At first glance, it is not easy to distinguish a high-quality coffee from an inferior coffee. If you are a beginner in the coffee world, it is normal not to see these differences.
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Storage of coffee
With the right packaging, coffee beans can be stored in sealed bags for up to 4 weeks after roasting without losing the flavor of the coffee.
To maintain the quality of the coffee, the coffee should be kept in 1-way degassing valve bags or containers. These allow the CO2, which is a by-product of freshly roasted coffee, to escape and prevent oxygen from entering the container.
Freshness of the coffee bean
- An easy way to tell if a bean is good or bad is a film of oil on the bean. In this case, the bean is older and has already lost its taste.
- However, there are exceptions for coffee beans with an oil film. However, these are rare.
- Arabica coffee is known for its mild taste, which is often reminiscent of berries or cherries.
Arabica coffee is less bitter than Robusta coffee.
- Arabica coffee is the highest quality type of coffee. Thought to have originated in Ethiopia, Arabica beans are rounder, richer, larger and tastier than their Robusta counterparts.
- Arabica beans produce a variety of flavors and textures depending on growing conditions, and are praised for their clean, crisp, and flavorless finish.
- The Robusta bean is also typically rich and has certain differences from the Arabica bean, which is associated with the “traditional taste” of coffee.
- Cultivation is more economical as the plant is more vigorous. But Robusta is also cheaper to buy. Although there are lower quality Arabica beans in the supermarket, most instant coffee and edible beans are mostly of the Robusta variety.
In short, a good coffee or quality coffee should have the following characteristics:
- Be freshly roasted
- Be freshly ground before brewing
- Be properly proportioned
- Using high quality coffee beans
- The degree of grinding should be even and according to the preparation method
- Have a medium or light roast
Sweetness of coffee
The sweetness of the coffee provides a smooth and gentle aroma with no sharp or unwanted flavor notes that could be considered flaws.
- Unlike the kind of sweetness that is experienced simply by tasting sugar, the sweetness of a coffee encompasses a broader quality. This is perceived as a distinct sensation that can also evoke a fruity taste at the tip of the tongue.
- Professional coffee tasters assess sweetness by moving the coffee around in the mouth and then describing the intensity of the coffee’s sugary properties.
- Sugar, but also glycols and alcohols as well as some amino acids ensure the sweet quality, which can be described in more detail with terms such as fruity, chocolaty or caramel-like.
Acidity of coffee
In this case, the acidity of the coffee can easily be measured on a scale from sweet to sour.
- Most people like a balanced acidity.
- “Inferior” quality coffee is usually made from very acidic beans, leaving the coffee with a distinctly noticeable bitter taste. In recent decades, new methods of characterizing good or high-quality coffee have emerged, while still allowing coffee to be consumed with high acidity.
- Most roasts are light, medium, and dark. There are other roast types, but for now let’s keep it simple.
- Whether the bean is “dark” or “light” depends on how long the bean is roasted for, and this clearly affects the flavor of the bean.
- With light roasts, you get a sweeter, more intense taste in the coffee.
- Medium roasts are generally more used for espresso.
- Dark beans are bitter and have a very strong taste.
Coffee body or mouthfeel
According to the Espresso E-Coffee Guide media, the body of a coffee is perceived as the tactile sensation on the palate as the coffee covers the tongue and swirls around in the mouth.
- A coffee’s body is generally classified as light, medium, or full, which describes the overall heaviness, thickness, or viscosity, and “perceived richness” of the coffee.
- For coffee quality, this can vary depending on the brewing method and some filters. Depending on the brewing method, essential oils can be extracted from the coffee, which affects the overall body of the coffee.
The French press method preserves most of the oils, just like espresso, which is prepared in an espresso machine.
Bitterness of the coffee
When speaking of bitterness, it is due to the primary sensation of coffee flavor which is often felt as an irritation on the soft palate near the back of the mouth, or it can also be felt in the aftertaste.
- Bitterness is one of the four basic tastes sensed in the upper part of the mouth, along with sweet, sour, and salty.
- In a way, some quality of bitterness in a coffee is desirable, particularly in espresso and dark roasts where bitterness (quinine) can increase the “fullness” of coffee flavor.
the coffee grind clearly depends on individual preference when grinding the coffee, the coffee beans should be ground as evenly as possible for enjoyment and coffee quality.
- When brewing the coffee, the coffee has a period of time to transform the compounds and oils it contains into the hot water coffee beverage.
- If, when brewing the coffee, you find that some large chunks and a bit of powder are mixed in, then that’s bad.
- Less is extracted from large chunks. This means that not all of the coffee’s nuances and flavors are fully appreciated, resulting in the acidic components being extracted too ‘early’, which can result in the coffee tasting ‘thin’ and ‘grassy’.
- If the coffee beans are ground too fine, it will be extracted too quickly, leaving a lot of the bitterness from that extraction in your coffee.
If you develop your palate to distinguish the different nuances of coffee, you will be able to perceive aromas and “notes” more easily. These flavors include cinnamon, fruit flavors, mint, chocolate and caramel.
If you haven’t developed a palate yet, you can also determine the flavors by where the coffee comes from (its location). For example, whether the coffee was grown in Colombia, Brazil or Ethiopia. This may be because in smaller countries, flavors are affected by growing conditions. The following factors can play a major role:
- Type of soil
Sometimes you take a sip of coffee and the coffee “stays” in your mouth, hugging your taste buds. Other times you take a sip of coffee and the bad coffee taste lingers in your mouth, holding your taste buds hostage.
- Bad coffee beans leave an aftertaste that “burns” in the mouth. In general, bad coffee beans are a bit more acidic, and you can taste the bad coffee bean flavor in the back of your mouth.
- Quality coffee beans have a sweeter aftertaste and usually leave you wanting more.
- Judging coffee beans is a matter of perception and many people tend to analyze the taste too much.
- A good rule of thumb is that if the beans look good, smell good, and taste good, you probably have a good cup of coffee.
Although it doesn’t look like it in most cases, you mostly drink stale coffee. It is very likely that the coffee used in your coffee machine or in your coffee shop is not fresh and most likely has already lost some of its aromas and nuances.
- It is best to drink coffee within 5-15 days after roasting.
- If you consume coffee over a long period of time, you will most likely notice a change in the taste of coffee.
A tip: sometimes the coffee sacks are marked with a roasting date.
The quality of unroasted coffee beans
To recognize a quality bean, the following characteristics should be considered:
- An initial check can be made quickly by sight, smell and touch.
- Unroasted beans should feel dry and soft; if they are too soft, they have not dried sufficiently and will go moldy in storage.
- Green beans should smell pleasantly grassy, not alcoholic, which indicates unwanted fermentation.
- Green beans vary in color, but as the name suggests, the most desirable are off-white, and their uniformity is a good indicator of quality.
- There is a sophisticated color assessment technology that can measure color uniformity much more accurately than the naked eye.
Defects that affect the quality of the coffee beans
- Insect-damaged, immature, split, or impure beans can taste off when roasted and infect the batch with bitter, woody, or papery flavors.
- The size of the coffee beans also plays a role, because beans of different sizes cannot be roasted evenly. Small, underdeveloped beans are less dense than their larger cousins and will be over-roasted by the time the rest of the beans have the perfect roast.
- Batches with a high percentage of defects are rejected, even if the good beans in them exactly match the roaster’s specifications.
- Uniformity is a sign that cultivation and harvest went well.
The above factors can indeed make a difference between good quality and inferior coffee, but what always comes first is each individual’s preferences and the way they like or prefer their coffee.