“I can’t tell the difference …” or …is it considered dark-roast, medium, light, Colombian, French?”
This query was added to a recent Reader’s Question. I already answered that question, but I thought I’d better spend some time sorting out the real coffee confusion for you.
Hope this article helps you.
In the world of coffee, coffee terminology abounds making it difficult for consumers to know what they are buying or if they are buying decent coffee at all.
Let’s see if I can help shed a little light on your coffee buying!
What coffee beans?
There are many varieties of coffee beans grown in the natural world, but in the coffee drinking world, only two types have become prominent: Arabica and Robusta.
In short, Arabica is your first preference because the coffee is smoother, lower in caffeine and generally makes a better cup of coffee.
However, Robusta coffee has long had a bad rap. It’s true. And for the most part, it’s deserved unless you’re specifically buying quality robusta. For us, though, this is not usually an option.
So, focus on 100% Arabica beans, unless you like Espresso Coffee. There are some 100% Arabica espressos available, but most add a touch of robusta for body and flavor reasons.
What origin? Blend or Single?
Many coffee connoisseurs love to talk about coffee origins. Coffee origin refers to where the coffee beans are grown, so you’ll find countries, like Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, Colombia, etc. 100% of the coffee growing regions are within the tropics. So you’ll never find coffee grown in, say, France or Italy.
Some countries like Colombia focus on growing primarily Arabica coffee, the one you prefer; while others grow a mix of Arabica & Robusta, such as Brazil, or Kenya. There are indeed some champagne quality Robusta beans, of a very high quality; but most of the Robusta crop goes to making instant coffee, 3-in-1 coffee, or cheap mass market blends.
If you buy a bag of ‘Latin American Coffee’, you can expect to see coffee beans from any of a number of different countries in Latin America, though most likely it’s a blend of Colombian and Brazilian coffee.
If you buy a single origin coffee, you’ll note that the coffee beans usually come from a single point. No blending of other country beans there, however, the price may be higher than you’d otherwise expect.
What roast did you say?
The last confusing aspect is … Roasting Names.
You’ll often here names like French Roast, or Italian Roast; even city or regional names can be used, such as Verona . While these names may sound like the origins we already mentioned, they only refer to a style of roasting, not to the origin of the coffee beans themselves. After all, neither France nor Italy actually grow coffee beans.
You’ll also find marketing names, terroir names (like farm, mill, and estate names), flavored coffee, the mystery (usually very romantic) house blends, as well as a whole range of organic and coffee for charity names.
While the term ‘French Roast’ may actually denote a style of roasting where beans are roasted very dark, other names may be less than candid about what is actually inside. In short, pay attention to what is actually inside, don’t be fooled by branding names or ‘fake’ names. The term Colombian may refer to beans from Colombia, South American Coffee refers generally to the entire region and whatever bean is grown there.
There is good guideline though: Don’t pay too little for your coffee, don’t try to buy the cheapest, don’t look for a bargain (there aren’t many due to the costs of coffee)! If you do pay too little, you’ll only get cheap coffee beans (and probably unknown roasting date/process/region) and a bad taste in your mouth