Arabica Or Robusta – Introduction to Coffee Beans

Arabica Or Robusta – Introduction to Coffee Beans

If you are buying coffee beans for your home or business but you are not sure what you should be looking for, read on – this short guide will help you to understand the differences between the basic types of coffee, and bust the coffee jargon so you can decide which variety is right for you.

The coffee plant is native to Africa. The two main varieties of coffee plants are Arabica and Robusta. Arabica coffee originated in Ethiopia, while Robusta came from Uganda. Both types are now grown in several other regions throughout the world, and most coffee is labeled clearly to show which country and region it is from.

Generally speaking, Arabica is considered by coffee enthusiasts to be superior to Robusta, with a much stronger and more distinct flavor. Robusta can be bitter and/or milder-tasting – however the taste also varies depending on the region in which the coffee was grown and the processes it was subjected to during growing, shipping, storing and brewing.

Coffee is often described in terms similar to those you might find in wine tasting: the main three categories used are flavor (such as “sweet” or “spicy”), aroma (such as “flowery” or “chocolaty”), body (such as “medium-bodied” or “full-bodied”) and acidity (which refers to how “sharp” or “clean” the coffee tastes, NOT to its pH value).

When you buy coffee beans, you will probably buy them already roasted, however you can “home-roast” them if you choose. Roasting unlocks the flavor from the bean, and the extent to which beans are roasted varies. For example, you can buy “medium roast” beans, “Italian roast” beans (“Italian” refers to the roast – it does not indicate that the beans came from Italy), and so forth.

It is worth trying out different types of coffee, using the above points as a guide. You will be amazed at the range of flavors out there, and the more effort you take in trying the different flavors, the more of an expert you will become.

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Fancy Coffee Art

Fancy Coffee Art

artcups

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Coffee-maker Basics

Coffee-maker Basics

The first thing many people do when they wake up in the morning is to fire up the old coffee maker. Most models today are very easy to use, all you need is a filter, some coffee, and running water. Hit the button and you can have a pot of steaming hot coffee in just a few minutes. Today, almost every home has a coffee maker of some type in the kitchen.

There are many variations on the coffee maker. The basic model is nothing special, it brews you a cup of coffee and that’s it. However, some advanced models offer much more. Many brands of coffee makers offer automatic shutoff mechanisms. That means that if you leave your coffee maker on for an extended period of time, or forget to turn it off before you leave the house, the machine will shut off automatically after a while. This automatic shutoff mechanism is designed to prevent the coffee maker from burning the coffee or even starting a fire if left for too long.

Then, there are  more advanced versions of the coffee maker that offer more features. Some advanced models sport timers, which are great for ensuring that you have a pot of steaming coffee ready before you even wake up in the morning. Prepare all of the ingredients, set the timer the night before, and when you wake up your coffee will already be made. You can shave ten to fifteen minutes off your morning prep time just by having a timer on your coffee maker.

In the early days of coffee drinking in the West, coffee was a special treat, consumed in special coffee shops. But people can now enjoy all the coffee they want in the comfort of their own homes. Some people probably thought that with more and more coffee shops opening up, coffee makers at home would disappear. However, even though coffee shops are springing up everywhere and are more popular than ever, it will probably be a long time before people throw out their coffee makers.

That is especially true with the arrival on the scene of specialty coffeemakers that make individual cups for instantly fresh coffee, and even home custom coffee roasters and home coffeemakers that grind the beans, brew the coffee, and keep it warm for you.

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Coffee Houses Have Always Offered Much More Than Coffee

Coffee Houses Have Always Offered Much More Than Coffee

When many people in the world want to go somewhere to exchange news, share ideas and get advice, they often go to a coffee shop. It has been that way for quite some time. Coffee shops have been places of learning; of making business deals; scientific, literary, political, philosophical, and economic discussions; and even the oh-so-common gossip.

In the earliest part of their history, coffee houses were already so popular that ideas born from there have been a source for political forums and discussions ever since. The inspiration of brilliant, coffee-inspired thinking is to the point that, at times, kings and nobility used it as a method of determining public opinion.

When coffee was introduced to Europe, during the 17th century, the popularity of cafés followed the same pattern as most coffee houses around the world still do today. The café quickly became a venue for people to congregate, exchange views, write poems, plays, and political testaments, conduct business transactions, participate in cultural exchange and often relax with a good book. In those earlier days when were the were no postal addresses, the popularity of coffee shops also served well as a mailing address, because so many people were regulars.

A typical coffeehouse shares common characteristics with bars or restaurants. They differ in that a coffeehouse focuses on serving just coffee, teas and snacks. In some countries, however, coffeehouses do serve hot meals, deserts, sandwiches, soups, and alcohol, as well as from bakery products.

Today, coffeehouses continue the tradition set by coffeehouses of the past. They still remain a very popular venue for people who want a relaxed and calm atmosphere where they can talk, read, catch up on the day’s event, meet with people and have excellent quality coffee. This desire is evidenced by popular coffeehouses with franchises around the globe such as Starbucks, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Peet’s, Cup O’ Joe, The Second Cup and the Coffee Bean.

Depending on the country and region, coffeehouses have adopted variations. In the United States, coffeehouses or cafes may offer a variety of coffee styles, hot chocolate and teas, as well as light snacks, while others serve full menus. Alcoholic beverages may even also be offered. One of my favorite types of coffeehouse also offers cases of books that may be read as you slowly enjoy your coffee.

Cafes in France almost always serve alcoholic drinks. Like most cafes anywhere in the world, they also serve light snacks. Other coffeehouses may have a restaurant area where the guests could be served from the full menus. The popularity of cafes in France, especially Paris, gave way to subtle coffeehouse variations like the brasserie where single dish meals are typically served, and the bistro.

The café experience in Europe spawned other variations of coffeehouses around the world. Some of these coffeehouses offer curb-side seating and others outdoor seating in places like the sidewalk, pavement or terraces. The seating is usually clustered along busy streets and operated by private local establishments and the activities often very closely resemble parties, especially on weekends.

These patio coffeehouses provide more open public spaces commonly preferred by customers wanting an airy and very casual atmosphere for relaxation and conversation.

Recently, a new type of coffeehouse entered the industry: the Internet café. Internet cafes may not appear to be your typical coffeehouse like the bistro, brasserie, cafeteria and the coffee chain establishments but they certainly share the same basic characteristics. Coffee, tea and chocolate are served together with light snacks and chatter. The chatting, though, is done online.

The Internet coffeehouse may not replace the traditional coffee shops, but nevertheless, Internet cafes are also a hub for political exchange, learning, and journalistic, literary and commercial enterprise. Only the styles of coffee shops have changed over the centuries, but in respect to why people frequent them, nothing has really changed.

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Wake up and smell the coffee … it’s why your cuppa tastes so good

Wake up and smell the coffee … it’s why your cuppa tastes so good
This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Chemistry of Coffee

By Don Brushett

Welcome to our three-part series Chemistry of Coffee, where we unravel the delicious secrets of one of the most widely consumed drinks in the world. So while you enjoy your morning latte, long black or frappe, read on to find out why it tastes so good – you might be surprised to discover what’s in your cup.


Most of what we taste we actually smell. The only sensations that we pick up in our mouth are sweet, sour, bitter, umami and salty. Without its smell, coffee would have only a sour or bitter taste due to the organic acids. Try it with your next cup of coffee – hold your nose as you take your first sip.

The rich satisfying sensation of coffee is almost entirely due to the volatile compounds produced when we roast coffee beans.

The compounds that are formed in the roasting process are very similar to any other compound that is formed in the cooking process. The smell of baking bread is from compounds produced when a sugar reacts with a protein in what is called a Maillard reaction.

Not every scent is as welcoming as freshly baked bread, though. Our sense of smell has developed over millennia to detect dangerous compounds.

Cadaverine and putracine, produced in rotting meat, can be detected by our nose at very low concentrations. The same can be said of sulphur-containing compounds such as hydrogen sulphide – rotten egg gas – which is detected by our nose at levels of parts per billion.

Coffee has some of the same ‘scent’ compounds as freshly baked bread.
jm_photos/flickr, CC BY

The upshot of this is that we do not detect all compounds in our surroundings to the same extent. For example, to us water is completely odourless although it may be very concentrated in the atmosphere.

Odour chemists have developed a system called odour activity values which show how we respond to particular compounds. This has an influence on how we experience a complex mixture of stimuli.

Flavourists and perfumists have developed a series of descriptors, or words that are used to describe a particular smell. Using gas chromatography equipped with a sniffer port, chemists are able to smell individual compounds as they come off the gas chromatography column and apply a description to what they experience.

Words such as fruity, earthy, flowery, caramel-like, spicy and meaty are used to describe the odour of individual compounds. It is this complex mixture of volatile organic compounds that we can identify with a particular food. The smell of baking bread can easily be distinguished from the smell of cooking cabbage; a lamb roast from a pork roast.

Yet it is not one compound that is responsible for the odour that we experience, but a complex mixture of hundreds of different compounds.

What we smell in coffee

Approximately 800 different compounds are produced in the coffee-roasting process. These thermal degradation reactions decompose sugars and proteins to form the volatile compounds that we smell.

Most of these reactions take place within the thick walls of coffee bean cells, which act as tiny pressure chambers. Not all of these 800 compounds cause the same response in the olfactory membrane in your nose, though.

Green (unroasted) coffee tastes very grassy when brewed. You still get the organic acids and caffeine in the brew but it lacks the full sensation because there are few volatile compounds due to the lack of roasting.

The profile of roast coffee includes only 20 major compounds, but it is the influences of some of the minor compounds that determine the overall taste that we experience.

When chemists are analysing the volatile compounds in coffee a huge range of different odour qualities are experienced.

Some of the nitrogen-containing compounds such as pyridine can actually smell quite foul, while others can smell quite fruity.

Other compounds have descriptors such as putrid or rancid. One compound, 5- methyl furfural, is described only as coffee-like. But it is the rich mixture of hundreds of different volatile compounds that, when we smell it, can only be described as “coffee”.

The Conversation

Don Brushett does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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