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ARABICA COFFEE: There are two main species of the coffee plant. Coffea arabica is the older of them. It is thought to be indigenous to Ethiopia, but as the name implies it was first cultivated on the Arabian Peninsula. It is more susceptible to disease, and considered by professional cuppers to be greatly superior in flavor to Coffea canephora (robusta).
Arabica coffees were traditionally named by the port they were exported from, the two oldest being Mocha, from Yemen, and Java, from Indonesia. The modern coffee trade is much more specific about origin, labeling coffees by country, region, and sometimes even the producing estate. Coffee aficionados may even distinguish auctioned coffees by lot number.
ROBUSTA COFFEE: which contains about twice as much caffeine—a natural insecticide—and can be cultivated in environments where arabica will not thrive. This has led to its use as an inexpensive substitute for arabica in many commercial coffee blends such as Folgers, Maxwell House and almost all instant coffee products.
Compared to arabica, robusta tends to be more bitter, with a telltale “burnt rubber” aroma and flavor. Good quality robustas are used as ingredients in some espresso blends to provide a better “crema” (foamy head), and to lower the ingredient cost. In Italy many espresso blends are based on dark-roasted robusta.
Coffee bean varieties
Coffee beans from two different places usually have distinctive characteristics such as flavor, caffeine content, and acidity. These are dependent on the local environment where the coffee plants are grown, their method of process, and the genetic subspecies or varietal.
Some well-known arabica coffees include:
- Colombian Milds – Includes coffees from Colombia, Kenya, and Tanzania, all of which are washed arabicas.
- Ethiopian Harrar — from the region of Harar, Ethiopia
- Ethiopian Yirgacheffe — from the area of the town of Yirga Cheffe in the Sidamo (now Oromia) region of Ethiopia
- Hawaiian Kona — grown on the slopes of Hualalai in the Kona District on the Big Island of Hawaii.
- Jamaican Blue Mountain — From the Blue Mountain region of Jamaica.
- Java — from the island of Java in Indonesia. This coffee was once so widely traded that “java” became a slang term for coffee.
- Kenya AA — from Kenya. The “AA” is a grade/rating within Kenya’s coffee auction system. It might come from any one of a number of districts. Known among coffee enthusiasts to have an “acidic” flavor.
- Sumatra Mandheling — named for the Mandheling region outside Padang in West Sumatra, Indonesia. A (very) little known fact: no coffee is actually produced from the “Mandheling region,” and “Sumatra Mandheling” is used as a marketing tool by Indonesian coffee producers.
- Mocha — Yemeni coffee traded through the once major port of Mocha. Not to be confused with the preparation style (coffee with cocoa).
- Tanzania Peaberry — grown on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. “Peaberry” means that the beans come one to a cherry (coffee fruit) instead of the usual two.
Coffees are often blended for balance and complexity, and many popular blendings exist. One of the oldest traditional blends is Mocha-Java, combining beans of the same name. The chocolate flavor notes peculiar to Mocha gave rise to the popular chocolate-flavored beverage, the Cafe Mocha, which may have been invented in circumstances where no Mocha beans were available. In addition to those blends sold commercially, many coffee houses have their own signature “house blends”.
Some bean varieties are so well-known and so in-demand that they are far more expensive than others. Jamaican Blue Mountain and Hawaiian Kona coffees are perhaps the most prominent examples. Often these beans are blended with other, less expensive varieties and the blend labeled as “Blue Mountain blend” or “Kona blend” even though they only contain a small amount of the coffee mentioned.
A number of classifications are used to label coffee produced under certain environmental or labor standards. So-called Ethical coffee is produced or traded under specific conditions and guidelines, which are claimed to be more environmentally friendly or economically equitable to the producers.
Bird-friendly or shade-grown coffee is produced in regions where natural shade (canopy trees) is used to shelter coffee plants during parts of the growing season. These shade cycles are said to be better for the coffee. Purchases of this coffee blend may also take place to support environmentally friendly coffee farms.
Organic coffee is produced under strict certification guidelines, and is grown without the use of potentially harmful artificial pesticides or fertilizers.
Fair Trade coffee is produced by small coffee producers; guaranteeing for these producers a preset price, circumventing the various coffee-trading processes. TransFair USA is the primary organization currently overseeing Fair Trade coffee practices.
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