How to evaluate a quality coffee in three steps
The question I am asked most frequently is: "How can I tell if a coffee is a quality one?"
Let's start from a premise, to get a complete picture of the coffee you are tasting this article is not enough! It takes years of training, study, experience and comparisons with experts.
To recognize quality and be able to fully appreciate it, the only way is to study, there are no shortcuts. How to tell an oenologist how to recognize a quality wine in a second. It's impossible!
However, it is true that there are some characteristics that you can start checking right away and that indicate the quality of the coffee you have purchased.
So here are three simple tricks to find out if it's a good coffee:
- Check the packaging
- Check the color of beans and ground
- Check the smell of beans and ground
These three steps, as you can see, all come before tasting. This means that taste is not the only sense that can confirm or not the goodness of a coffee!
Let's start immediately from point one, that is "Check the package".
Already during the purchase phase, you can collect the information on the label.
Apart from the data required by law, such as packaging date and expiry date, ingredients, net weight and company name, also check:
- Product Description
- Origin of the coffee or coffee present in the package, depending on whether it is a single origin or a blend
- Roasting level
From these three simple information you can understand the taste of coffee once extracted, the possible aromatic profile and the degree of sweetness, acidity and bitterness.
It sounds strange, but it isn't!
The product description is nothing more than a small sentence made up of carefully chosen words to immediately convey what you will perceive on your taste buds.
Together with the roasting level, you can already imagine the intensity of the drink.
As you well know by now, a light roasted coffee is preferable for long and slow extractions, such as those with a paper filter. In addition, the light roasted coffee will be more driven on acidity, rather than sweetness and bitterness.
Coffee roasted at a medium level, on the other hand, will have very pronounced fragrances and a good intensity, giving space to a little sweetness and bitterness, together with a great freshness.
Finally, the dark roasting will give a full-bodied coffee, in which bitterness will dominate sweetness, acidity and fragrances.
So do you understand how reading the label is very useful for already understanding what your coffee will be like?
Then I recommend buying coffee in the roasting and not in the supermarket or in other large stores, for the simple fact of being able to interface with a natural person who knows the product. He will surely be able to advise you in a precise way.
After that, once you have bought the coffee and brought it home, open the package and carry out a visual and olfactory analysis.
This brings us to points two and three, "Check the color of grains and ground" and "Check the smell of grains and ground" respectively.
Then look at the color of the grains or ground. This must never be too dark.
Going back to the level of roasting, if the color is too dark it is synonymous with a dark roast. When the color is almost black, it indicates a very dark roast, this means that the coffee is almost burnt and therefore in the cup it will bring a great bitterness, together with hints of ash, rubber and empyreumatic, i.e. burned.
The same control will then also be confirmed by the olfactory analysis. In fact, by smelling your coffee you can confirm or not what you have observed. Basically a coffee of a nice warm and opaque brown, therefore medium roasted, will allow you to feel pleasant notes of toast, fruit, flowers, chocolate, nuts, citrus fruits, vanilla, caramel, tobacco and so on.
While a dark roasted coffee also on the nose will make you perceive unpleasant smells of empyreumatic and ash.
It seems absurd that a coffee can carry all these very different scents, but try it yourself and you will see that it is exactly like that!
The next time you prepare a coffee, pay attention to these details, dedicating a few seconds to them, and you will immediately realize how easy it is for anyone to understand from these first details whether the coffee is of quality or not.
Obviously, then there are other analyzes that you can carry out in more detail, both during the tasting phase and after the tasting.
But now I want to focus on something very important to me!
When it comes to coffee quality, we must try to be as objective as possible!
I never go to discuss a person's personal tastes. If you like a dark roasted coffee, why are you looking for a distinctly bitter coffee, that's fine! I will never tell you that you are wrong, because everyone has their own tastes and preferences, and it is right to satisfy them.
However, there are objective and internationally valid parameters, created by experts and competent bodies, which parameters must never be evaluated according to one's tastes.
A coffee harvested by hand, selecting only the ripest coffee cherries of the branch, against a coffee that is harvested mechanically, without any selection and then pulled up from the ground, objectively have two different quality levels, regardless of taste, in the cup.
A coffee dried in special rooms at controlled temperature and humidity, compared to a coffee left to dry in the sun, lying on the ground, in any climatic condition, have different objective qualities.
And so on until you get to the parameters used for tasting.
So you have to make a big effort if you want to talk about quality!
And this can be applied to any object or food!
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