For many of us, there's no better way to start the day than with a piping-hot "cup o' Joe." And often those first swigs of coffee are consumed in onsite cafés. But today's coffee drinkers are particular when it comes to their favorite blends and are no longer satisfied with bitter-tasting brews of old.
Customers know what they like and usually are willing to pay more for high-quality coffee and related beverages. For operators who invest in quality blends this can mean a big payoff in sales and customer satisfaction.
But before purchasing coffee, it pays to know more about different types and how to keep it fresh and flavorful.
Types and Blends
While there are more than 25 major species of coffee, the two that are most familiar are Arabica and Canephora (better known as Robusta).
Arabica, which represents nearly 70% of the world's coffee production, is a mildly aromatic, sweet-tasting coffee. It is generally grown at higher altitudes in areas that receive about 60 inches of rainfall per year. This coffee bean is grown mainly in Central and South America as well as eastern Africa.
Arabica beans are large, oval beans that are lower in caffeine than robusta beans. Because it grows in higher elevations, arabica coffee is more difficult to harvest and is therefore more expensive. (Per tree yield per year is between one and two pounds of finished product.) Nearly all gourmet coffees are 100% arabica.
The coffee filter was born in 1908 when a German homemaker used a tin cup lined with blotter paper to filter coffee grinds.
Robusta beans, more tolerant of heat and moisture than arabicas, are grown at lower altitudes in Central and Western Africa and in parts of Southeast Asia and Brazil. The beans have about 60% more caffeine than arabica coffee. Small and yellowish-brown in color, robusta beans have a somewhat bitter taste and primarily are used in coffee blends and for instant coffees.
Coffee is available in single-origin (varietal) form or in blends. Single origin coffees are made with beans from only one country. Like wines, coffees also have preferred growing areas where environmental conditions are ideal for growing premium coffee. According to coffee experts, even the slightest difference in growing altitude or conditions can account for flavor differences between varietal coffees.
Both species of beans are used in coffee blends. A blend might be made of several different arabica beans from several different regions or a blend of arabica and robusta beans from one or more regions. Blending yields a consistent, characteristic flavor. Most coffee sold in commercial settings is made from coffee blends.
Coffee is sold in whole beans or in ground form, flavored or not, decaffeniated or not. The type you buy depends on the volume of coffee you serve and in what settings. For example, you may wish to grind your own coffee in an onsite coffee shop or kiosk. Your choice may also depend on available labor equipment (for example, coffee grinders), budget restrictions and customer demands.
Availability plays a key role in coffee pricing. Regional, adverse weather conditions can damage coffee crops and drive up prices.
Storage is critical to maintaining coffee's freshness and flavor.
To ensure optimum freshness, coffee should be stored in airtight containers and away from excessive air, moisture, heat and light, in that order. Coffee can quickly become stale if not properly stored.
Operators are advised to purchase coffee in amounts proportionate to how quickly it will be used. Coffee begins to lose its freshness almost immediately after roasting, so it is far better to purchase it in small quantities.
Whole beans or ground coffee can be frozen up to one month in small amounts. It should be wrapped in airtight bags. Once thawed, coffee should never be refrozen.