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The ABCs of Coffee

The Search for a Great Cup of Coffee Must Consider the Type of Bean, The Country of Origin and the Roast
Sam Gugino
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95

(continued from page 2)

The ecologically popular Swiss water process uses carbon-filtered water. It is more expensive and produces a coffee that is less flavorful but has more body. Less frequently used, though very promising, is a technique that employs highly compressed carbon dioxide; it allows flavor components to remain in the bean, but it is expensive.

If you are throwing up your hands in confusion, you might be comforted by the fact that cheaper robusta beans contain up to 40 percent more caffeine than quality arabica beans.


Relatives of that first coffee plant in Ethiopia found their way to the far-flung corners of the world, from Antigua to Java. But as Kenneth Davids writes in Coffee, a Guide to Buying, Brewing & Enjoying (101 Productions, 1991, 254 pages, $11.95), "the plant has remained extraordinarily true to itself through five centuries of plantings around the world."

What accounts for the differences is what the French, in referring to grapes, call terroir--the soil, moisture and climate of a particular region. The following is a list of the major coffee-growing regions of the world and the characteristics of the beans of each.


Mexico--Their snappy acidity and light body make Mexican berries appropriate for straight, black morning coffee. But most often they wind up in blends with richer, more full-bodied beans. Look for Altura Coatepec and Oaxaca Pluma as well as organic coffees from Chiapas.

Guatemala--One of the world's great coffees, with high acidity balanced by heavy body and accented by a distinctive smokiness. While Antigua is the best-known name, more coffee is currently coming from Huehuetenango. Cobán is another name to remember.

El Salvador and Nicaragua--Both produce coffee that is generally of medium body and undistinguished flavor, though the high-grown Nicaraguan coffees of Jinotega and Matagalpa can be quite good.

Costa Rica--"Almost too good," says Timothy James Castle, author of The Perfect Cup: A Coffee Lover's Guide to Buying, Brewing and Tasting (Addison-Wesley, 1991, 256 pages, $12.50). The best exhibit a superb balance of bracing acidity, full body and deep richness. Especially prized are coffees from the Tarrazu, particularly La Minita, and Bella Vista from the Tres Ríos.

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