Kona, Arabica, Sumatra, Oh My! A Coffee Lover's Guide to the Various Roasts and Flavors
Coffee has been traced to the highlands of Ethiopia as early back as the 9th century, discovered by a sheepherder named Kaidi. He happened to notice that his sheep were more energetic after eating the “berries” from bushes we now know to be coffee bushes. From there it spread to Egypt and Yemen. Coffee beans were first roasted and brewed in Arabia, where it was highly prized and fiercely guarded from being taken out of the country. From there, it spread to the rest of the Middle East and northern Africa, and then on to Italy, where it migrated into the rest of Europe. Coffee first came to North America it is believed by Captain John Smith.
Coffee beans are actually “seeds”. There are only two main species of coffee bean, coffea arabica and coffea robusta. Most of the World’s specialized coffee beans are form the arabica variety, while the robusta variety is used mostly as “filler” of lower grade coffee blends. Many varieties of coffee have been derived form the arabica bean, including Columbian Hawaiian Kona, Jamaican Blue Mountain and Sumatra, just to name a few. Arabica coffee is far superior in flavor, thus earning it the name the “champagne” of coffee. Robusta coffee is higher in caffeine and is more bitter and acidic in taste.
Asian countries produce full-bodied, thicker coffee with distinct flavoring and earthy tones, with low acidity. Latin American countries produce coffees that are lighter and sweet in flavor with a tangy, or high acidity, quality. This makes them excellent for blending. Coffee from Eastern Africa and the Middle East are complex and alluring with wine-like and very chocolaty undertones. The region the coffee is grown in is where it gets its unique flavor. The soil, air, weather and altitude are all contributing factors in the flavor of the coffee bean. The final contributors are of course the harvesting and roasting times of the beans.
The major chemicals in coffee are caffeine and cafestol (coffee oil or the essence of coffee).
The longer the coffee bean is roasted, the darker it becomes. As the coffee bean roasts, it is chemically altered; starches are converted into sugar, the proteins are broken dawn and the cellular structure is altered. As a bean roasts, aromatic oils, acids and caffeine weaken and changes the flavor. The longer a coffee roasts, the more it looses its individual characteristics and the more it picks up the flavor of the roasting process, sometimes making it very difficult to distinguish its origions. Roasting coffee is just as much an art as it is a science and precise heat and timing are all important here.
Here are just a few examples of different varieties of arabica beans:
Columbian – bright acidity, heavy in body and intensely aromatic
Hawaiian Kona – rich flavor, exceptional aroma with a smooth taste. Only grown in the Kona Districts on the big island of Hawaii. Kona “blends” are usually only 10% Kona coffee and 90% cheaper beans
Jamaican Blue Mountain – Mild in flavor and lack bitterness, a very prized and sought after coffee. Only grown in a recognized growing region of Jamaica.
Java – good, heavy body with a sweet overall impression. From the island Java, Indonesia.
Kenyan – intense flavor, full body and pleasant aroma
Sumatran – heavy but smooth with earthy and spicy notes
Enjoy the wonderful aroma of a fresh cup of coffee!