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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 6)

Darkest (also called Italian, Espresso,** French, Spanish, Neapolitan, heavy.) Very dark brown, almost black beans, with oil virtually gushing from them. This roast also has burned or charcoal flavors with a heavy bittersweet tang and no acidity.

* Viennese or Vienna may also refer to a blend of beans, usually one-third dark-roasted beans and two-thirds medium-roasted.

** There is no such thing as an espresso bean, only a type of roast. In fact, a very good espresso can be made from lighter roasts as well.

BLENDS

Just as most of the great wines of Bordeaux are derived from blends of two or more grape varieties, many of the great coffee brews are blends of two or more beans. (Jug wines are also blends, as are commercial coffees.)

There are few "complete" coffees that have sufficient body and acidity to stand up on their own. The best Guatemalans and Costa Ricans are two examples, as are the Kenyan AA, Sumatran and Celebes. But even these coffees are used in blends.

The idea behind a great blend is to achieve a perfect balance of richness, aroma, body and acidity by combining strains that complement their partners.

Many Central American coffees, for example, have plenty of racy acidity, but need a little oomph to carry the day. Indonesian coffees are more noted for their body and are frequently matched with Central American coffees, as in the very popular Major Dickason's blend used at Peet's.

But maybe your coffee is too balanced, almost to the point of being boring on the palate. Try throwing in some wild Ethiopian Harrar. But don't combine two distinctive coffees, such as the Harrar and the Yemen Mocha; they will clash. Similarly, don't put together coffees that accentuate one characteristic only, such as a blend of highly acidic Central American coffees would do.

Most roasters blend beans before roasting, while many consumers like to blend on the spot, often combining different styles of roasting. Blending before roasting tends to even out the distinctions between the coffees, while blending after roasting (combining different roasting styles) tends to maintain the character of the individual coffees--assuming the beans were roasted properly to begin with.


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