You’ve probably been faced with the decision before, maybe at a coffee shop or a grocery store: do you get the “regular” coffee, or do you get gourmet coffee? You may have wondered to yourself if there is even a difference between the two, or if “gourmet” is just a marketing term. The truth is that gourmet means, well, gourmet. It’s a cut above. It’s coffee that is better than other coffee.
And, if you’re anything like us, when you reach for a cup of coffee, you want it to be good. We’ve all had mediocre coffee--coffee that has been sitting on the brewer for hours or stale coffee. This isn’t the kind of gourmet coffee experience that we aspire to, and we don’t think it should be the kind of coffee experience that you should have to settle for. Getting a good cup--a really good cup--of gourmet coffee is within your grasp, so quit wasting time with the subpar stuff and wake up to a really excellent cup of joe.
So what makes coffee gourmet? The vast majority of a coffee’s quality comes from the bean itself. Use gourmet beans and you’re going to get better coffee, and if you use plain beans you’re going to get the same-old, same-old coffee experience. The next thing that affects a coffee’s quality is the way that the beans are picked, processed, and roasted. There’s an art there, and gourmet coffee comes from the best methods and recipes. Finally, the packaging of coffee is going to make it gourmet--and we’re not saying that a pretty package means one coffee is better than another! The actual material used to store and transport the beans is going to make a difference in the way that the beans come out.
So, gourmet coffee is all about beans, processing, and packaging. Let’s look at each one.
It All Begins With the Gourmet Bean
Gourmet coffee is made from 100% Arabica beans, full stop. There are two main kinds of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta, and gourmet coffee uses Arabica, while mediocre coffee uses Robusta. We’ll talk more about the difference between these two beans in a moment, but we also want to say this: the location the bean is planted is going to dramatically change the flavor of the bean. An Arabica bean grown in Columbia is going to have a different flavor from an Arabica bean grown in Hawaii. So, gourmet coffee means that it uses the right beans grown in the right places.
The difference in Arabica and Robusta beans starts with flavor: Arabica is typically considered to taste better, with a smoother and sweeter taste, perhaps with a hint of chocolate, or even fruit and berries. Robusta beans, on the contrary, are more bitter. They have a stronger flavor that may even have hints of rubber. Clearly, “smooth, sweet, and chocolate” is better than “harsh and rubbery”.
The reason that Robusta is so common, when Arabica is superior in taste, is that Robusta is easier to grow, and it has more caffeine in it. It’s also preferred in espresso because it forms the creamy layer on top of the coffee better than Arabica. It’s also worth noting that Robusta beans grow well because they have natural resistance to pests and disease--and that’s true--but that resistance is because of acids and chemical compounds in the Robusta bean that also affect the taste.
Basically, Arabica is the clear winner in taste, but Robusta is more common because it’s easier to get (thus making it cheaper).
Where Are the Beans Grown?
The species of bean controls about 70% of its ultimate flavor, but the other 30% comes from the soil and climate where it’s planted. We’re not going to get into a discussion of which climate produces the best bean--some people claim Costa Rica, others claim Ethiopia, others say it’s Hawaii or nothing. Suffice it to say that those subtle differences in flavors (the notes of berries, chocolate, and fruit that we mentioned before) come from the place where the Arabica beans are planted, grown and harvested.
Truth be told, many gourmet coffees are not 100% Kona or 100% Columbian, but a carefully concocted blend of many different types of beans to get the perfect recipe for the perfect cup.
And we don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but if you’re trying to cut costs to produce the cheapest beans (you’d obviously use Robusta) you’re not going to travel to the ends of the earth to find the best soil. Robusta beans are grown in adequate soil. But ask yourself: is adequate the same thing as gourmet?
Gourmet Coffee Has a Better Picking and Processing Method
Once the Arabica beans have been grown, they have to be harvested in a certain process and procedure to make sure that they are perfectly prepared. Think about it: you may have a wonderful apple tree, but if you bruise the apple while you’re picking it then it’s not going to be a great apple. The same principle holds true with coffee beans.
There are two ways to harvest coffee beans (while they’re in their coffee cherry form). The first is Strip Picking, which strips all the beans off the tree one branch at a time, by hand or by machine. The second is Selective Picking, in which only the ripe coffee cherries are picked. Obviously, this latter process is more labor intensive, but that’s how we get gourmet coffee.
Beans are either processed with the Dry Method (letting the cherries dry in the sun) or the wet method (passing the bean through a pulping machine to separate the bean from the cherry). Both have their advantages, and neither is necessarily better than the other. They each contribute to the end flavor of the bean, but the decision to use wet vs dry processing is primarily due to the climate where the beans are being harvested. (In either case, the beans must eventually reach approximately 11% moisture, whether this drying comes from the sun or on drying tables after wet processing.)
Milling the beans is an essential step in getting gourmet coffee, because it’s the method whereby a bean is measured by size and weight and packaged accordingly. The defective beans are removed (these are beans that have damage, are overly-fermented, or are an unacceptable color). Gourmet coffee uses machines to begin this process, but hand processing is a requisite part of the milling to ensure the human touch.
Next comes tasting: if the coffee is going to be split into different blends, then there needs to be this quality control step. The taster (called a copper) first smells the coffee beans to get their aroma, then tastes crushed coffee. (This may not sound delicious to us, but these gourmet coffee tasters know exactly what to look for, even in this pre-roasted state.)
Roasting comes next, and roasting recipes are often a closely-guarded secret, but industry standard says that a roasting machine reaches about 550 degrees Fahrenheit, and the beans reach an internal temperature of 400 degrees.
Packing and Getting Coffee to the Customer
You may not think it, but the way that roasted coffee is packaged will also affect the flavor. Roasted coffee needs to be stored in a bag that is allowed to breathe.
But you don’t want it to breathe too long. You want to get the freshly roasted coffee into the customers’ mugs as quickly as possible so that all of this laborious effort in manufacturing gourmet coffee will not go to waste.
Coffee in Tea Bags
Our gourmet coffee meets all of these recommendations to make it qualify as a gourmet product. The beans are 100% Arabica beans, and they are grown in specific climates that each offer a different and unique flavor profile: Costa Rica is sweet and fruity with notes of dark chocolate. Huila Colombian coffee is the most well-balanced and sweet. And Cerrado Brazilian coffee is smooth and well balanced with a creamy finish.
Packaged in tea bags, which allow the coffee to get the breath it needs, these coffees are all examples of what it means to truly have a gourmet cup of coffee. These tea bags are packaged individually and infused with nitrogen, so every cup is fresh. No matter what, there will be no more worries about opened bags of coffee that eventually turn stale!