Every coffee drinker seeks to get the most delicious beans for their morning brew. Just like any artisan food or drink, you can buy different levels of coffee beans. From cheap, convenient instant coffee and coffee extract to the best Colombian beans, there’s no end to the variety. But if you’re getting serious about your morning cup of joe, then you’re going to want to invest in buying gourmet coffee. By understanding what can make this drink gourmet, you’ll be able to perfect your favorite part of your morning routine.
The Gourmet Coffee Movement of the 90s
Coffee’s been in America for quite some time. The first big wave of coffee imports came in the late 1800s, while the 20th century saw the development of the industry. By the 60s and 70s we start to see major coffee chains pop up, priding themselves on their curated selection of beans. Once you hit the 90s, technology and artisanship collided to give us the gourmet coffee movement. An understanding of what makes these beans so delicious, and the best ways to roast and prepare them, resulted in the explosion of high end, fine coffees that we love today.
Defining Gourmet Coffee
The term “gourmet” is actually pretty loosely defined. Any company can market their cheap beans as gourmet, tricking unwitting coffee drinkers into purchasing this subpar coffee. That’s why it’s so important to know what goes into gourmet coffee beans, so you can make the right choices when purchasing your own beans. Or you can find out what beans your favorite coffee shop uses to make sure that your latte can have that “gourmet” stamp of approval. There’s a few factors involved, namely the beans used, how it’s roasted, and how it’s brewed.
Coffee beans are one of the most important factors in determining a coffee’s gourmet status. You want to make sure that your beans are Arabica, not Robusta, which ensures a higher standard of flavor. Factory farming and machine processing will also give you lower quality product, so check to see how your grinds were processed. Local farms, small plantations, and sustainable practices are all good signs in determining a bean’s quality. You can also get into how your coffee was processed, but that won’t have too much of an impact on the flavor.
There is no official group that determines what gourmet coffee is, but there are a few associations that have some authority. The Specialty Coffee Association of America requires that coffee be in the top 20% grown in the world to be considered gourmet. The beans are evaluated on a 100 point scale, and they must score in the top fifth to get the title. You see a few regions that will consistently get this stamp of approval, like the famed Colombian coffee.
Coffee roasting used to be more of an afterthought. You simply wanted to roast the beans so you could grind them and make your brew. But over the past few decades, roasters have honed and perfected the science behind getting that perfect, toasty flavor. This started with the “second wave coffee” movement in the 60s and 70s that would give us giants like Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee, but continues to this day. Now, we have beans that are roasted to perfection, even giving us incredibly flavorful light roasts and medium roasts.
Your average can of Folgers coffee won’t have the care and dedication put into the roasting process that more craft roasters do. Your coffee’s roast is what determines the bean’s flavor, so it’s critical to making sure that you’re getting gourmet coffee. You can even roast beans at home to get a better understanding of how the process works.
Of course, nothing is more important to that final cup of java than the actual brewing process. This isn’t really a part of what makes coffee gourmet, but does have a huge impact on your coffee’s flavor. If you’re trying to buy beans for home, this is all on you. If you’re a novice and just using a drip coffee machine, odds are you’ll have a pretty average cup of joe. But if you’re an expert with an espresso bar or a pour over rig, you’ll be getting some top quality coffee out of your own kitchen.
Typically, espresso is the premium way to make coffee. If you’re getting a cup of coffee from a diner, then you’re certainly not getting gourmet coffee. At your local coffee shop, make sure that you’re ordering espresso, and make sure that the beans are specialty. That way you’ll be getting the best possible cup of joe to satisfy your gourmet craving.
What is the Difference Between Gourmet and Regular Coffee
With all this talk about what makes your beans gourmet, it can be easy to forget that your regular cup of joe is also delicious. There are some fundamental differences between gourmet and regular beans, but they do taste pretty similar. To the untrained coffee fan, the differences are subtle. But if you’re an avid drinker of bold and deep dark roasts, you’ll immediately recognize the difference. Let’s look at some of the fundamental differences between these two varieties of beans.
Coffee, like any plant, is heavily dependent on the farming conditions. It’s a tough plant to grow, requiring specific altitude, humidity, precipitation, temperature, and sun exposure to grow. That’s why you see the best coffee coming out of mountainous tropical regions like Costa Rica, Indonesia, and Ethiopia. Volcanic soil tends to be the best place to grow coffee beans, so look for regions like Sumatra or Colombia. The nutrient dense soil imparts more of the flavors that we want out of coffee.
Of course, the farmers themselves have to treat the beans with care. As mentioned before, factory farming and large plantations can ruin the beans, so try to buy from roasters who source from local farmers. It’s the ethical option, and it means that the beans will be better.
Arabica and Robusta
Arabica beans are a requirement for any gourmet coffee. They make up the majority of the coffee grown in the world, and can cost nearly twice as much as Robusta beans. But they have a much more potent and full flavor, making them the go-to for any avid coffee fan. They’re not nearly as durable as Robusta beans, which is what drives the price up.
Your standard cheap or instant coffee is probably made of robusta. This sturdy plant has a rubbery taste that can turn many people away. So if you see a “100% Arabica” sticker on your bag of beans, pick that over the cheaper tin of pre ground coffee. You’ll notice the difference, and be one step close to having a gourmet roast.
Your own preference
Your preference has a huge role in what makes something gourmet. Obviously there should be some sort of additional effort put into it to make it a specialty bean, but there’s no official way to make something gourmet. Any company can throw the label on their beans, and if you think it’s that good, you can call it gourmet. Or you can by beans that have been hailed as gourmet, only to be disappointed. You also need to consider options like roast profile, whether it’s decaffeinated, what you put in your coffee, and more.
What is the Best Coffee on Earth?
When you’re planning out your coffee drinking for the week, you want to make sure that you’re maximizing the experience. While there’s a lot of preference involved, everyone wants the best coffee in the world. It’s the whole point of looking for gourmet coffee to begin with, and there are a few runners up. Of course, there’s no final answer, but here are a few of the best coffees out there.
The most popular option is the legendary Colombian bean. While you can get it from a variety of roasters, beans from this region are incredibly fragrant and flavorful. They’re perfect for any type of coffee, whether it’s espresso or pour over. Jamaica Blue Mountain is another one of the heavy hitters, also being known as one of the most expensive beans on earth. Many coffee connoisseurs also try to make sure that all of their beans are peaberry, which supposedly enhances the flavor and subtleties in your final cup of joe.
Making Your Morning Coffee Gourmet
Your morning ritual already revolves around sipping that hot, delicious cup of joe. So why not take the extra effort to make it into a cup of gourmet coffee? These beans may be tough to find, and can cost a bit more than usual, but it’s absolutely worth it. You’ll add that much more flavor into your day to ensure that every cup of joe is the best it can be. Whether it’s a pot of pour over in the morning or an espresso shot in the afternoon, you’ll love this delicious drink even more when you go with the gourmet option.