Mar 19, 2012

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Coffee Tasting 101

Ask any hardcore coffee drinker about his preferred roast, and you’re sure to get a mini-lecture on the relative appeal of French versus medium city. But what – if anything – does the average home brewer mixing a cup on his Keurig coffee maker need to know about roasts or regional producers? The fact is, for some people, a well-brewed cup of coffee is not unlike a fine wine. The more they know, the more they’re able to appreciate the subtleties and complexities of the bean and the beauty of a really good blend. You never can tell: A few basic facts about coffee bean origins and roasting varieties might just help you enjoy your next cup a little more.

The world’s primary coffee-producing regions are South and Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The plant grows best in tropical climates at high elevations. It’s a seasonal crop, with each region following a slightly different harvesting schedule. Like grapes, coffee plants have a particular characteristic according to the region in which it is produced. A true coffee aficionado – like a wine expert – can distinguish what’s unique about a particular region’s blends, contrasting Sumatran blends with Ethiopian varietals and so on. But you don’t have to be able to tell whether a bean (which is actually a seed) hails from Brazil or Kenya to enjoy a good roast – you just have to know what you like. These days, even coffee makers from brands like Keurig and Cuisinart allow you to customize your blend to just about any strength and aroma.

You might also find that your coffee enjoyment is enhanced by knowing a thing or two about roasting. As it turns out, there’s more than one way to roast a bean. In fact, there are several. Think of roast varieties as a spectrum from light to dark with a number of shades in between. Roasting releases the oil that gives the bean its flavor, and it’s important to get it just right or else the drink will be bitter. The lighter the roast, the more acidic the flavor. Darker roasts produce a fuller-bodied brew. Among the lighter roasts are cinnamon, New England, and American. Medium roasts include city and full city, and dark roasts comprise French or espresso, Italian, and Spanish. It may seem counter-intuitive, but a dark roast actually contains less caffeine than a light one. Something to think about the next time you pop a light-roast K-cup into your Keurig coffee maker at nine in the evening!

One last thing – a coffee’s flavor is determined not by region or roast alone, but rather a combination of the two. So now that you know a few things about what goes into the flavor of a cup of coffee, you might spend a little more time savoring the brew that comes out of your Keurig coffee maker.

 

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