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Quality Classifications

 Coffee is frequently described to costumers as "Breakfast Blends" or "Gourmet Blends." The reference to specific attributes of quality is usually generic, indicating that the coffee has an aroma or flavor that is "smooth". Unfortunately it is rather exceptional the occasions where the coffee available has been blended effectively by specialists to optimize the organoleptic characteristics of the final beverage, and thus allowing coffee to obtain specific attributes or flavorful notes. It is unfortunately more common to find that many of these products that are sold "blended" simply seek to reduce the costs of production by blending in lower quality coffees and thus avoiding to tell the true  origin of the coffee.

For specialists and many consumers it is important to know the place of origin of the product that they are acquiring. To begin with, people have the right to obtain a better understanding of the specific coffee species that they are purchasing and consuming (Robusta or Arabica, see History of Coffee). An educated consumer is conscious not only of the importance of the specie, but also of the place of origin of the coffee that they consume., The quality of the coffee depends a great deal on the coffee tree and its environment, the adequate sowing and agronomic management, the arduous  harvest and post harvesting processes and the industrialization of the bean.

 In fact, the great deal of effort to produce an excellent cup of coffee does not occur completely in the process of preparing it, like an espresso, but rather in the patient and thorough efforts invested by coffee growers that are described in other sections of this site. Those take place in the tropical mountains of coffee growing countries such as Colombia. If the origin is not known and appreciated, these producers will no longer have the incentives to exert themselves for the production of a cup of coffee of superior quality. The producers are thus the ones who truly have the vocation for expertly producing excellent quality coffee. In this section we will also explore the importance of the species and the place of origin and what is understood as the quality attributes of coffee.

The Importance of the Species and Place of Origin

It is already well known that Coffea arabica and Coffea robusta (see the History of Coffee) are the principal coffee species with commercial value in the world. These two species have differences in their shapes, climate and environmental requirements, chemical compositions, taste, flavor, and aroma (see The Coffee Tree and its Environment). The beverages produced from Arabica coffee typically have the following characteristics: higher acidity, medium bodies and fruity aromas, while Robusta coffee is stronger, bitterer, and has greater levels of caffeine. The main producers of Robusta coffee are Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia and Uganda, whilst Colombia, Ethiopia, Mexico and Central America, including also Brazil, are  origins of Arabica coffee.

The chemical composition of the coffee bean depends on its species, variety and the state of its cherry's development as well as the environment and conditions of production amongst other factors. The two species have important differences regarding their content of caffeine, trigonelline, lipids, chlorogenic acids, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides. Many of these compounds are directly related to the organoleptic characteristics of the beverage.

To better understand these differences, it is useful to take into account the components of the coffee bean.

1)      Water: every bean of green coffee has between 10% to 13% water, which evaporates during the roasting process to the point that the final coffee grain has a humidity of no more than 5%.

2)      Oily matter: every bean of coffee is composed of between 15% to 20% oily matter.

3)      Alkaloids: the most important coffee alkaloid is caffeine. Arabica coffee contains between 1% to 1.5% caffeine, while Robusta typically has a concentration of 1.6% to 2.7% caffeine. This also helps to explain why Robusta coffee is bitterer than Arabica coffee.

4)      Mineral materials: each bean of coffee contains small quantities of potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous.

5)      Chlorogenic acids: each coffee bean contains a diversity of organic acids, primarily chlorogenic. Experts highlight the importance of these chlorogenic acids in relation to their antioxidant and antiviral properties with the absorption of metallic ions and the oxidation of lipids.

Recent investigations have found that some of these compounds have favorable health effects as well in preventing certain diseases (for more information please refer to the Coffee and Health section of this site).

For the purpose of simplifying the classification of the origin and botanical species, and generating the prices that are recognized for the different types of coffee, the International Coffee Organization (ICO) distinguishes four principal types of coffee: 1) Robusta 2) Colombian Milds (Arabica) 3) Brazilian Naturals (Arabica) and 4) Other Milds coffees (Arabica). Besides the inherent differences between the specific coffee species, these varieties conserve a relationship with their place of origin and with the processes used to cultivate them.

Canephora (Robusta)

  • American Robustas: Brazil, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Asian Robustas: Philippines, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • African Robustas: Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Liberia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Republic of Central Africa, Sierra Leon, Togo, and Uganda.

Arabica

  • Natural Brazilians: Brazil, Ethiopia, Paraguay.
  • Other Naturals: Ecuador and Yemen.
  • Colombian Milds: Colombia, Kenya, and Tanzania.
  • American Milds: Bolivia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, United States of America (Hawaii, Puerto Rico), Guatemala, Haití, Nicaragua, Jamaica, México, Honduras, Panamá, Perú, Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
  • African Milds: Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria, Ruanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe
  • Asian Milds: India, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea.

Colombian Coffee is exceptional in this context because of diverse factors. It is an outstanding coffee that has been selected and adapted from diverse varieties of coffee derived exclusively from the Arabica species (that is to say tetraploids with over 44 chromosomes), that grows in the high Andes mountain range of Colombia where temperatures ranges are ideal throughout the year, and where coffee can naturally generate characteristics and attributes exceptionally valued by even the most sophisticated consumers. Additionally, Colombian Coffee is an artisanal coffee that is processed through the wet beneficio system, which contain hours of human effort and dedication by thousands of committed and proud producers (see Colombian Coffee and the land of coffee) eager to present you with an excellent cup of coffee.It is not just a washed Arabica coffee. It is also a mild coffee produced in a special land with a complex cultivation and post harvesting process behind each bean.

 

The Quality and its Attributes

Specialists and sophisticated coffee consumers are used to evaluate the sensorial attributes of the coffee beverage. These can vary depending upon the place of origin, the methods of production, the harvest and the postharvest processes.

The principal organoleptic qualities that are used to evaluate the beverage are:

  • Aroma
  • Flavor
  • Acidity Level
  • Body
  • Bitterness
  • Global Impression

The aroma of a coffee does not need a great deal of illustration. The characteristic aroma of roasted coffee is well known. The power of the coffee aroma is so notorious that many people consider that it is better to inhale its colorful aroma than to actually drink the beverage. 

The flavor is another easily discernable characteristic of coffee for consumers. However, the descriptions that experts use to describe coffee often seem overly complex.  The casual coffee drinker recognizes that the taste is  what explodes in its mouth and remains for some time in their palates. The expert tasters can describe the flavors as smooth, sweet, earthy, acidic, chemical, fruity, pronounced or high and proper of coffee.

The acidity of coffee is a very appreciated attribute and refers to that light spicy spark that your tongue feels and that makes the drinker shiver for a moment. The acidity can be one of the most desired attributes of coffee, and is correlated with the average annual temperature that the coffee cultivation is exposed to and consequently with the altitude at which it is grown. Nonetheless, it can also be undesirable when it is classified as sour, winey, piquant, acrid, astringent, or absent due to poor harvesting and post-harvesting practices

The body is a much more subtle quality to detect than the aroma and flavor, and is more difficult to differentiate for the casual drinker. The body corresponds to the lingering effect that coffee leaves in the mouth and in the form that it is moved from the tongue to the throat, which is an unequivocal indicator of its smoothness. The body of the beverage can also be perceived by the tongue in a greater or lesser concentration. A good coffee has a full body that is moderate and balanced. When the body is excessive the beverage tends to loose its balance and, hence, affects the perception of the other positive attributes such as its acidity. The body is associated with the cultivation in regions with higher temperatures and lesser altitudes.

The bitterness is a normal characteristic of coffee that is produced by its chemical composition. It is desirable in moderate quantities.

Finally, the Global Impression refers to the balance and the general classification of the beverage. Through this quality the coffee is either accepted or rejected. It is related to perceived aromas through the olfactory sense, as well as the body, degree of bitterness and acidity, which are perceived by means of the palate. Judged by the perception of coffee one should conclude that a premium quality coffee should have a consistent combination of aromas, flavors, body, and acidity. A good part of these quality attributes depend upon inherent factors of the plant and the natural environment in which it is cultivated, as well as other factors associated with the way the coffee growers advance the productive process. Amongst the natural elements that determine the attributes of the quality of coffee the selection of species and variety, the altitude and latitude that determine the average annual temperature as well as the characteristics of the soil and climate stand out the most. These attributes can also be modified through specific methods of production, which can either positively or negatively affect them. In summary the quality of coffee depends upon many factors that include not only the species and variety cultivated, but also the place of cultivation, the harvesting and post harvest methods employed, the type of commercialization and packaging, the type of transportation, the way that it is processed and the way that it is prepared for final consumption.

The quality and variety of processes, the persons and risks involved in the coffee production chain makes it very difficult to guarantee a good quality coffee. In fact, the majority of coffees that are negotiated in the market have inferior qualities to those that correspond to the optimal potential that these coffees naturally have.

There are three main steps regarding to the quality of coffee: first, the cain of production, second, the chain of distribution, and third, the preparation of a cup of coffee.

In the chain of production, for example, a coffee will have an inferior quality to its potential if it is not harvested at the exact moment of maturation, if it contains defects caused by diseases, if it has been excessively fermented during the beneficio process, or if its amount of humidity is inadequate.

In the chain of distribution the coffee will be inferior in quality if it is commercialized incorrectly, like handling and packing it properly, if it is stored for too long, if it gets humidity during stocking, and if it mixed within a poorer quality coffee.

The final step pf the distribution chain is when coffee gets to the consumer to be prepared and to be drinked as a cup of coffee. In this moment, the way the coffee is prepared is crucial. It is exposed and explained in this site, further on, below the title “Preparing Good Coffee”.

The reduction in the quality of coffee below its optimal potential due to any of these factors occurs frequently. For example, the fact that the majority of Arabica coffees in Brazil are not washed, erodes their basic natural quality because the fruits are left to dry and then depulped. This process allows coffee to have many impurities, increase the presence of defective beans and unwanted residual substances from the mucilage and the pulp that can affect the quality of the beverage. In contrast, the fact that Colombian Coffee undergoes a wet beneficio and is carefully selected implies that it has a basic quality closer to its potential. In the wet beneficio the bean is freed from the mucilage with water. Afterwards, the bean is  depulped and  dried to obtain the parchment coffee. Thus, it is the combination of natural and human factors that make Colombian Coffee an outstanding coffee.

Beyond the place of origin and the intrinsic quality of the coffee consumed it is also important to recognize and appreciate that coffee is much more than just a beverage. In addition to the quality of the beverage that the consumers appreciate, this product is unique in terms of its social, environmental and institutional effects. Colombian Coffee also generates exceptional emotional benefits for those that recognize and appreciate the land of coffee and how Colombian Coffee comes to market.

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