How coffee beans are judged is the profession of a barista, a coffee maker. Coffees taste is judge by a cupper, a professional taster. All this expertise is combined to help buyers get the best beans to make the best cup of coffee. However, the barista is the person you see at your coffeehouses. They note every comment, good and bad, to judge the failure or success produced by cappuccino machines and other coffee brewing methods.
About 70 countries grow coffee beans in a band from the Equator to about 25° north or 25° south. Plantations are found in Africa, the Middle East, South America, the Caribbean and even Hawaii. It is the barista’s job to decide which region supplies the best beans as influenced by their customers.
Due to varied climates, altitudes, machinery and techniques, each country’s beans have different qualities. Each plantation will also have individual variants of the two main types of beans, robusta and arabica. Robusta is the bean of choice due to lower caffeine levels. It is used for the best coffees, supplying better flavor and aroma.
Arabica beans are best grown at above 3000ft. Brazilian arabica beans are less preferred, being grown at lower levels. Ultimately, the final decision is down to if you are roasting your own beans or getting pre-roasted beans. Green beans normally smell like vegetables and are soft. Choose them if you are doing your own roasting. If you want roasted beans, the varieties are seemingly endless.
Roasted beans come in many flavors. Cinnamon or light beans refer to the color only. They are very acidic and very high in caffeine. American roast or medium is fractionally darker and used by Folger and Yuban, but not the best quality. City roast or dark is a specialty item with less caffeine and the taste is acidic, but the final cup is not so bitter. It is an average type espresso. French roast is very dark and oily in appearance, but not burnt. They give a full-bodied flavor. Italian roast is used for the best espresso drinks. It is the darkest colour, a strong aroma, the least amount of acid, has the lowest caffeine and is much sweeter. This sweetness results from the carmelization of the beans’ sugars during roasting. The lower caffeine levels result from being burned away during roasting. The result is a mellow cup of coffee.
Therefore, when you go coffee bean shopping you can play the amateur barista. You have the basic knowledge, but without the long line-ups of customers and a store full of machines.