The question I am most frequently asked is, “How can I tell if a coffee is quality?”
Let’s start with 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. Like telling a winemaker how to recognize a quality wine in a second. It is impossible!
However, it is true that there are characteristics that you can start checking right away that indicate the quality of the coffee you have purchased.
So here are three simple tricks to find out if it is a good coffee:
- Check the packaging
- Check the color of grains and ground
- Check the scent of grains and ground
These three steps as you can see, all come before tasting. Which is to say that taste is not the only sense that can confirm or not confirm to you the goodness of a coffee!
Let’s start right away with point one, which is “Check the packaging.”
Already at the purchase stage you can collect the information on the label.
Apart from the legally required data, such as packaging and expiration date, ingredients, net weight and the company name, also check:
- Product Description.
- Origin of the coffee(s) in the package, depending on whether it is a single-origin or a blend
- Roasting level
From these three simple pieces of information you will already be able to understand the taste of the coffee once extracted, the possible flavor profile and the degree of sweetness, acidity and bitterness.
It sounds strange, but it’s not!
The product description is nothing more than a small sentence composed of words carefully chosen to convey to you in an immediate way what you will feel on your taste buds.
Together then with the level of roasting you can already imagine the intensity of the drink.
As you are well aware by now, a light roast coffee is preferable for long, slow extractions, as paper filter extractions can be. In addition, light roast 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 aromas, good intensity, giving room for some sweetness and bitterness, along with great freshness.
Finally, the dark roast will give a full-bodied coffee in which bitterness will overpower sweetness, acidity, and fragrance.
So do you see how reading the label is very helpful in already understanding what your coffee will be like?
Then I recommend buying coffee at the roastery and not at the supermarket or other large stores, for the simple fact that you can interface with a physical person who knows the product. He will surely be able to advise you accurately.
After that, once you have purchased the coffee and taken it home, open the package and conduct a visual and olfactory analysis.
This brings us to points two and three, namely, “Check the color of grains and mince” and “Check the aroma of grains and mince.”
So look at the color of the grains or mince. This should never be too dark.
Reconnecting with the discussion of roasting level, if the color is too dark, it is synonymous with a dark roast. Then when the color is almost black, it indicates a very dark roast, which means that the coffee is almost burnt and therefore will carry a great bitterness in the cup, along with hints of ash, rubber and empyreumatic, that is, burnt.
The same control will then also be confirmed by olfactory analysis.
In fact, by smelling your coffee you will be able to confirm or not confirm what you have observed.
It tends to be a nice warm and opaque brown coffee, so medium roast, will allow you to smell pleasant notes of toast, fruit, flowers, chocolate, nuts, citrus, vanilla, caramel, tobacco, and so on.
While a dark roast coffee will also give you unpleasant empyreumatic and ash smells on the nose.
It sounds crazy that one coffee can carry all these different scents, but try it yourself and you will see that it is exactly like that!
The next time you make yourself a coffee pay attention to these details, devoting a few seconds to them, and you will quickly realize how easy it is for anyone to understand from these first details whether the coffee is quality or not.
Of course, then there are other analyses that you can do in more detail, both at the tasting stage and after tasting.
Now, however, I wanted to dwell on something very important to me!
When talking about coffee quality one should try to be as objective as possible!
I never go to discuss a person’s personal tastes. If you like a dark roast coffee because you seek 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.
But there are objective and internationally valid parameters created by experts and competent bodies, which parameters should never be judged according to one’s own taste.
A coffee that is harvested by hand, selecting only the ripest coffee cherries from the branch, versus a coffee that is harvested mechanically, without any selection and then pulled up from the ground, objectively have two different levels of quality, regardless then of the taste in the cup.
Coffee dried in special temperature- and humidity-controlled rooms, compared with coffee left to dry in the sun, lying on the ground, in any weather, have different objective qualities.
And so on until we get to the parameters used for tasting.
So you have to make a big effort if you want to talk about quality!
And this talk can be applied to any object or food!
Curious to start experiencing quality on your skin?