Get to Know The Coffee Plant

When we sip on that delicious latte or filter brew, it’s easy to forget that our favorite drink comes from a plant. Yet millions of coffee trees grow around the world, their fruit powering us through the day.

But what does a coffee plant actually look like? How many varieties are there? And how do the flowers and cherries affect the drink we consume every day?

Read on to find out.

You might also like How to Brew Coffee at Home: A Beginner’s Guide

Young coffee seedlings still in bags at Finca San Jerónimo, Guatemala.

A Short History of Coffee

What country comes when you hear the word “coffee:” Colombia, Brazil, Indonesia? Actually, the coffee plant originated in Ethiopia.

Over the centuries, coffee spread throughout Africa and the Middle East and from there across the globe. There are dozens of stories about how this happened, from saints sneaking beans out of Yemen to European powers replanting it throughout their colonies. What seems to be undeniable is that empires had a significant role to play.

Fast-forward to today. Coffee is an integral part of crop economies in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Non-producing countries also thrive on coffee, roasting and consuming vast quantities every single day.

But what actually is this drink? What is it made of?

Discover more in A Brief History of Coffee Consumption

Coffee seedlings at Finca San Jerónimo, Guatemala.

What Does The Coffee Plant Look Like?

The name “coffee bean” is a lie: coffee is a seed. You’ll find two (normally) of these seeds inside each cherry-like fruit of the coffee plant.

The coffee plant could also be categorized as a tree since it has the ability to grow up to about 9 meters. But on coffee farms, it tends to be cut short to make it easier to harvest. As a result, it often looks more like a bush.

  • The Branches & Leaves

From the main trunk of the coffee plant, you’ll see primary, secondary, and tertiary horizontal branches. From these, dark green, waxy leaves grow in pairs.

Ricardo Alvarez, an agronomist at Finca Los Tres Potros in El Salvador, tells me, “The leaf is fundamental for the plant since that is where photosynthesis happens.” In other words, no leaves would mean no energy. And without energy, the plants would never be able to grow the delicious cherries that contain our coffee beans.

  • The Flowers

Once the coffee plant is about three or four years old, it will flower for the first time. Small, delicate, white flowers will grow where the leaves and branches join, releasing a sweet aroma.

Alvarez tells me, “The flowers are where the sexual organs are located.” In other words, the leaves and flowers help the coffee plant reproduce and sustain itself.

Coffee plants flower in a far in Honduras. 

  • Cherries

Six to eight weeks after pollination, a cherry-like fruit will appear where the flowers were located. The unripe cherries are green; over time, they turn red, yellow, orange, or even pink, depending on the variety. And as they ripen, they will grow increasingly sweeter.

Oh, and the caffeine content in the cherries? That actually works as a deterrent against – most – predators. (Unfortunately, it also attracts one of coffee’s worst pests: the coffee borer beetle, which survives on caffeine.)

Within the cherry, you’ll find multiple layers. Alvarez says that it has “an exocarp, which is the actual cherry, then we have a mesocarp which is where the mucilage is.” And within the mucilage lies the seeds we can’t face Monday morning without – coffee beans!

Learn more! Watch Looking Inside The Coffee Cherry

  • Seeds

Inside every cherry, you’ll find two small seeds – unless it’s a peaberry or otherwise defective, of course. A peaberry is when the seeds are joined: instead of two almost peanut-like ones, you’ll have a larger, rounder, pea-shaped one. This happens to around 5% of seeds.

These seeds are the coffee beans. They go through extensive processing to remove the fruit and mucilage, before being dried, roasted, ground, and finally turned into our favourite beverage.

But not all coffee plants are the same…

Healthy coffee seedlings ready for grafting, a process that helps make coffee plants stronger.

The Different Kinds of Coffee Plants

Coffee has over a hundred different species, and each species can be further divided into varieties. And all of these have an impact on how the coffee tastes, how much caffeine it has, and how it grows.

  • The 2 Main Coffee Species: Arabica & Robusta

Arabica is the most commonly consumed coffee in the world, accounting for about 70% of the industry. It’s known for its quality flavors and aromas; ICFC Panama biologist and coffee value chain analyst Valentina Pedrotti says, “In the specialty market, you go with Arabica.”

Compared to Robusta, it:

  • Is more sensitive to the weather
  • Is more susceptible to pests
  • Thrives at lower temperatures (which often correlate with higher elevations or being grown in the shade)
  • Usually produces fewer cherries
  • Has less caffeine content
  • Tends to be sweeter, more complex, and more aromatic

Robusta, or Canephora, is a more durable, robust tree. It accounts for about 30% of the coffee industry. Compared to Arabica, it:

  • Is more resistant to diseases and pests
  • Has a higher caffeine content
  • Thrives at slightly warmer temperatures
  • Has a higher yield, with more cherries and therefore more seeds; however, this means the individual cherries don’t get as many nutrients and so the coffee is often of a lower quality
  • Tends to be bitter

Healthy coffee plants at Finca San Jerónimo, Guatemala.

  • The Great Big World of Coffee Varieties

Unlike species, we consume numerous coffee varieties. Next time you buy a bag of specialty coffee, look at the label: it may tell you which one you’re drinking.

Some of the most common ones include Typica, Bourbon, and Caturra. And then there’s Gesha/Geisha, which is probably the most famous variety of all. This exquisite coffee is known for its delicate floral flavors and aromas, along with a tea-like body. The green beans have also been sold for as much as US $803/lb.

Find out more in Geisha vs Bourbon: A Crash Course in Coffee Varieties

The coffee industry also sometimes creates hybrid varieties. As Pedrotti says, these are created when the industry “sees the necessity, or the market, for fusing coffees together.” And the aim? Disease resistance, higher productivity, and better flavour.

Lempira coffee cherries ripen on the branch. Credit: Maren Marbee via FlickrCC BY 2.0

The Life of A Coffee Plant

Pedrotti tells me that a coffee plant could live for up to 80 years. But on a commercial farm? Alvarez says that you might expect them to last for 20 to 30 years, depending on how they’re cared for.

For the first few years of a tree’s life, you shouldn’t expect great productivity. Remember, it won’t flower until it’s three or four years old.

All coffee trees started life as those very same seeds that we roast and brew every day. As it grows, you’ll see its distinctive shoots and bright green leaves. Most producers keep young coffee trees in nurseries until the seedlings are ready to be planted on the farm.

The coffee leaves of a healthy coffee tree in a Guatemalan farm 

Once a coffee plant is mature, it will produce flowers; this normally happens shortly after heavy rainfall. And then, after the flowers, comes the cherries. In some countries, such as Colombia, the climate means that the trees flower twice a year – something that, in turn, leads to two harvests a year.

Arturo Aguirre of Finca El Injerto, Guatemala tells me that the producer and farm staff must learn to identify when coffee is ready for harvesting.

  • For Arabica coffee, the time from flowering to harvesting is approximately nine months
  • Robusta coffee can be harvested two to three times each year, depending on climate and soil

A coffee nursery at Fazenda Bela Epica, Brazil.

The coffee plant, with its bright cherries and delicate white flowers, is a beautiful sight. Perhaps it’s a strong low-altitude variety or a delicate but flavorsome high-altitude one, a young seedling or an old giant, full of ripe fruit or simply dark green leaves. Either way, it’s thanks to this tree that we can enjoy our daily brew and millions of people around the world have a living.

You might also like How to Brew Coffee at Home: A Beginner’s Guide

Written by Miguel Regalado.

Perfect Daily Grind

Drink coffee, live longer: Recent research finds 3 cups daily reduces the risk of death – from ALL causes

(Natural News) Drinking up to three cups of coffee daily may improve longevity and reduce the risk of all-cause mortality, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. As part of the study, a team of researchers at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the Imperial College London has examined the beneficial effects of coffee consumption among people across 10 European countries including the United Kingdom, Denmark, France, and Italy. The study has received funding from the European Commission Directorate General for Health and Consumers and the IARC.

The research team has pooled data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study with a total cohort population of  521,330 participants older than 35 years. The scientists have then evaluated the participants’ diet through questionnaires and interviews. Data from a 16-year follow-up has revealed that nearly 42,000 participants died from various conditions such as cancer, circulatory diseases, heart failure, and stroke.

The study has found out that coffee drinkers have exhibited healthier livers and better glucose control compared with non-drinkers. In addition, the scientists have observed a similar effect after consuming decaffeinated coffee.

“We found that higher coffee consumption was associated with a lower risk of death from any cause, and specifically for circulatory diseases and digestive diseases. Importantly, these results were similar across all of the 10 European countries, with variable coffee drinking habits and customs. Our study also offers important insights into the possible mechanisms for the beneficial health effects of coffee. We found that drinking more coffee was associated with a more favorable liver function profile and immune response. This, along with the consistency of the results with other studies in the U.S. and Japan gives us greater confidence that coffee may have beneficial health effects,” lead author Dr. Marc Gunter reports in a university press release.

However, the expert has acknowledged the limitations of the study and stressed that moderate coffee intake may improve overall health.

“Due to the limitations of observational research, we are not at the stage of recommending people to drink more or less coffee. That said, our results suggest that moderate coffee drinking – up to around three cups per day – is not detrimental to your health, and that incorporating coffee into your diet could have health benefits,” Dr. Gunter adds.

Harvard study backs coffee’s beneficial effects

A 2015 study has also demonstrated that drinking three to five cups of coffee a day may boost the body’s overall well-being. Health experts at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have pooled data from three large ongoing studies with a total cohort population of 208,501 participants as part of research. The scientists have also assessed the participants’ smoking habits, body mass index, and physical activity as well as alcohol consumption and other dietary factors. (Related: Coffee drinkers have a lower mortality rate and lower risk of various cancers.)

The findings reveal that more than 19,500 women and nearly 12,500 men have died from a range of causes during the follow-up period. However, the researchers have found that participants who had moderate coffee intake are less like to die of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological diseases, and suicide compared with non-drinkers and those with lower coffee intake levels. The scientists have also observed that participants who drank either caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee both achieved similar health benefits.

“Bioactive compounds in coffee reduce insulin resistance and systematic inflammation. That could explain some of our findings. However, more studies are needed to investigate the biological mechanisms producing these effects,” first author Ming Ding explains in a university press release.

Sources include:

This post originally appeared on

How Many People in the United States Drink Specialty Coffee?

2017 U.S. Specialty Coffee Consumption Trends Infographic

The full version of the following post was first published on SCA News

By Heather Ward

Specialty coffee consumption in the U.S. is growing, and 2017 saw a significant increase in daily specialty coffee drinkers.

Over the last 18 years, the number of daily specialty coffee drinkers has consistently increased, strengthening the consumer demand for specialty coffee.

Let’s take a closer look at the data.

The National Coffee Association (NCA) has been tracking U.S. coffee consumption since 1954 through a survey study called the National Coffee Drinking Trends (NCDT). The over sixty-year study is the longest available statistical series of coffee consumer drinking patterns in the U.S. Every year, the NCA surveys adults (18+) in the U.S. and asks if they drink coffee, how often they drink coffee, and what type of coffee they drink. The results provide key data and analysis on American coffee drinkers’ behavior and attitudes.

In 2001, the NCA began tracking specialty coffee consumption, or what is termed in the report as “gourmet” coffee, which is defined by the NCA as “coffee drunk hot or iced that is brewed from premium whole bean or ground varieties. This includes espresso based beverages, iced/frozen blended coffee, cold brew, and iced coffee infused with nitrogen.”

It is important to keep in mind that this data is based on the consumers’ perception of ‘specialty’. There are many ways to identify specialty coffee: cupping score, absence of defects, etc. Since this is consumer research, it is focused on consumer perception, which is critical: after all, the effort put into attaining and preserving quality is meaningless if the consumer cannot perceive it.

Extracting and interpreting data from the NCDT report, the SCA has developed an infographic that paints a picture of specialty coffee consumption in the U.S. over time. The infographic is broken up into three parts: percentage of adults in the U.S. drinking specialty coffee, cups per day per U.S. drinker, and market share of specialty coffee in cups. Let’s focus on each piece separately.

Percentage of Adults in the U.S. Drinking Specialty Coffee

  • This metric illustrates the percentage of adults drinking specialty coffee daily, weekly, and occasionally.
  • Over the last 18 years, the number of daily drinkers has seen the strongest growth. Only 9% of adults in the U.S. were drinking specialty coffee daily in 1999 and 41% were drinking daily in 2017.
  • It is important to note that this year the number of drinkers has increased 10 percentage points, up from 31% in 2016.
  • This year also showed a significant increase in weekly drinkers: 53% drink specialty coffee weekly, up from 45% in 2016. There has been consistent growth since 2001.
  • Occasional coffee drinkers have remained steady over the last 16 years at around 60% of U.S. adults drinking specialty coffee occasionally.

Cups Per Day, Per U.S. Drinker

  • In the survey, specialty coffee consumers are also asked how many cups they drink daily.
  • In 2017, specialty drinkers were consuming 2.97 cups of coffee per day which has increased from 2.24 cups in 2001.

U.S. Market Share of Specialty Coffee, in Cups

  • This is a metric that indicates the market share of specialty coffee, in cups.
  • To put it simply, of all the cups of coffee consumed, 59% of those cups were specialty versus 41% non-specialty.
  • In 2010, the NCA started tracking this metric (which was 40%) and over the last 7 years, the market share has increased to 59%.

Read the full post on SCA News. 

*Source: National Coffee Association’s Annual Drinking Trends Study

Heather Ward is the Market Research Manager for the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA). 

Has Cold Brew Coffee Paved the Way for Cold Brew Cocoa?

There was a brief window heading into the summer of 2015 when all kinds of food-focused publications were ready to declare cold brewed cocoa the next big drink trend. Then it really wasn’t.

We’re not totally sure who was first behind the cold brew cocoa buzz that year — a crown year for enlightenment in the cold coffee market among specialty coffee sellers — though one particularly memorable heralding came by way of Quartz, which did a big, splashy feature on the history of cocoa brewed cold.

In short, cold brew cocoa essentially follows the same principles and recipes as cold brew coffee, except instead of ground coffee that sits with filtered water at room- or refrigerated-temperatures for X amount of time, it is typically ground cacao nibs. The resulting beverage is not overly sweet and milk-laden like traditional hot cocoa, but more nuanced and subtle, while begging for use as a base for cocktail or mocktail type drinks.

Some high-end chocolatiers, coffee purveyors and tea shops have indeed been experimenting with cold brew cocoa for years, but a new market trends analysis from the market research firm Mintel suggests cold brew cocoa’s moment in the specialty beverage spotlight may actually be now — as opposed to two years ago — following a major release from Starbucks and increased attention on the potential health benefits of specialty drinks.

“The tea and coffee markets have each successfully made the jump from hot to cold drink, the former most recently with the cold brew and nitro coffee trends,” Mintel Global Food and Drinks Analyst Alex Beckett wrote in the analysis last week. “Now, cocoa may be braced to make a similar transition into the chilled drinks fixture.”

Beckett argues that Starbucks’ launch of a “Cold Brew Cocoa and Honey” bottled beverage this spring, though more of a traditional cold brew coffee with added ingredients, has helped propel consumer consciousness of the cold cocoa concept, while creating some mental separation between chocolate and cocoa as drinks ingredients.

The analysis also points to the potential yet largely unproven benefits of cocoa nibs as drinks ingredients. Cocoa is well-known to be high in theobromine, an alkaloid and stimulant that has been shown to dilate blood vessels and to potentially decrease blood pressure or positively affect mood, while also acting as a diuretic and stimulant that can have the same kind of potential negative effects associated with caffeine.

“At the heart of the relationship between health and chocolate is the cocoa content, and the higher the percentage of cocoa, the bigger the associated better-for-you benefits,” the analysis stated. “In Europe, there is significant consumer interest in seeing more chocolate which retains the nutrients of the cocoa beans. With this in mind, there could be opportunities for cold brew cocoa to communicate the level of cocoa content, or provenance of the cocoa. For various reasons, the cold brewed coffee boom is struggling to replicate its US success in Europe, but maybe the allure of chocolate will help cold brew cocoa find greater success.”

Nick Brown is the editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. Feedback and story ideas are welcome at [email protected] This article appeared on

Geisha vs Bourbon: A Crash Course in Coffee Varieties

In wine, varieties reign supreme. Everybody knows what a Merlot is, or a Chardonnay. But in the coffee world, they’re less understood. You might know of Geisha, but do you know the difference between a Bourbon and a Typica? Or why that matters?

If you answered “no” to any of those questions, don’t worry: today, I’m giving you a crash course in coffee varieties. Get ready to learn why they matter, what a variety actually is, and all about some of the main varieties you should know.

Why Are Coffee Varieties Important?

How important coffee varieties are depends on your role in the coffee supply chain: producer, barista, roaster, consumer…

If you’re a consumer, you might be wondering why you really need to learn another set of labels for your coffee. Is the variety really that important, compared to the country of originroast level, and processing method? And if it is important, why do only some coffee bags tell you about it?

The simple answer is that coffee varieties can affect the flavour of the coffee. Some, like Bourbon, are known for their sweet taste. Others, like Gesha/Geisha, are known for tea-like qualities.

But coffee flavour isn’t just about the variety: it’s also about the growing conditions, processing, and more. The uniqueness of a high-quality coffee is part of what makes this beverage so wonderful.

Roasters, you need to know about varieties because they don’t just affect the flavour profile – they also affect how you roast.

Different beans will have different sizes: Maragogype is famously large, while Mokka is tiny. And since roasting is a physical transformation, how heat is transferred throughout the bean is of key importance. You need to understand the physical makeup of your coffee (especially if you’re blending).

And producers, varieties are of critical importance to you. Your choice will affect the flavour profile and potential cup score, the hardiness of the plant and its resistance to disease, its productivity, which altitude and temperature it grows at best, and more.

Another reason to care about varieties is that Arabica coffee has a worryingly low genetic diversity. This means it is more susceptible to disease and climate change – and could even theoretically become extinct in the future. Creating and/or finding more genetic variety is of key importance right now.

Species, Variety, Cultivar… What Do These All Mean?

Now we know why varieties are important, let’s take a step back and look at what they actually are.

There are many different species of coffee – over 100, according to World Coffee Research (WCR) – but the main three are Arabica, Robusta, and Liberica. Specialty coffee shops rarely sell anything but Arabica, shunning Robusta for its harsher, more bitter taste – although some shops are making the case for Fine Robustas. Liberica is usually only consumed in the Philippines.

The category below “species”, when describing plants, is “variety”. Varieties refer to different variations within the species. For example, Caturra is a variety of Arabica while Nganda is a variety of Robusta. As for a cultivar, that’s a coffee variety that has been created by humans in an agricultural setting.

Another point that confuses many people is the difference between varietal and variety. Simply put, “variety” is a noun and “varietal” is an adjective. However, because language is almost as complex as coffee genetics, it’s possible to use “varietal” in a way that acts as a noun when discussing the coffee product rather than the plant (something called nominalisation). But this is an article about coffee, not linguistics: it’s enough to say that the differences between “varietal” and “variety” are just grammatical.

Some Coffee Varieties You Should Know

There are many coffee varieties around the world, and we couldn’t hope to cover all of them in just one article. However, we’re going to take a quick look at some of the most famous or noteworthy Arabica varieties.


Typica coffee is one of the earliest and most important coffee varieties, having been around for centuries and engendered numerous others. Notable Typica varieties include Java, Maragogype, and Timor Hybrid (more on that last one in a little bit).

You’ll find this plant being farmed in Central America, Jamaica, and Asia. The WCR label it as low-yield, high-quality, and susceptible to rust and pests. It’s often described as having a clean, sweet acidity.


A natural mutation of Typica, Bourbon is a high-quality, medium-yield coffee known for its sweet taste. It has, however, low resistance to leaf rust, coffee berry borer, and other diseases and pests. It’s commonly grown in Burundi and Rwanda, as well as throughout Latin America.

Why should you know about Bourbon? For the same reasons why you should know about Typica: its early appearance in the “coffee variety tree” makes it a common variety that has also engendered numerous others.

Ethiopian Heirloom

While most Arabica coffee varieties come from Typica or Bourbon, coffee originally comes from Ethiopia – and Kew Gardens have established that the country holds 95% of coffee’s genetic diversity. When you see “Ethiopian Heirloom” written on a bag of coffee, it means that it was probably grown wild or in a lightly cultivated garden.

Timor Hybrid

Timor Hybrid is a controversial coffee, since it’s a (spontaneous) Arabica-Robusta hybrid. Robusta is a more, well, robust coffee species: it offers hardiness and resistance to coffee leaf rust in exchange for a less appealing flavour and aroma profile.

As a result, this unique coffee has been used in many cultivars, particularly Catimors and Sarchimors. Catimors are a group of Caturra and Timor Hybrid crosses, Sarchimors a group of Villa Sarchi and Timor Hybrid crosses. Examples of these include Castillo, Colombia, and Marsellesa.

Specialty coffee buyers can be wary of any plant with a Timor Hybrid parentage – but some producers, especially those at lower altitudes where coffee leaf rust is more likely, believe less risk is worth a potentially lower cup quality and price.


Gesha/Geisha originated in the village of Gesha, Ethiopia, but remained under the radar until 2003 in Panama. Since then, Panamanian Geisha has become one of the industry’s most-famous coffees. With most coffee championship finalists using it, and a recent green bean auction price of US $601/lb, it’s become a byword for excellence – and exclusivity.

It has a distinctive profile: tea-like with a jasmine aroma, orange blossom and bergamot notes, and delicate florals.

As for the plant, it grows best at high altitudes (WCR recommend above 1,400 m.a.s.l.), is low-yielding, and can be delicate. While it has earned high prices at auction, there have been horror stories of producers growing it outside of Panama only to see their plants die in incompatible climates and soil.

F1 Hybrids

F1 hybrids are a new generation of coffee varieties that have the potential to be high-quality, rust-resistant, and high-yielding. They are typically mass-produced in advanced nurseries. Notable F1 hybrids include Centroamericano, which has seen recent success in the Nicaraguan Cup of Excellence.

One of the most important points about F1 hybrids, for producers, is that they are typically more expensive and harder to obtain. They are mass propagated in sophisticated nurseries with tissue culture labs (i.e., they are cloned) instead of by seed. This is necessary because their germinated seeds (the F2, or second generation) will not necessarily possess the same great qualities as the F1 mother plant, meaning that farmers cannot rely on the performance of the plant. For this reason, WCR advises that producers only buy from reputable nurseries.

For more information on F1 hybrids, read our in-depth article here.


A natural Bourbon mutation, Caturra is a dwarf tree with an average yield, average quality, and average bean size – in fact, the WCR description of an average yield is “Caturra-like”. It is susceptible to rust and pests, and commonly grown throughout Brazil and Latin America. I’ve included it here because of how common it is.


Catuai is a Mundo Novo and Caturra cross that shares many of the same characteristics as Caturra: average yield, average quality, average bean size, susceptibility to rust and pests, and dwarf status.

This is only an introduction to the wonderful world of coffee varieties. There are many more that deserve attention: Pacas, Pacamara, Maracaturra, Rume Sudan, Laurina, SL-28, SL-34… The list goes on and on.

Producers, pick your coffee varieties carefully. Do your research: understand the demands of each one, and the risks that come with it. When planting a new variety, consider starting slowly, with only a small portion of your farm.

As for you, coffee lovers, take the time to taste as many varieties as possible. Pay attention to how they vary. Compare different varieties grown in the same region – or the same variety grown across different regions. As you start to learn more about how the variety can affect your cup, your appreciation of coffee will only grow.

This article appeared on Perfect Daily Grind and was written by Tanya Newton, with thanks to World Coffee Research for their input on F1 hybrids.

Record Coffee Earns $601 Per Pound at Best of Panama Auction


The recent Best of Panama coffee auction, presented by the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama, shattered previous price records, with one winning 100-pound lot from Hacienda La Esmeralda fetching a whopping $601.00 USD per pound, the highest price ever paid for green coffee.

In total, the 51 lots comprising 5,950 pounds of green coffee sold for $368,711, at a remarkable average price of $61.98 per pound.

The auction follows numerous record-breaking Cup of Excellence auctions held throughout Latin America in recent months, reinforcing the notions that not only has quality improved among progressive farmers, but that there is a healthy and growing market at the very high end of the specialty coffee spectrum.

The vast majority of buyers in both the Best of Panama and the CoE auctions — which are separate programs — hail from Asia. The Specialty Coffee Association of Panama reported that 37 of the winning lots went to buyers in Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea, while Australian buyers bought seven of the lots, with the remaining lots going to buyers in the United States (1), Holland (1), France (1), the UK (2) and Saudi Arabia (2).

The auction concluded with single lots being purchased by the U.S., Holland and France, two lots each to UK and Saudi Arabia and seven lots going to Australia. The remaining 37 lots went to Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and S. Korea. The lone U.S. buyer was Boulder, Colo.’s Dragonfly Coffee Roasters, although it should be noted that numerous parties in the U.S. and Europe have holdings in farms represented in the competition.

The top-scoring Hacienda La Esmeralda lot (94.11) is a natural-process Geisha coffee grown on the producer organization’s Cañas Verdes Farm that was purchased by Korea’s Kew Specialty Coffee Co. Since its emergence in Panama in the last decade at the hands of several progressive producers — La Esmeralda among them — the Geisha variety has played a crucial role in elevating the extreme high-end market in Panama.

Other top-scoring Geishas in the competition came from Finca Sophia, which is owned by members of the U.S. companies Equator Coffees & Teas and Boot Coffee, and from Willem Boot’s Finca La Mula. Those lots fetched $254.80 and $165.00 per pound, respectively.

The vast majority of Best of Panama-winning coffees were of the Geisha variety, most of them natural-processed with a handful of Caturras, Catuais and Pacamaras also represented.

Hacienda La Esmeralda’s El Velo farm. Photo by the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama. The $601/lb record-breaking Hacienda La Esmeralda coffee was grown at the organization’s Cañas Verde farm in Boquete.

How Might Roasting Affect Drip Extraction: A Detailed Analysis

Royal Coffee Director of Roasting Jen Apodaca. All images courtesy of Royal Coffee, Inc.

In many cases, a roaster will make choices about heat application based on final, intended use. An espresso roast will differ significantly from a drip roast based on known effects on the final flavor profile.

Not long ago at the Crown office, Jen, Evan, and I were speculating about what choices might be made specifically during the roast that affect a coffee’s solubility. We regularly brew and take measurements of extraction percentages of our Crown Jewel selections, and occasionally theorize about why one particular roast seems to extract differently than a second roast of the same coffee. Could roasting styles be quantified in terms of time, temperature, extraction percentage, and TDS?

One of my working theories has been related to Maillard development — my assumptions usually correlate more time spent in this phase of the roast before first crack to higher solubility. I wanted to see if my coworkers had similar assumptions, so I asked Jen and Evan what they thought. Evan and Jen both focused on darker roasts, indicating that, to a point, they might also be more soluble. Jen bet that after 2nd crack “extraction percentages go down because of the physical change to the coffee.” Evan additionally speculated that longer sugar-browning, to a point, might lead to higher solubility after first crack.

I’d be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention that all these numbers really don’t get at the ultimate question about coffee: “How does it taste?” Extraction percentage will never fully illuminate flavor profile, but it can tell us at least a little about the way a coffee brews, and what steps might be needed to access its full potential.

The Variables

I quickly surveyed our records and was able to isolate a lot of data — 3,750 data points related to 135 brews of 111 roasts of 59 unique coffees.

For nearly every one of the coffees, two roasts were performed. This enabled me to quickly compare and contrast extraction data, and then see if there were major differences in roast styles.

For a single given brewed coffee there could be as many as nine roasting variables, three green coffee variables, and 10 extraction variables. This unfortunately makes for a wide playing field.

The Assumptions

Of all the roasts performed, only three entered second crack. For all coffees, total roast time varied between 7:30 and 11:59, ground ColorTrack readings fell between 54.45 and 62.68, except for the three dark roasts which measured between 70 and 71.2. Without exception, every roast was performed on our 1-kilo Probatino, though roast batch sizes varied. Time stamp observations are contingent on manual entry and observation.

Every extraction was brewed at the Royal Offices in Emeryville, Calif., at sea level. Any extraction data we collected was based on manual measurements. Manual brewing styles, of course, are highly variable based on the brewer. I think it’s unlikely, but our water composition may have slightly affected extractions, and I know that over the course of the past year the mineral content of the water in the office here has shifted dramatically despite high-quality catalytic carbon block filtration.

Not all roast pairs provided great comparisons, so below, I’ve made a distinction for times when I’ve narrowed the field to cut out noise of irrelevant data. In some cases I chose to filter results by brewing device, roast time range, or simply whether or not there was complete enough data to draw conclusions. Lastly, even though the data set is fairly robust, there are far, far too many variables and outliers to draw serious conclusions. In the future I hope to design a few experiments to narrow the list of variables, but for the time being, I think we can glean a little information from the analysis below.

The Analysis

Looking for overarching patterns across every brew of every roast, many factors appeared insignificant. Perhaps I’d bitten off more than I could chew… roasted weight loss, percentage of time spent in post-crack development, green coffee specs, and the difference between internal and external ColorTrack readings all seemed pretty random, with minimal relationship to brewing parameters.

The most significant factor appeared to be total roast time, which seemed to inversely correlate to extraction percentage, to the tune of about 1 percent for every 133 seconds of roasting time, with plenty of exceptions to the general trend.

There was also a slight trend of lighter coffees being the most soluble. The three darkest coffees did not follow the trend, but there is a 7.5 point gap between the lightest dark roast and the next darkest light roast, so it’s possible there is some curvature between medium and dark where extraction dips and rises.

Identical Brew Specs

Ultimately, though, I felt I needed to start filtering these results to make sure I was being fair. My first step was to eliminate any roast pairs that weren’t brewed identically. Since I wanted to look at significant factors in extraction variables, I narrowed my hunt to identical brews of different roasts of a single coffee that varied by more than 0.5% percent in extraction. I was left with 50 roasts of 25 coffees.

Of these 50 roasts, the only significant metric I could identify was the ratio of total roast time to post-crack sugar browning (or post crack development, hereafter abbreviated PCD). However, the data supports the opposite conclusion from what Evan expected! The graph below illustrates the trends in percentage of PCD versus extraction percentage in the 50 roasted coffees.

There appears to be a slight inverse relationship between the two. When comparing each pair, the roast that brewed with a higher extraction percentage also spent less time in PCD in 18 out of 25 cases. That’s statistically significant at 72 percent, but not exactly conclusive.

It would be unfair to forgo examination of the other brew pairs with slight or nearly no differences in extraction. If the trend above holds true, the opposite should also be true: coffees with minimal differences in extraction percentage should also express minimal differences in PCD percentage. As it happens, there were the exact same number of coffees that fell into this sample set: 50 roasts of 25 coffees. These pairs split almost down the middle into two sub-categories. Twelve pairs had nearly no difference in extraction (less than 0.2 percent), the other 13 had minimal differences (between 0.2 and 0.49 percent).

Of the 12 pairs with that expressed almost no difference at all in extraction percentage, the PCD percentage differed significantly (by more than 0.5 percent) in all but one of the pairs. And in the 13 pairs with a slight difference (between 0.2 percent and 0.49 percent) eight of the pairs had a lower PCD percentage. Arguably, this disproves the trend. The correlation between low PCD percentage and high extraction percentage is tenuous at best, and possibly irrelevant.

Similar Total Roast Times

My next step was to reorganize and narrow my dataset by total roast time. If I could concentrate on pairs where the same coffee was roasted twice at less than 30 seconds difference, perhaps I could find a common factor in Maillard reactions or post crack development that affected the brew.

I found 21 coffees (42 roasts) that met the 30 second or less roast differential prerequisite. Of these 21 pairs, 2 expressed no difference in extraction percentage, despite differences in roast style. Both of these were wet hulled Sumatran coffees brewed on Bonavita brewers.

Most of the other coffees failed to beat random odds. In fact, for two of the 21 pairs, we doubled down on brewing, and in both instances the roast that had a higher extraction percentage in the first brew-off had a lower extraction percentage in the second — a frustrating inconsistency, to be sure.

If I narrowed my results to coffees with large differences (0.5 percent or more) in extraction, only nine pairs remained. I looked for trends in the most soluble brew in each of the pairs.

Nothing unanimous or definitive though the majority of coffees with higher solubility trend towards shorter roasts with larger percentage of time spent during the initial drying stages, less time in Maillard reactions and PCD, and lighter ColorTrack readings.

With such a small sample set, the evidence here doesn’t seem to support definitive conclusions about coffee brewing extraction differences resulting from stylistic changes in roasting that affected coffees roasted to similar end times.

Automatic Brew Cycles Only

Frustrated by a lack of conclusive results, I decided to reorganize data again. It seemed plausible to me that manual brewing could introduce unaccounted-for variables that might be muddling results. If I could eliminate the human element from brewing differences, perhaps we’d see better trends. Bonavita’s automatic brew cycle ensured consistent brewing parameters given a consistent dose, grind, and water weight, so I narrowed all the roasts down to just those brewed on Bonavitas.

We did a fair amount of brewing on these devices, analyzing 53 roasts of 27 coffees, and I was finally able to see what I thought were pretty clear trends when looking at all the brews in broad strokes. I was able to reconfirm a slight inverse relationship between PCD ratio and extraction percentage… or so I thought:

I was also able to see again an overall slight trend of the inverse relationship of Maillard time to extraction percentage, roughly to 1 percent lower extraction for every 50 seconds spend in Maillard reactions, with one significant outlier: a Brazil that spent 5:35 in Maillard reactions and yielded a 23 percent extraction (not depicted below).

I was also able to reconfirm overarching trends indicating a pretty strong relationship between shorter roasts and higher extraction percentages.

There is also trendline evidence to suggest that lighter roast color results in higher solubility.

However, problems in these trends arose quickly when I compared the roast pairs. I honed in on 21 coffees that were each roasted twice and each roast brewed once. Of these 21, two were those pesky trend-bucking Sumatran coffees with identical extraction numbers but different roast styles, which are included in the statistics below:

Maillard reaction time, lower percentage of PCD, and ColorTrack readings all failed to beat random chance. So really, roast length seems to be one of the only major factors I can say with confidence makes a difference in these coffees’ solubilities. Again, however, there is an exception.

One coffee I excluded from the group above was roasted twice, and each roast brewed twice. The only difference in brew method was the grind setting, and the roast that had a higher extraction at a coarser grind setting (+0.76 percent extraction and had the lower (-0.45 percent) extraction the second time. So frustrating! Why did this happen?

The two roasts differed by 20 seconds in roast length, 25 seconds in Maillard time (the roast with longer total time had a shorter Maillard duration), 4.3 percent in PCD (quite significant), and 0.87 in ColorTrack reading. It’s hard for me to believe that a simple 0.5 adjustment in grind on the Mahlkonig EK43 could cause such a dramatic shift in extraction, which leads me to conclude that, at least in this instance, operator error may not have been eliminated as a factor simply by looking at auto-drip brew cycles.

The Conclusions

I don’t believe the evidence from our analyses can support decisive conclusions that apply to all brewing parameters for all roasts of all coffees. But if we hone our focus, I think there is good information here.

  • Bonavita brews seemed to produce a few associations, at least from an overall trend perspective, between roast styles and extraction. However, manual brew styles did not always uphold these trends, so it seems reasonable to conclude that the small variations attributable to the human influence on manual brewing are a more important factor in extraction than even the most dramatic differences in roasting.
  • Overall, roasting style may be a contributing factor to a coffee’s solubility in some cases, but not in all conditions nor universally across all coffees. Associations can sometimes be drawn between high extraction percentage and the following roasting metrics:
    • Lower PCD percentage
    • Shorter Maillard reaction time
    • Shorter total roast length
    • Lighter color roasts
  • I think it’s reasonable to surmise — without having done sufficient testing to decisively conclude — that much of the same stuff in coffee that is soluble in hot water is also being roasted away with longer times, higher temperatures, and darker colors. The peak solubility of coffee is likely far earlier in the roast — perhaps as early as the very beginning of first crack —  than I had expected. Solubility definitely seems to be affected strongly by length of roast and not just temperature or color.

After running all these numbers, the bottom line is that I don’t think roasting for extraction percentage is really the best way to roast coffee. Better to cup and use your palate than to try and roast by number to get the best tasting brews.

(Editor’s note: Royal Coffee is a current Daily Coffee News advertiser, though this piece was conceived and published for the benefit of coffee professionals everywhere.)


Understanding Coffee Extraction & Other Key Brewing Concepts

Home preparation is one of the amazing things about coffee. If you drink coffee at home, you’re probably doing at least a little work, like grinding beans or pouring hot water. And this sets it apart from things like specialty cacao, beer, and wine.

However, there’s a lot more science and technique involved in making coffee than you might expect. Many people to struggle to brew good coffee at home.

So if you’re trying to create the same great coffee you drink in a café, I’m going to explain the basic concepts for you. You’ll learn the differences between immersion and infusion; what extraction, solubility, and TDS are; and why brew ratios and extraction percentages are helpful.

We’ll also look at simple ways to make your coffee taste better, like agitation/the coffee bloom and pulse pours.

SEE ALSO: How to Brew Coffee at Home: A Beginner’s Guide

Coffee brewingThe perfect cup of coffee is a product of many variables. Credit: Mike Flores

Extraction & Solubility

Scientifically speaking, brewing coffee is the process of extracting the soluble material in roasted and ground coffee. As this coffee is brewed in hot water, hundreds of unique compounds are extracted from the ground beans – creating brewed coffee.

These compounds are what we’re speaking of when we talk about coffee’s solubility. Extracted coffee typically contains the following water-soluble compounds:

  • Caffeine (bitter)
  • Acids (sour and/or sweet flavors, like oranges, apples, or grapes)
  • Lipids and fats (viscosity)
  • Sugars (sweetness, viscosity)
  • Carbohydrates (viscosity, bitterness).

Solubility and extraction can be affected by a wide range of things: the coffee’s genetic characteristics, grind size, water mineral content, roast degree, brew methods…

Sometimes a brew method that works well for one type of coffee might not work as well for another. This means getting the perfect brew can require some detective work. Baristas will often refer to “dialing in” a coffee. They typically start with a single recipe, and then make adjustments in dose or grind setting to affect the flavor. They will continue dialing in until they get an extraction with which they’re happy.

Let’s dive deeper into brewing by dividing it into two basic categories: immersion and infusion.

Coffee brewingDial in your pour over to get the taste you want. Credit: Aryan Joshani


Brewing by immersion means the coffee grounds are fully submersed in water. This water then extracts the coffee over time.

Probably the most common immersion brewing method is the French press, but others exist too: the vacpot siphon, the Clever, the AeroPress, and the coffee industry’s standard quality evaluation technique, cupping. Most cold brew methods that involve a long soak (like a Toddy) are also immersion.

Immersion can be a fairly hands-off method of brewing. Just add water and wait: 4 or 5 minutes is pretty standard for hot coffee.

Nearly all immersion brews will also need filtration. French presses use a metal filter while the Clever uses a paper one, for example. Whatever filter is used, it serves to remove coffee grounds and the finest particles from the final brew. (Paper filters also remove some of the oils and lipids from the coffee.)

Extraction slows down as the immersion time continues. This is because, as coffee solids dissolve into the water, the brew becomes gradually more and more saturated. The water “fills up” with coffee solubles, meaning it is less and less able to hold more of them.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a great cup of coffee, or a strong one for that matter, from immersion brewing. But it could mean that you may need employ a few tricks to get the optimally extracted brew. We’ll look at some of these a little later in the article.

Coffee brewingImmeresion brewing requires hot water – and time. Credit: Roast House Coffee


Infusion brewing involves water constantly flowing through a bed of ground coffee and filter. All drip brewing methods uses infusion. The Chemex, Kalita Wave, and V60 are common manual drip methods, but even an auto-drip machine like a Mr. Coffee, a BonaVita, or a batch brewing Fetco are infusion.

Infusion is a little more efficient at extracting coffee solubles than immersion. This is because it solves immersion’s saturation problem with a constant supply of fresh water. More soluble material is able to be extracted into the beverage, provided enough hot water is added… up to a point, of course. Eventually, the hot water will have extracted all of the coffee’s soluble material.

Infusion can also present some challenges. Manual methods are susceptible to bad pouring techniques. For example all, infusion methods run the risk of channelling, where a stream of water finds an easy route around the ground coffee. This will mean that some of the coffee doesn’t get extracted.

Additionally, if coffee is ground too finely it can obstruct the flow of water. This will result in either an abnormally long brew time or filter baskets that overflow, ruining your coffee and dirtying your countertop.

Coffee brewingThe Kalita Wave, one of the most forgiving pour over methods. Credit: Ian Steger


Technically, espresso is a form of infusion, but there are many differences that put espresso into its own category. The most important is this: espresso is a coffee extracted under pressure. Any coffee can be extracted as espresso under the right conditions and using the proper equipment.

The serving size of an espresso is typically much smaller, usually just 20–40 ml. It is also much more concentrated than regular drip coffee. A finer grind, along with the pressurized water, enables quicker and more efficient brews, usually in just 20–30 seconds.

Finally, espresso is also different because the brew ratio differs from standard drip or infusion methods. Let’s take a look at brew ratio now.

Coffee brewingThe right water-to-coffee ratio is key for a perfect extraction. Credit: Adam Friedlander

Brew Ratio

A coffee’s brew ratio is the ratio of ground coffee to water used to brew. It’s convenient if you want to scale up or down the amount of coffee you brew.

If you were to ask a barista their standard brew ratio for a drip coffee, they might say 1:16. That means that for every gram of ground coffee, they’re adding 16 grams of water. Most brew ratios for coffee lie between 1:15 and 1:18.

However, because espresso is so quickly and efficiently extracted, its typical ratios are closer to 1:2.

Measuring both your coffee and your brew water is crucial if you want to pour these ratios correctly. Doing so will also help you to easily repeat a recipe. A digital gram scale, especially one that is waterproof and has a protective covering from heat, will become your most trusted tool when crafting coffee at home. Weight, not volume, is the best way to quantify your brew recipes.

Coffee brewingA scale will help you to control brew ratio. Credit: Eka Suryadi Chandra

Refractometers & TDS

Additionally, you can quantify extraction with a refractometer. This tool will measure how much a substance, such as dissolved coffee compounds, changes the direction of light beams in a solution, such as brewed coffee.

From this information, the refractometer can infer the amount of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) in a solution. The more solids, the more the direction of the light changes. The more TDS, the more the coffee has been extracted.

When people talk about a coffee’s strength, it’s the TDS they’re referring to – whether they know it or not. Strong coffee has a higher ratio of solubles to water. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean better coffee or good extraction.

With TDS and brew ratio, you can determine your extraction percentage. This tells us how efficiently the dry ground coffee was dissolved into the water that we drink as coffee. It is a powerful tool for dialing a coffee into its best tasting brew.

Coffee brewingA refractometer will help you to measure TDS. Credit: Matty De Angelis

Brew Manipulation

I mentioned earlier that it’s possible to affect the way a coffee brews. There are a few techniques that can potentially improve flavor, so let’s look at some of them.


Agitation is stirring, or somehow disturbing, the bed of coffee grounds. Doing so in immersion or infusion brewing will usually increase your extraction.

It’s especially useful for immersion, for two reason. First, it breaks up the crust of wet coffee grounds that float to the surface. Ever tried to push the plunger down on a French Press without stirring? It’s not easy!

Second, remember how immersion brews can become saturated before the coffee is optimally extracted? Stirring can help with this issue.

Coffee brewingA spoon, ready for stirring. Credit: Ana Valencia


Bypassing is adding water to already brewed coffee. It’s a simple way to dilute your cup. If you like the flavor of strong coffee, but dislike the viscous mouthfeel, just add a little water. You’ll reduce the brew strength without affecting your brew ratio or extraction percentage.

You can get pretty technical with this if you like, weighing your bypass water and comparing pre and post-bypass TDS to achieve optimal results.


Pulsing means adding a little water at a time when infusion brewing, rather than creating a constant stream. It allows the coffee grounds in the filter bed to settle before more water is added. This technique can be used to compensate for fresh coffee. Done consistently, pulsing will help improve the consistency and efficiency of extraction.

Coffee brewingPulsing can help create a more even extraction. Credit: Zachary A. Kelley

Pre-infusion (sometimes called “the bloom”)

Pre-infusing coffee means introducing just enough water to saturate the grounds. Used in infusion brewing, typically brewers will first pre-infuse and then wait for 30-60 seconds before continuing to brew.

Much like pulsing, the bloom can help you to brew fresh coffee consistently. It will improve the overall quality of the extraction for most drip brew techniques.

Coffee brewing

Fresher beans, bigger bloom! Credit: E.J. Schiro

Coffee brewing can get technical – and the better you want your coffee to be, the more technical you should get. Yet while these concepts may sound intimidating at first, you will find you can grasp them relatively quickly. Practice these techniques and see how great your coffee can become.

Written by Chris Kornman, Lab and Education Manager of The Crown: Royal Coffee Lab & Tasting Room. Featured photo: Royal Coffee

Please note: Royal Coffee is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.  

Pressure Profiling: The Key to Perfect Extraction

Specialty coffee is an innovative industry. It seems like there’s a new way to improve our coffee every year—if not every month! Recently, the focus has been on grind evenness and the ability of Mahlkonig’s EK43 grinder to produce a particle size distribution that enables tasty espresso to be made at higher extraction yields.

With all the excitement over grinders, specialty coffee’s previous poster child—pressure profiling—seems to have been forgotten. However, with the recent announcement of a single group La Marzocco Strada, and the availability to the home user of other machines (such as the Vesuvius), all of which feature pressure profiling, it’s worth re-examining this technology.

Spanish Version: Manejo de la Presión: La Clave para una Extracción Perfecta

Ambient and SpressoAmbient & Spresso—The Vesuvius is one of the most recent domestic espresso innovations to incorporate customisable pressure profiles. It’s a beautiful classic e-61 design with a modern twist. Credit: Antonio Nurri

So, What Is Pressure Profiling?

Pressure profiling is when, during extraction, a machine varies the pressure at which it pumps water through the coffee puck. Most coffee machines aren’t able to do this; their pumps can only operate at a single pressure—typically 9 bar—at any one time, although there is sometimes a non-adjustable period at the beginning of the extraction where water is roughly at line pressure (typically 2-4 bar) which is known as pre-infusion.

There are several types of pressure profiling machines available. Some, like the La Marzocco Strada, allow any combination of pressures to be used throughout the extraction. Others, such as the Sanremo Opera, allow pressures to be set in three distinct stages. And some machines, such as the Slayer, vary the flow rate of the water rather than pump pressure. They’re commonly thought of as offering pressure profiling, but it’s closer to flow profiling. In this article, we’re going to be looking strictly at the former two.

Lever machines have a very basic form of fixed pressure profiling, albeit more by accident than design: the initial pull down of the lever lets water into the grouphead at low pressure, and then the spring that forces the lever back to its original position naturally produces a rising then declining pressure profile.

 Victoria Arduino Athena Leva

Victoria Arduino Athena Leva: A masterpiece design of the old world of espresso. The lever shots are mighty tasty. Credit: @dailypressclt

Full-pressure profiling machines, such as La Marzocco’s Strada, take this further by allowing the user to control the pump pressure precisely throughout the entire extraction. In theory, a whole range of profiles are possible, from a slow ramp up and slow ramp down to the exact opposite. In practice, however, a particular profile dominates: a long pre-infusion, followed by a ramp up to full pressure, then a declining profile in the last third of the extraction. If you’ve ever ordered an espresso-based drink in a shop with a pressure profiling machine, it was more than likely produced in this way.

La Marzocco Strada 2

Stunning custom La Marzocco Strada 2 group at the London Coffee Festival. Credit: @nowavecoffee

SEE ALSO: 5 Barista-Certified Rules for “Dialing In” Your Coffee Grinder

A Typical Profile

With so many different profiles available, why do we typically stick to the same one?

To answer this question, we need to break down the extraction into three main stages.

1. First Contact 

The first stage of any espresso extraction involves water coming into contact with dry coffee grounds. On a very basic machine, this happens with a considerable amount of force. The pump will operate at a pressure many times greater than the pressure to which your car tyres are inflated.

The consequence of the coffee puck being hit with such force is often channeling, where the water finds the line of least resistance in the coffee bed and causes uneven extraction. This is most definitely a bad thing.

pressure profiles compared

Different pressure profiles can have significantly different effects. Credit: Jonathan Prestridge

To combat this, a pressure profiling machine can be set up with an initial low-pressure (usually 3-4 bar) phase, lasting several seconds, before increasing the pressure significantly. This lets the grounds swell and become more adhesive, which mitigates against channeling. It also helps to limit the migration of fines, the very small particles that are an inevitable consequence of a grinder’s bimodal particle distribution. Fines contribute body to a shot, but too much migration of them to the bottom of the basket excessively slows down the flow, causing poor extractions.

2. Increase in Pressure

The middle phase usually involves an increase in pressure until the chosen maximum level is reached, followed by several seconds at full pressure. This is similar to that produced by a machine with fixed pre-infusion, although the ramp up on a full-pressure profiling machine is more gradual—again, to reduce the possibility of channeling.

3. Ramp Down

The final phase is typically a ramp down leading to the end of the extraction. It makes sense to lower the pressure at this point, since the puck density has decreased significantly and most of the extraction has already taken place. It’s interesting to note that the longer the ramp up to full pressure at the beginning of the extraction, the more a ramp down is needed at the end to maintain a consistent flow rate.

This type of profile tends to suit speciality coffee, since it facilitates a full extraction. The long pre-infusion and ramp up stages enable a finer grind to be used than with a straight 9 bar machine. In turn, this makes it easier to achieve optimum extraction yields with the sort of dense light-roast coffees that are often difficult to extract on traditional equipment.

Other Profiles

There are some people using vastly different profiles, one of which is three times World Barista Championship finalist and current UK Barista Champion Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood. He runs a relatively long pre-infusion followed by a straight 6 bar extraction on his Sanremo Opera. Maxwell has found that the lower average pressure over the course of the shot mitigates against channeling and produces excellent extractions when used in conjunction with his shop’s Mahlkonig EK43 grinder and 15g VST baskets.

ustom wooden panel on the Sanremo Opera Beautiful custom wooden panel on the Sanremo Opera at Colonna & Smalls. Credit: Jonathan Prestidge

What’s Next?

There’s scope for experimentation with new profiles, as Maxwell demonstrates. As grinder technology advances and we understand more about espresso extraction, we can hope pressure profiles will evolve to create even tastier coffee.

Sanremo Opera Can’t get enough of the beautiful Sanremo Opera. Such an incredible design. Credit: @framework_coffee

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Written by J. Prestidge and edited by A. Guerra.

Feature Photo Credit: Coffeetopia (@kahvebarmeni)

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How to Evaluate Cacao & Chocolate

How to Evaluate Cacao & Chocolate


Looking to improve your understanding of cacao and chocolate? This delicious food increases our happiness, is a common gift on dates, and was famously used as currency by the Aztecs.

The US spent $18 billion on retail chocolate in 2015 – and while much of it may be poor-quality, there’s a growing interest in high-quality cacao. So if you appreciate cacao and chocolate as much as you do coffee, there’s no better time to start learning about it.

Dr Carla Martin, Founder and Executive Director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI), agreed to talk to us about how the institute grades cacao and chocolate. Here’s what we learnt.

SEE ALSO: How to Cup Cascara & Evaluate Quality

CacaoA producer harvests cacao.  

What Is Fine Cacao & Chocolate?

Specialty coffee is clearly defined: it is 80+ points, as graded by a qualified Q Grader in a rigorously controlled setting. Those 80 points can further be broken down into different categories.

Fine cacao and chocolate, on the other hand, lack definitions. “At this point in time, the categories of fine cacao and chocolate are ill-defined,” Dr Martin tells me. “There have been attempts at definitions from a variety of angles, though these have yet to be adopted widely by the specialty sector. As a scholar who studies the history and culture of fine cacao, I could go on at length about the influence of politics and power on these conversations.”

However, she tells me that there is some consensus over which bean qualities are good and bad. “For example, there are widely agreed-upon attributes of bean quality, such as external and flavor defects in cacao, that impact the quality of final chocolate products,” she explains.

What’s more, while the lack of clear definitions may make it hard to discuss quality – and therefore pricing – it also offers an opportunity. At this point in time, stakeholders can decide how they want to define fine cacao and chocolate.

“Cacao producers have been central to the development of our sampling protocol and curriculum,” Dr Martin tells me, “especially through interviews and research exploring their wants and needs. This is not a system based simply on communication of industry needs, though that is still important; it is a system based on the needs of all stakeholders. Ultimately, our course is about imparting knowledge and promoting wisdom and critical thinking, and about allowing everyone in the supply chain to become a part of conversations on the future of fine cacao and fine chocolate.”

In addition to interviewing producers, the FCCI also worked with the SCA and Q graders.

cacaoA bag of Criollo cacao ready for export.

What Do The FCCI Believe Cacao Graders Should Know?

The FCCI runs a three-day training course, the Cacao Grader Intensive course. This is not currently graded, although Dr Martin tells me the FCCI “eventually plan to offer a certification course, in some ways modeled after the Q certification process in coffee”.

Describing the current course as an “introductory” one, she tells me it includes lectures on the history and culture of fine cacao and chocolate, the factors that affect quality (genetics and agronomy, post-harvest processing, storage and transport, chocolate-making), the science of flavour and sensory analysis, the supply chain, and ethics and transparency.

It also involves hands-on training for:

  • The external evaluation of raw cacao
  • Cut tests
  • Cacao sample protocol and preparation
  • Cacao sample organoleptic (sensory) evaluation
  • Sensory analysis techniques, e.g. defect tasting, sensory deprivation, triangulation, calibration, and the sensory lexicon
  • Evaluating chocolate liquor and finished chocolate products

And to prepare, students should “carefully read a number of key scholarly texts”.

Let’s take a look at how the FCCI recommend evaluating fine cacao and chocolate in more depth.

cacaoA cacao pod and beans. Credit: BATCH

Step 1: Cacao External Evaluation

When cupping coffee, the first step will be analysis of dry grounds. But with cacao, the FCCI begin with an analysis of the exterior of the beans.

“We look for basic attributes, e.g. bean count per 100g, moisture content percentage, qualitative bean size, and detritus percentage by weight,” Dr Martin explains, “and external defects visible on the cacao, e.g. black, severely mouldy, germinated, insect damaged, clumped, or cut.”

And just like in coffee, this information is useful for both buyers and producers.

“For FCCI’s purposes, we record this information as a first step in evaluating a sample. For cacao producers especially, this provides them with important information so that they might figuratively rewind and identify when and how defects entered the sample through processing.”

Then, once you’ve evaluated the exterior of the cacao bean, it’s time to analyse the interior.

Step 2: Cacao Cut Tests

“Simply put, a cut test involves taking raw cacao beans and cutting them in half lengthwise to view their insides,” Dr Martin tells me. “This allows an evaluator to then determine the level of fermentation and physical defects in the cacao.”

Just like with coffee, fermentation is a big deal in cacao and chocolate. “Fermentation level is a classic hot button issue for many in the industry, and debates on its links to quality are ongoing.”

While it’s unclear exactly what impact fermentation has, Dr. Martin says that it’s important fine chocolate makers and producers can do cut tests. They should gain as much knowledge as possible about the product. What’s more, they can then communicate this information to other people using the same system of analysis.

“The chance to draw inferences about cacao based on sight remains invaluable to cacao producers, and cut tests are legally required throughout the C market [the Cocoa market] as the primary quality evaluation metric,” she tells me.

“When we teach at origin, producers are most often familiar with cut tests practically, but want the chance to discuss their value intellectually, to practice calibration, and to think together about how cut tests (and particularly education on cut tests) might fit into their quality control strategies at the cooperative level.”

cacaoCut test of cacao beans. Credit: The Chocolate Conspiracy

Step 3: Tasting Samples

Next, it’s time to start tasting the cacao. Dr Martin tells me that there are many methods, and “most often involve making chocolate liquor or a finished chocolate product”. The FCCI, however, use a “simple, repeatable, accessible” option.

I ask how this is done, and she breaks it down for me. First, it’s important to randomly select 30–50 raw cacao beans from a sample. Next, the beans need to be deshelled; at the FCCI, they heat them in a popcorn popper for “about 45 seconds” beforehand to puff the shells without roasting. The beans should then be ground in a blade coffee grinder.

“Participants then taste 1 teaspoon of the grounds and evaluate the sample for intensity of acidity, bitterness, and astringency,” Dr Martin says, “as well as for a variety of aromas (e.g. cocoa, fruit, herbal, floral, nutty, spicy, caramel) and defects (e.g. hammy, smoky, mouldy, putrid/garbage, rancid/cheesy, medicinal/phenolic).”

While Dr Martin’s process may be, as she says, “simple”, she also tells me there are a variety of ways they work to improve accuracy. This includes triangulation, or selecting the odd one in a group of three, and sensory deprivation.

“In our course, sensory deprivation typically involves removing access to one sense,” Dr Martin explains. “This means that participants taste a sample without looking at it, because colour can influence perception, or that they taste a sample while blocking the nose to challenge themselves to identify tastes over aromas.”

cacaoCacao beans vary in colour. Credit: Sirene Chocolate

Improving your sensory analysis of a product merely increases your enjoyment of it – whether it’s coffee, wine, or fine chocolate you’re trying. And while cacao and chocolate analysis might be less evolved than coffee analysis, these developing systems are signs of an exciting future for chocolate lovers.

Written by Tanya Newton. Extracted from:

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