This is one of our ongoing coffee articles by our featured coffee expert and author, Mr. Robert Barker.
What exactly is ”Gourmet Coffee”. Gourmet coffee is most appropriately described as rare mountain grown coffee that makes up less than five percent of the world’s total coffee crop. It is grown with passion and processed with precision.
It’s a near perfect coffee grown in a tropical paradise by artisans. These coffees would never reach a gourmet market if it were not for the few select exporters, importers and roasters who share the dream of rewarding perfection.
Gourmet coffee is the best tasting coffee you have ever experienced. It is sweet and not particularly bitter. It is full flavored and has a good long aftertaste. The taste intrigues you so much that you’re compelled to have sip after sip.
Most Gourmet coffees will have a unique flavor profile that is distinct and representative of its national and/or regional origin. Whereas most mainstream coffees are boring and exhibit a simple common flavor profile that defy you to recognize where they were grown. A gourmet coffee on the other hand broadcasts its pedigree.
Unfortunately few people have had the opportunity to experience many of the truly great gourmet coffees grown around the world. As with any gourmet food product, experience is everything. One has to seek out the roasters dedicated to really being a purveyor of the world’s best. Many make that claim but few deliver. Gourmet roasters are actually more rare than the gourmet coffees.
Without personal experience and armed with only advertising hype, the hapless consumer often believes the hollow claims of many so called, gourmet coffee roasters. The claim of “100% Arabica” is not good enough. There are a lot of mediocre Arabica coffees out there. Even “100% Colombian” is often not good enough. It has to be a really good well-processed Colombian and preferably an heirloom variety. Every coffee producing country has good and poor quality offerings. Names such as Jamaican and Kona don’t “automatically” represent high quality.
As with any food product, the bulk is going to be mainstream quality with only a small percentage actually representing a superior product worthy of the distinction of being called gourmet. As such we have to pay a premium for the best.
No roaster is going to say his coffee is ordinary when he knows the consumer is not qualified to know the difference and besides there are many roasters who actually believe their own hype.
ecaf drinkers have an even harder time finding a gourmet coffee. Many decaf processors think decaf drinkers are not as discriminating as caffeinated coffee consumers, so why use good beans. Some may say, why use good beans if the decaffeination process is going to remove much of the flavor anyway. Some think the off-taste of an inferior coffee is going to be removed along with the caffeine. Not! Another argument is that the costs of decaffeination (25c to $1.oo per lb.) are mitigated if you start with cheaper, low priced beans.
For any chef to produce a great entrée, he or she must have the experience to judge the quality of the ingredients going into it. In the world of coffee this responsibility is shared with producers, exporters and brokers long before the roaster makes his selection.
Here is an outline of considerations that apply to the production a gourmet coffee and its epic journey to your cup.
At origin, in the producing country.
Selection of the right variety of tree to be put into cultivation
Good husbandry for assurance of healthy trees
Proper on-time harvesting
Proper on-farm processing
Proper factory milling and grading
Shipping from producing country to consuming country.
Protection from contamination
Assurance of shortest necessary time in a container
Container staged, out of direct sun while awaiting shipping
Procurement of samples from many brokers for comparisons
Good cupping procedures to identify superior quality
Degree of roast determination for best flavor
Proper roasting and cooling
Fresh shipping to consumer
Attend coffee tasting opportunities.
Roasted coffee cannot be saved for months
Buy fresh roast for weekly needs only
Freshly ground for immediate brewing
Proper grind and brewing procedures
Fresh brewed coffee cannot be saved more than an hour
There are quite a large number of hurtles that a coffee has to successfully cross before it will impress you with that first sip. The following takes a look at some details.
This article was kindly provided by Mr. Robert Barker. Mr. Barker has over 35 years experience in all fields of Commercial and Specialty Coffee. Starting in 1976 as a coffee producer in Colombia, green buyer for several roasting companies, green coffee importer and trader and most recently coffee production consultant and QA manager in Papua, New Guinea. Mr. Barker has contributed essays to trade journals on the subjects of coffee grading, cupping and roasting. He has served for a number of years on the arbitration panel for the Specialty Coffee Association of America and on the cupping panel of The Coffee Review.