Commercial vs. Gourmet Coffee
Coffee has recently become one of the most consumed beverages in the world. For this reason, its elaboration process has been modernized and improved to make it an exquisite product. Depending on various factors, coffee can be broadly categorized as premium or commercial. The latter is the most demanded among baristas and lovers of this delicious beverage. In the last few years, the number of people who want a coffee with the perfect balance between flavor, aroma, and quality has significantly increased.
In response to this growing interest, different brands are marketing these characteristics on their labels when in reality, the majority of them don’t meet the standards of specialty coffee. For this reason, it is essential to learn how to identify between traditional coffee and premium coffee. In this way, the customer can avoid being deceived by brands whose goal is to sell at any cost.
What is premium coffee?
Premium coffee has specific characteristics that make it a high-quality product. However, each manufacturer voluntarily defines if its coffee falls within the established canons, making it difficult for coffee shops to decide which brand is considered of higher quality. Nonetheless, to truly determine if coffee is premium, we have to dig into the place where it was harvested, the type of seed, and the process of cultivation.
What makes premium coffee different from commercial coffee?
Experts have affirmed that “choosing a good coffee is like choosing a good wine”. That is especially true in a world where companies have flooded the market with products that radically range from very poor to excellent quality. In order to determine what is a good gourmet coffee, certain quality parameters must be met.
Coffee must be cultivated 900 meters above sea level in an area with low temperature and humidity, as well as being planted in the shade. Generally, only Arabica coffee complies with these altitude parameters. A great example of this is Colombia, whose altitudes for cultivation range from 900-1200 meters above the sea.
It is the most relevant requirement. Harvesting must be done manually by carefully selecting coffee beans. The workers remove the leaves from the crops in order to find the best fruits. Then, they only select those that have reached an established ripening time to obtain the best quality.
Once the coffee fruit has been harvested, the beans are separated from the pulp. This phase produces a viscous substance called coffee honey or mucilage, which must be eliminated by agitating the beans in tanks of water for hours.
Drying in the sun
Once the last step is done, the beans are left to dry in the sun until a maximum of 12.5% of humidity is left.
The category of the coffee is always included in the label of the packaging, thus giving credit to the entire process that makes the coffee bag possible. Commercial coffee does not value these aspects and only produces coffee of regular quality in massive volumes.
The level of commitment from coffee growers to their production is key to the final product. Their rigidness and hard work guarantee meeting quality standards. On the contrary, the quality of commercial coffee is drastically reduced since its focus is solely on mass production.
The roasting of a specialty coffee is a manual process. First, beans are filtered out based on their defects. Then, the flow of air and temperature are manipulated in order to enhance the aromatic notes and obtain a lighter color. In contrast, the roasting of commercial coffee occurs in an industrial manner using large roasters, and the temperature is raised to add a slightly burnt flavor that hides defects.
The flavors of specialty coffee are complex with elements of sweetness, acidity, and bitterness that harmonize perfectly. In opposition, commercial coffee has a flat and bitter flavor that doesn’t have any special nuances.
Producing specialty coffee
Before purchasing a specialty coffee it is fundamental to know where the beans were grown: the country, the region, or even the farm. Checking is part of the quality control in specialty coffees, but it is also a valuable factor to consumers, who may prefer a certain country or variety.
The origin is important, among other things, because the soil determines the flavor of coffee beans. In fact, the area of cultivation, the type of soil, the altitude, or the time of harvesting are taken into account and valued in specialty coffees. For instance, Colombia has one of the greatest territories to grow and produce specialty coffee because it complies with the following harvest and selection process.
- Harvesting: Coffee beans are picked by hand to minimize any damage and to be able to perform a unique selection process.
- Sorting: Picking is done by specialized workers who know exactly how to tell the best beans from those of inferior quality. In addition to maturity, pickers also have to select beans without imperfections.
- Checking: After picking, there may be an additional phase to identify beans with problems like pests or malformations.
How is specialty coffee evaluated?
Specialty coffee only accepts the best beans, as opposed to commercial brands of coffee that use almost any type and condition of bean. But what does the best bean look like? This information is offered by specialized entities that are recognized worldwide. They are responsible for classifying coffee beans wherever they are produced.
According to their guidelines, coffee beans can be classified based on their primary or secondary defects. These issues are related to discoloration, dryness, fungal damage, or any foreign matter found in the bean. They are also discarded if the beans show malformations, errors during processing, insect damage or if husks are still present after roasting because they affect the flavor. To do this, graders take samples from each lot and use them to grade the beans. Only lots that are between 80 and 100 points will be considered specialty.
Surely you already knew that not all coffees are the same. Now you know why. If you want to treat yourself or give a special gift to a great coffee lover, El Dorado coffee is a great option to taste a specialty product. Colombian gourmet coffee is definitely worth enjoying.
- Where can I get specialty coffee?
Almost every coffee shop will have two lines of coffee. The first one is gourmet and will most likely have different blends for specific flavors. The second line is commercial coffee, which is more affordable.
- What type of coffee is the most recommended?
It really depends on your taste. Some coffee producers will give out free tastings of their products so you can identify which flavors are better for your palate. Bitter flavors are characteristic of regular coffee, while aromatic flavors are present in gourmet coffee.
- How can I tell the quality of my coffee?
Look for official seals of quality in the packaging that certify the quality of the product. By doing so, you will avoid getting scammed with false advertisements. It is also important because you’re supporting small businesses that protect farmers and artisans.