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Sunday, January 16, 2005

Well Balanced Coffee - Bean Characteristics

What's in a bean? How do the pros judge their coffee? Here is a brief overview of the characteristics you should consider when choosing the perfect bean for you. The four terms "flavor", "aroma", "acidity" and "body" are used by professionals when evaluating coffee quality. Coffee beans that rate well in all four areas are described as "well-balanced". Once you understand these four bean characteristics, you will be well equipped to buy the right beans for your taste. One way to become familiar with the bean characteristics is to try coffee tasting, also known as "coffee cupping". To setup your own coffee tasting at home, click here to read our coffee cupping article.

1. Acidity

Coffee with good acidity tastes bright, with a pleasant sharpness similar to a dry white wine. Acidity is a desirable characteristic and can be fruity (try a Kenyan coffee) or metallic (Mexican). Without acidity, coffee tastes bland or 'flat'.

2. Body

Body is the word used to describe the way the coffee feels in your mouth. A full-bodied coffee, such as Kenyan or Ethiopian will feel thick, rich or heavy. A medium-bodied coffee, such as South and Central American, will feel lighter. If you like milk in your coffee, a heavier-bodied coffee will maintain more flavor when the milk is added. Adding milk also helps you to compare the body of two coffees - the one with more body will retain more flavor. With a mouthful of coffee, you can assess the body by running your tongue across the roof of your mouth. You will be able to feel oiliness and thickness, which together define body. Body can be thin, thick, dry, syrupy, etc.

3. Aroma

When coffee beans are roasted, they release the fragrant oils that make the coffee aroma. High quality coffee beans will contain up to 3 times more fragrant oils than inferior beans. South American beans have good aroma and are noticeably shiny after roasting due to the amount of coffee oils that are released.

4. Flavor

Flavor is the combined effect on the tastebuds of the acidity, body and aroma of the coffee bean. Terms used to describe flavor usually draw comparisons with other familiar tastes, such as 'nutty', 'spicy', or 'watery'. Here are some common terms used to describe the flavor of coffee beans - Positive Flavors: Nutty, Spicy, Fruity, Mellow, Caramelly, Chocolaty, Winey, Floral, Smokey, Tangy Negative Flavors: Grassy, Chemically, Muddy, Watery, Rubbery, Rioy (a medicinal taste)

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