The 9 Main Characteristics to Recognise a Good Quality Coffee

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Recognizing good coffee is not easy for inexperienced palates. For this reason, below, I offer you a series of key points with which it will be easier for you to identify a good coffee or, at least, that you will be able to rule out a bad option.

#1 The color

The color of the coffee is closely related to the degree of roast. If the roast is light, the color will be lighter, while, if the level of roast is higher, the color of the coffee will be almost black.

It is important to know that a correctly roasted coffee should have a uniform color as a whole,as this would optimize its aromas. Another clue that color gives us is that if the beans appear shiny and oily, they are probably no longer fresh.

The general recommendation is to choose a medium degree of roasting, without reaching past or burnt, which will be the optimum to fully preserve the flavor and aroma of the coffee.

#2 The scent

By smell we can also recognize if a coffee is of high or low quality. In coffee there are a multitude of aromas, some more pleasant than others.

As a general rule, good quality coffee will release fresh ground coffee odors, with pleasant aromas such as florals, fruit trees, nuts, chocolates, caramel, berries, etc. A particular and not very pronounced smell.

On the contrary, the less appreciated coffees will release less pleasant aromas such as wood, earth, coal, rubber, gum, straw, ash, etc.

#3 The flavor

The taste is the fundamental clue when it comes to identifying a good coffee. Good quality coffee should not be too bitter or acidic, contrary to what is often thought.

In a good coffee we look for a balanced flavor and, among its main flavors, we must find balanced acidity and sweetness and that they have a good length on the palate.

#4 The roast profile

roast profile

The coffee is roasted to develop the aromas and flavors that are within the green bean, and for this reason, the roast profile will largely determine the flavor of the coffee infusion . Roasting coffee is an art, each coffee has its ideal roast and for each preparation method will require a different roast.

There is no standard for naming roast types but, in general, common roasts can fall into one of these categories: light, medium, medium-dark and dark . Note that the names are associated with the color tones that the grain will acquire.

Light roasts are those that are carried out for a shorter time and highlight the flavors of the plant, such as floral, fruit or herbal aromas. With this profile, a higher concentration of caffeine is maintained in the bean and is very good for filter coffee machines.

The most popular type of roast is medium or medium-dark. Roasting a little more time caramelizes the sugars and enhances the flavors and aromas of nutty, caramel and chocolate. The result will be a stronger tasting coffee with a not too pungent bittersweet aftertaste.

Lastly, dark roasts are those that leave the beans shiny black with a shiny, oily surface. They are the most bitter in flavor and are widely used for espresso machines.

#5 Roast date

The roasting date is another of the characteristics in which we have to look when buying a coffee, just like we look at the expiration date of any other product. The roast date guarantees its degree of freshness, a fundamental factor when enjoying a good coffee.

What if the coffee does not include the roast date?

Good coffee clearly indicates the date of the roast. If the packet doesn’t provide that information, up front, it’s a bad sign. So be very careful with any package if it has an “expiration date” printed on it.

As a general rule, you should buy the coffee as soon as it has been roasted and consume it in less than three weeks. Coffee does not keep forever after roasting. Keep in mind that the optimal point in terms of flavor is usually between 7 and 14 days, and then gradually lose quality and intensity.

#6 The origin

The origin of the beans will also give you an important clue as to whether they are of quality or not. There are many variables that alter the flavor of the resulting coffee, including altitude, ground conditions, rainfall, and insolation in the growing region.

So it comes as no surprise that coffee grown in one country is different from another.

Coffee plants, called coffee trees, prefer to grow in hot and tropical climates, very jungle and humid . For this reason, it can only be cultivated in a specific region of the world known as the “coffee belt” , delimited by two tropics: the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.

Taking into account that there are more than 50 coffee producing countries and that there can be great differences in terms of climates and processing techniques, certain specific characteristics in terms of taste and aroma can be expected for each region.

If the coffee package does not indicate the origin of the beans, you may have to be suspicious of your choice. In the mixed coffees they will indicate the different origins.

My advice is that you start by exploring the beans of some of the most famous coffee regions in the world such as, for example, Indonesia, Kenya, Colombia, Brazil, Ethiopia, Costa Rica or Guatemala. This way, you can identify the main flavor profiles before trying more exotic varieties.

#7 The altitude

Climate and altitude have a direct impact on the size, shape and flavor of the coffee you are going to consume. The height, the amount of oxygen and light determine the growth of the plant. Not only do coffee plants grow better at high altitudes, but the beans they produce are of better quality.

Mainly, the altitude at which the coffee is grown has a significant impact on the sweetness and acidity of the fruit. In general, at higher cultivation altitude, a higher level of acidity, flavor and concentration will be obtained, a grain of greater density and harder, which is due to the slow growth of the plant.

So what should I be looking at?

The grains grown at a lower height are less dense and present a semi-open fissure. The acidity is also significantly softened and more earthy notes are possible.

Higher height does not necessarily imply higher quality. The truth is that there is no generic ideal height, but it is true that this can help you when it comes to finding the best coffee beans when you are faced with a wide variety of offers.

#8 The variety: Arabica vs Robusta

Arabica vs Robusta

Another important factor that will influence the taste, texture and aroma of coffee is the variety of species cultivated. There are many varieties of coffee, but the two main ones are the Arabica and Robusta varieties, and knowing their differences is important when buying good coffee.

Arabica coffee is undoubtedly the king of coffees! This variety of grain is, among all types of coffee, the most consumed in the world, currently accounting for between 70 and 80% of world production. It is the most popular variety due to its more complex and refined flavors, as well as its higher degree of acidity.

One piece of advice, if you don’t want to be wrong, opt for beans of the Arabian variety . They will be grains of higher quality, with sweeter and more fruity flavors than a Robusta.

The Robusta seed, also known as Coffea Canephora, is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and is characterised by having an intense flavor and better complexity than Arabica. The robust ones are stronger, earthier and bitter. For this reason, its seeds are used more often in the production of lower quality coffees, such as instant or mixed. In addition, it has a higher caffeine content than arabica.

#9 The processing: Washed or natural

The coffee processing consists of removing the cherry pulp, the peel that covers the beans, and drying it. In this sense, normally the coffee processing method can be “washed” or “natural” (unwashed), which should be indicated on the packaging.

coffee processing and drying

Is this worth looking at?

Yes, as it will provide you with a remarkably different experience. Before continuing, I recommend “natural” coffee.

A coffee treated by the washing method , or wet processed is one from which the pulp of the fruit has been extracted, then it has been put into fermentation tanks, washed and left in the open air to dry. The result is usually a cleaner, more uniform coffee with less body, but with more floral and fruity aromas.

On the other hand, a coffee treated by the natural method has been dried with all the pulp of the fruit, protecting the grain throughout the process and allowing the pulp and sugars to penetrate it. The result is usually a cup with a good body and a spectacular aroma and nuances.

I know it was not easy to get to the end of the article, but you did it! If you have found it useful, do not hesitate to leave us a review. Until next time!

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