People don’t always care what kinds of beans are being used for their coffee; they are just looking for a caffeine fix to get their morning started. However, many baristas will say the beans are the most important component for a good cup of joe.
Growing, picking and processing
Coffee beans are actually seeds that come from a cherry grown in a few areas of the world, according to the National Coffee Association website. Coffee trees can grow in many different environments, but they can’t handle sharp changes in climate and prefer rich soil and mild temperatures, with frequent rain and shaded sun.
Daniel Davis, the manager of 8th Day Coffee & Culture said the world is split into three different regions for coffee growing. The different regions bring out different flavors. 8th Day buys their coffee beans from a company called Land of a Thousand Hills who grows their coffee in Africa.
The cherries can either be strip-picked or selectively picked, the National Coffee Association website said. Strip-picked is when all the cherries on the tree are picked at the same time.
Coffee trees are on a constant growing cycle, so there is never a time when all of the cherries on the tree are ripe at the same time. When only the ripe cherries are harvested, this is selectively picking which can only be done by hand.
The cherries must be processed very quickly after they’ve been picked to prevent them from spoiling, the National Coffee Association website said. There is a dry and wet method of processing.
If the dry method is used, they are spread out in the sun where they are dried until there is only 11 percent moisture left.
The wet method is more involved than the dry method. According to the National Coffee Association website, first, the pulp is taken from the cherries, and then by floating in water, the beans are separated by weight. The heavier cherries are the riper ones.
To dissolve a mucus layer on the beans, they are put in water-filled fermentation tanks for a day or two. Then the beans are ready for drying.
At this point the beans are green and still need to be roasted. The beans are put in a roasting machine where they are constantly moving to prevent burning, the National Coffee Association website said. When the beans reach an internal temperature of about 400 degrees, they begin to brown as the oil inside is released.
John Sagasta, the owner of Jobot, a downtown Phoenix coffee shop, opened his shop around the same time as a friend. His friend started roasting his own beans and Sagasta said he thought his friend was really talented and wanted to get involved.
“You take the bean and you put it in a giant roaster,” Sagasta said. “You set the temperature and you set the time on how long you want it to roast. Then when it hits, you hit these things called cracks, there’s a first crack and a second crack and what it is the bean expands and letting its oils out. The oils is what gives coffee its taste. It starts to bleed a little bit. That’s what gives your coffee its crema and the flavor profile. That’s what you’re doing with roasting, you’re playing with those oils. To either come out more or come out less. It’s such a big part of what makes coffeehouses different is their roasting process.”
Flavors of area coffee shops
The roasting process is what makes different types of coffee unique, because there are different types of roasts. According to the National Coffee Association website, the roasts are usually categorized into light, medium and dark.
“What you’re looking for is different levels of acidity, and I think people think bitter as the term but it’s really the acidity in the bean that gives you that flavor profile,” Sagasta said. “Take more acidity away or leave more in there and that’s what I was talking about lower notes and high notes. The higher the acidity, the brighter the coffee tastes sometimes.”
The roast of the bean also affects the amount of caffeine in the coffee, Davis said.
“The lighter the roast, the more caffeine you’ll have in the coffee,” Davis said. “Roasting for a long period of time and you’ve taken a lot of the natural oils in the bean and grilled them out.”
The roasting process usually happens closer to the consumer so that they can get freshly roasted beans. Because roasting happens closer to home, it’s easier for coffee shops to customize and specialize their roasts.
“Roasting, it’s a weird thing with roasting,” Sagasta said. “You can have the exact same bean. Let’s say you roast at this temperature for 30 seconds longer and it changes everything. It changes every property about the bean. That’s what’s so fun about roasting. It just is really complicated. Just doing something slightly different changes the whole roast.”
Sagasta worked with a friend who was into roasting and they worked together to create a custom roast for Jobot.
“I think he understood that I wanted something that made us stand out on our own,” Sagasta said. “So he just took some of my ideas as I wanted coffee to taste like and he ran with that and made us our own private blend.”
Jobot’s blend is a little darker than some of the other shops in Phoenix because they are focused on bringing out some of the lower tones, Sagasta said.
The Regional Manager and Trainer for Dutch Bros. Arizona, Josh Hayes said they use a three-bean medium roast from South America. He said he didn’t know why Dutch Bros. decided to go with this type of roast but from personal experience thinks it’s a really good one.
“It’s not a burnt taste, it’s actually a smooth drink,” Hayes said. “So that’s why they stayed with the bean for so long. It combines well with the flavor, it’s really nice.”
Davis said the quality of the beans from Land of a Thousand Hills is very high and is fun to work with.
“They (Land of a Thousand Hills) blend it all together and roast it all together at a medium roast, Davis said. “It’s not overly offensive to the palate.”
Downtown Phoenix shop, Shine Coffee is the only multi-roaster coffee bar in the area, Shine partner Laryn Blok said in an email interview.
“Shine wants to offer our customers a variety of roasts with one constant: coffee deliciousness,” Blok said. “We tried many espresso blends before settling on Cartel Coffee Lab’s Black Market Espresso for our regular espresso. Likewise, we sampled all of Press Coffee Roasters and chose a few of their roasts for our decaf and house drip coffee.”
With so many different roasts and blends, there is a flavor that should please every taste bud.
“There really isn’t (a best type of bean),” Sagasta said. “It’s like ‘what’s the best color?’ There just isn’t man, you know what I mean? Or what’s the best music? It’s all depending on your palate.”
While many people like milk and flavorings in their coffee, most baristas will agree that the actual coffee beans are the most important.
“You’ve got to have good coffee,” Hayes said. “You can put as much flavor as you want in bitter coffee, it’s still going to be bitter coffee and have an after taste. So if you’re not paying attention to the quality of your coffee from the beginning you’re already done, you’ve already lost.”
Often times, local and corporate coffee shops butt heads, but this is one area they agree on.
“The bean is the entire thing,” Blok said. “Old coffee (walk through Safeway), overly roasted- dark coffee (Starbucks), excessive blending to cover bad flavors/notes. All of these things are very common in the average coffee purchase many Americans make daily. Coffee beans properly grown at high altitude, washed, shipped and properly roasted is the way to go. Roasting is like thinking about a chef preparing a perfect steak vs a home cook making 20 steaks in a frying pan….technique affects outcome as does ingredients.”
– Jessie Zook