The words “Gourmet Coffee” are coming up in conversation more often these days. Is there any substance to it or is it just a term some elite coffee snobs have come up? What makes a coffee “gourmet” and who decides this? This article attempts to sift through the hype and give some straight facts.
As an adjective, gourmet is defined as: Referring to fine food. So, gourmet coffee is fine coffee, that doesn’t help narrow it down much more. It may be stating the obvious, but what makes a coffee fine is its taste. There are five primary taste sensations; salty, sour, sweet, bitter and umami (savory). Understanding how these sensations apply to coffee is not important to the majority of us. What’s important is our preference; what tastes good, bad and to what degree. People have huge variations in preference. A coffee you may love, I might hate. C’est la vie!
This variation in preference is where gourmet coffee fills a need. Gourmet coffee offers choice and variety. These choices come in countless combinations of international coffee beans, varying degrees of roasting, flavoring and preparation.
International Coffee Beans
International coffee is probably the biggest factor in gourmet coffee; it’s the starting point for variety and choice. From a purest point of view the bean’s original flavor should play a bigger role than artificially flavored coffees or specialty coffee drinks.
Coffee is international by nature, even though all the world’s coffee beans are grown within 1000 miles of the equator – from the Tropic of Cancer in the north to the Tropic of Capricorn in the south. Two varieties make up nearly all of the beans; Arabica and Robusta. Arabica contains less caffeine, it is the most popular and it grows between 1,500 and 6,000 feet above sea level. Robusta contains the most caffeine and grows at lower elevations.
South American, Central American and Caribbean coffee beans for the most part are lighter in body than other regions, a bit sweeter and slightly more acidic. These beans are often described as smooth and nutty. Central American varieties are not usually as sharp as the South American. African and Middle Eastern coffees often have a more medium body and what can be described as a wild and syrupy feel. African beans are strong, sharp and assertive. The majority of the world’s Robustas are grown along the African coast. Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and Indonesian coffees are almost completely Arabicas. Characteristics include spicy, heavy body and low acidity.
Flavored coffees become popular in the 1990s but can be traced back centuries ago to the Turks, who used a unique method of preparing coffee that is still popular in the area today. Spices like clove, cinnamon, anise, and cardamom were added to flavor the coffee. People typically have strong feelings towards flavored coffee; they love it or prefer to let the natural flavor of the bean to prevail.
Coffee is typically flavored by adding flavor oils to the beans after roasting and prior to grinding. Flavoring oils are combinations of natural and synthetic flavor chemicals which are created by flavor chemists. There are also liquid flavors which are added to coffee during preparation much like adding cream or sugar. Flavored coffees are generally classified into four categories:
- Spice based flavors– like cinnamon.
- Fruit based flavors– like coconut or raspberry.
- Chocolate based flavors– like chocolate mint.
- Nut based flavors– like vanilla, hazelnut or macadamia nut.
- Cremes– like Irish Creme or French Vanilla.
Specialty Drinks and Preparation
There seems to be a million ways to prepare coffee these days; Dark roast, light roast, espresso (and all its derivatives), regular coffee, with cream and sugar or simply black. Coffee preparation is a topic that’s been the subject of many other articles. However, like all facets of gourmet coffee the theme of choice and variety applies.
Most of the fancy coffee drinks start with espresso, which is just coffee that is brewed a particular way. The beans are finely ground to an almost powder consistency then very hot water is forced through the grinds at high pressure. Some examples of Espresso based coffee drinks are Espresso Macchiato, Espresso Con Panna, Caffé Americano, Cappuccino, Caffé Latté and Caffé Mocha. Specialty coffee drinks are becoming very popular but most people still drink regular coffee optionally adding different amounts of cream or sugar.
The bottom line is Gourmet Coffee offers today’s selective coffee drinker choice. These choices come in the form of beans farmed around the world, flavored coffees and vast array of specialty drinks and preparation techniques. Some people drink coffee only as a means to an end, to wake up! More and more people are starting to take notice of the flavor. People’s taste evolve, many people start out drinking coffee with lots of cream and sugar and overtime take less or even drink it black. With all the choices available, why not try something new for your next coffee.