees produce cherries/beans that make a mild and aromatic coffee that is typically lower in caffeine than the other main bean, which is Robusta.

Robusta coffee is grown in West and Central Africa as well as Southeast Asia. Some Robusta coffee grown in Brazil is not very common in the rest of Latin America. Robusta is typically less expensive and easier to cultivate, which is adding to its popularity. The Robusta bean is generally used in coffee blends and for instant coffee. One of the key differences in the beans is that Robusta beans contain 50-60% more caffeine than Arabica beans.

From the Tree to the Cup

The trip that coffee makes before it lands in your cup takes time. It takes a about a year for the coffee cherry to fully mature so that it can be picked. Coffee plantations and farms will have one major harvest per year, but some countries, like Columbia may have two harvests a year. A lot of coffee is grown in mountainous regions and may be picked by hand, but the largest producer, Brazil does have some automation in the harvesting process.

It should be noted that 100 pounds of picked coffee cherries will generate about 20 pounds of coffee beans.

Once picked, coffee needs to be processed in order to prevent spoilage. There’s two methods of processing the beans; the age-old dry process and a newer wet process. Regardless of the process used, the beans need to be dried to a moisture level of 11% for optimal flavor.

Once the beans are dried, they are then sorted to eliminate sub-optimal beans and then they are milled. Milling the coffee beans removes the dried husk or the parchment layer of the cherry and then polishes the beans that removes any other layers on the bean that will prevent the best tasting and brewed coffee.

When the beans are shipped around the world, the beans are not yet roasted and ready to be brewed. Unroasted beans are generally green. The roasting process is what creates the brown aromatic coffee that you and I purchase at the store.

Roasting Coffee

There are four different ‘grades’ of roasted coffee, each of which will yield a different color and flavor of the brewed coffee. The first is a lightly roasted coffee. The beans will have a lighter color than other roasts and will produce a milder cup of coffee. One reason is that a lightly roasted bean does not allow the oils inside the bean to escape to the outside of the bean.

The next roast is known as a medium roast. The result of the medium roast is a slightly darker bean (and coffee), but still a non-oily bean. The medium roast is the preferred roast in the United States and is also known as American roast. Next is a medium-dark roast. This roast produces a slightly darker color and is the first roast that exposes some internal coffee oils to the outside of the coffee bean. The last and most intense roast is the dark roast. The dark roast produces shiny, very dark beans with an oily surface. These beans will brew a more bitter-tasting brewed coffee compared with the other roasts.

Coffee Beans in and around wooden spoons

Storing Your Coffee

Whether you buy coffee beans and grind them yourself or purchase ground coffee, the enemy is the same. The enemy is air, moisture, heat, and light. So the best way for you to store your coffee is to keep it in an air-tight dry container in a cool and dark spot. Opaque containers are best, and you might even consider storing the beans in your basement, as long as it is dry.

Coffee experts uniformly agree that you should drink your coffee as soon as possible after purchasing it to make sure that it is as fresh as possible. This will bring out the most flavor in your coffee.

There is not much agreement about whether or not you can or should store extra beans (or grounds) in the refrigerator or even freeze them. The honest answer to that question depends on whether or not any moisture will get into the coffee. Ensure that whatever you are storing the coffee in is truly air-tight, and you can do either. Freezing roasted coffee is not likely to adversely impact the resulting brewed coffee.

Source: much of the research behind this article was sourced from the US National Coffee Association.

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