Judging Coffee Beans Like a Barista

Would you like to judge coffee beans like a "barista"? Do you even know who a "barista" is? If not here a an short definition. A 'barista' is someone who makes coffee drinks as a profession. Yes, it's that simple and naturally, being a profession coffee maker a barista will have a broader outlook as to who to judge a coffee bean.

Professional taster normally nicknamed as 'Cuppers' and company buyers also share the barista's goal of finding beans, which produce a great drink. But the barista is more important than any of these people, mainly, because it's the barista who gets the immediate feedback from coffee drinkers as to a success or failure of a barista's efforts.

So, what does most barista's think about certain beans and the product produced?

Roughly 70 countries now grow coffee from which beans are produced, from Africa to the Middle East, from South America to the Caribbean and over to Hawaii - all within a band about the equator of roughly 25 degrees north or south.

Not surprisingly then, given the differences in climate altitude, equipment and techniques - and a host of other factors - beans from different countries show marked differences. Even different plantations will often have drastically different products.

Even so, each area only produces two main categories of beans - arabica and robusta. What is the difference? Well, with half the caffeine of the robusta, the arabica is used almost exclusively for the finest coffees. Its beans are more flavorful and full of aroma.

What type of beans is preferred?

Arabica beans from plants that grow their beans 3000 feet (915m) or above are the preferred beans of barista's. This is not accident. Coffee beans grow better at higher altitudes, the higher the altitude the better the bean. By contrast, 'Brazils' are arabica beans grown in lower altitudes in Brazil. These beans are not as highly prized.

Beyond that, judgments will differ depending on whether the consumer intends to 'roast their own' or not. Unroasted beans are green, soft and have a vegetative odor, which is normal.

For those seeking roasted, the categories broaden.

The medium roast is slightly darker and enormously popular since the medium roast is the degree used by the major coffee vendors (Folgers, Yuban, etc). By most barista's standards this is not a quality cup of coffee. But for the major coffee vendors this roast is highly profitable.

Dark or 'City' roast is what is seen in many specialty shops, where the process has reduced the caffeine and acid taste. The result is a less bitter, often sweeter cup. This is what's generally used for the average espresso.

So named because of the French, the 'French' roast is next in line. The French tend to prefer their coffee more full-bodied. The beans will appear very dark brown and have an oily texture or sheen. Look carefully and sniff so as to not confuse these with beans that have merely been burnt.

Darkest on the drinkable scale is the 'Italian' roast, often used in specialty espressos. The deep brown color and pungent aroma are distinctive and make a fine cup.

As one goes down the scale of color, the cups made from these beans will be increasingly less acid and more sweet. This is a consequence of the carmelization (browning and thickening into syrup) of sugars resulting from the roasting process. At the same time some of the caffeine - a bitter chemical - is burned away, producing a mellower cup.

Now that you are armed with the techniques of the barista, my hope is that you will pick and richer roast that will definitly satisfy your pallet.

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About The Author, Kenneth Elliott