I’m sure all of us have met someone who thinks he knows EVERYTHING about coffee and is way to pretentious because of it. Talking to them is a challenge not only because they act superior but also because you just know that you like to drink coffee without having any special knowledge. So, in order for you to not feel like an idiot the next time you meet a coffee snob we have compiled some facts you can throw at them to show that you too know your stuff when it comes to everyone’s favourite hot beverage.
1. Arabica vs. Robusta
You may have noticed 100% Arabica written on the bags when shopping for coffee. It sounds cool but what exactly does it mean? Simple: Arabica is a species of the coffee plant, one of 120 varieties to be precise. Like with any plant these different species all look slightly differently, they need different conditions to grow in and they differ in taste and body even though they’re all technically coffee. Next to Arabica there is only one more variety that is sold in big numbers: Robusta. Together they make up about 99% of the coffee sold and consumed worldwide (Arabica ~70% and Robusta ~30%) while all other types are largely ignored by the industry and consumers.
There is a clear hierarchy between these two main types: Arabica is clearly the better tasting one, because Robusta has a burnt and rubbery taste. That’s because it contains almost twice as much caffeine as Arabica and caffeine carries bitter tastes. That’s why you’ll probably never find a bag of coffee beans labelled 100% Robusta, if anything it’ll be a blend of the two. Actually, Robusta is mainly used to produce instant coffee where the taste doesn’t count for much it’s really all about the caffeine boost. To be honest Robusta is only as popular as it is because it’s easier to grow and produce in big quantities making it much cheaper than the Arabica bean.
2. Standard coffee vs. specialty coffee
If you frequent a lot of coffee shops or are especially aware when buying coffee, you may have already come across the term “specialty coffee”. Recently there has been a surge in specialty coffee bars springing up everywhere and any well stocked grocery store now sells some type of specialty coffee. But what is the difference to the normal coffee most of us still drink every day? To put it simply, specialty coffee is basically high-quality coffee.
The technical definition is pretty straight forward: all Arabica coffee beans that are tested by a certified Q grader and reach more than 80 points out of 100 on the SCA coffee beans classification scale can officially carry the label “Specialty coffee”. This classification looks at and then counts the defects of the beans, the less defects they have the better the quality. To achieve the lowest number of defects, the whole production process must follow high quality standards: the beans are cultivated in the best possible conditions, carefully harvested only when they are actually ripe and then roasted to perfection. After that it’s up to you (or the barista at the Specialty coffee bar of your choice) to extract a delicious and equally high-quality beverage from these beans.
3. Flavour and aromas
We all know that there are hundreds of different aromas to be found in wine, it’s why there are sommeliers, wine tastings and very poetic descriptions of the flavour and body of a wine on the bottle (although if you are like me, you are happy that you can tell apart red and white wine).But did you also know that there are even more possible aromas in coffee? About 800 actually, which is a good 300 more than in wine. They’re all compiled in this handy-dandy flavour wheel:
Now, as an amateur you obviously won’t be able to distinguish between all these different flavours. It takes a lot of training, a lot of time and a lot of coffee do acquire the skill of a professional coffee taster. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try at all: start by consciously tasting your coffee, maybe try distinguishing the more basic flavours (bitter, acidic etc.) and finding out which of them you like best. There are many tutorials online that explain how to properly taste coffee and what to pay attention to, for example this one. And if all else fails next time you speak to a coffee snob just jumble together some of the aromas on the wheel to sound like you know what you’re talking about and hope for the best.
Probably the main reason for most of us to drink coffee is the caffeine that helps us wake up in the morning. Coffee is great because it naturally contains caffeine (it’s actually the plants very own protection against insects) while also tasting great. However, the amount of caffeine contained varies depending on species, as we have seen earlier, and also the way you prepare it. Contrary to what many people think, a darker roast and stronger taste does not automatically mean that the beans contain more caffeine. Actually, the caffeine content changes very little during the roasting process meaning that there’s only a tiny, negligible difference between light roast and dark roast.
It is also not entirely true that an espresso contains more caffeine than a cup of filter coffee, it’s actually kind of the opposite. Even though, there’s a higher percentage of caffeine in espresso you normally only drink a small amount of it while filter coffee contains less caffeine but you drink more of it. In the end, it all depends on how much coffee you actually use to make your drink (the more coffee, the more caffeine, duh), on the amount and temperature of the water and how much time you allow for the water to extract the caffeine.
Finally, when you think of a good, high-quality cup of coffee you’re probably picturing one that was made with one of these futuristic looking machines that you find in most coffee shops. You may think that it’s the best way to brew a delicious cup of coffee or that it is always better than other methods. Let me tell you right now: that is absolutely not the case. There is no one true way to make coffee, it all depends on your taste and preferences (besides how many of us can even afford such a professional machine?). Whether you use a Fench Press, Moka Top, Aero Press or filter your coffee, the ultimate goal is to achieve the perfect degree of extraction of coffee into the water. Underextraction, when to little of the coffee ends up in the cup, leads to weak and sour coffee and at the opposite end of the scale overextraction will leave you with a bitter and ashy taste.
The most reliable way to achieve a coffee that consistently tastes good is measuring: measuring the amount of coffee you use and its ratio to the water as well as the extraction time. Look for a tutorial on your preferred brewing method and to start off with. Then it’s just trial and error, keep brewing until you find the perfect coffee for you and because you measured everything, you’ll be able to recreate it every time.
So, there you go, now you have some handy information and instructions for the next time you meet your local coffee snob. From now on you’ll be able to keep up with what he’s saying and even offer your own opinion. But remember the most important thing about coffee, is that you enjoy it: so start experimenting and find your perfect cup of coffee today!