Coffee drinking is one of the most widely spread traditions across many cultures in the world. It is found in a myriad of varieties, flavors and at many price ranges. What constitutes the variety in coffee and what makes a true gourmet coffee?
The foundation of a gourmet coffee is a good bean. About 70% of the intrinsic quality of the coffee bean is determined by the genetic characteristics of the seed. The other 30% of the coffee quality is determined by the ecosystem in which the coffee is cultivated. If you have a quality bean growing in an ideal environment you then need experienced processing of the bean for consumption. Together, these factors produce the best gourmet coffee.
There are two main types of coffee beans, Arabica and Robusta. Arabica beans are considered the premium and best tasting beans. Robusta is a less expensive bean but flavor is sacrificed for cost. It also differs from Arabica in that it is much easier and faster to grow and is more resistant to disease and weather. Though some blends mix the two types of beans, the best gourmet coffees are made from 100% Arabica beans. In Costa Rica is it forbidden by law to grow any bean but the Arabica variety.
Arabica beans require unique growing conditions. The plant is very susceptible to disease and pests. For the plants to thrive they need a high altitude of at least 1,200 meters and an average temperature of 20° C (70° F). In the few places in the world where these strict conditions are met, Arabica beans thrive and vary due to other environmental factors including the climate, latitude, altitude and the regional soil type. Arabica beans are especially prolific growing in Costa Rica’s enriched volcanic soil. Each of these factors will affect the aroma, body, flavor and acidity of the brewed coffee.
Once an Arabica bean is grown in an ideal environment, it must still be handled correctly to bring the best gourmet coffee to your cup. Harvesting by hand is important so that only the ripe coffee cherries are plucked and used for processing. The cherries must then be water processed and sun dried by experienced farmers before they are roasted. There are a number of levels of accepted roasts, the lighter showing off more of the bean’s natural character, where the darker roasts bring the beans natural oils to the surface creating a more intense flavor. Whatever level roast, it is important the beans are not burned or over roasted, which covers up the bean’s natural flavor. Finally, well cared for beans must be packed in a container that will allow the coffee to “breath” and expel its natural gases but prevents external agents such as humidity or air to get in. This proper packaging, such as Café Britt's, maintains freshness from the plantation to your cup.
Knowing all the factors that are necessary to create a gourmet coffee helps one appreciate it. Once you invest in gourmet coffee, you can follow a few simple steps to get the most out of it. First, grind fresh beans and brew them in a French Coffee Press for best results. Conduct taste tests with different blends and determine which you prefer for your daily cup, with afternoon sweets and after dinner. Exploration and experimentation of gourmet coffees is half the fun for a coffee connoisseur.