Coffee Craze #3: About the Beans

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by Leah Voskuil, Lifestyle Editorial Assistant

It is like 50 Shades of Grey except it is 50 Shades of Brown, and I am talking about coffee beans. That was a terrible popular culture reference, but the point here is that you finally get to learn why Starbucks has a roast that they call “Blonde” (and 50 Shades of Grey took place in Seattle, the birthplace of Starbucks, right?)

Anyway, the process of roasting coffee beans determines their taste on a near-universal scale. The process of roasting the green coffee beans literally transforms the product, which naturally do not have much of a taste, into what we typically think of when we dream of coffee beans—full of flavor with an overwhelming scent and a glassy finish. This, combined with factors such where the beans were grown, how old the coffee beans are, what temperature they were roasted at and the method in which the beans are ground and brewed all affect the taste of your final product. By manipulating the temperatures, time and airflow of the beans, the roast of the product is changed. The best example I can give is if you are making cookies, the longer they are in the oven, the darker they will be. It is the same for coffee.

This means that it is helpful to think of the bean in terms of its actual color. Chances are that you have heard a business person in the Starbucks line say something along the lines of “I would like a grande medium roast.” Quite literally, their order is based on the color of the coffee bean itself—a medium shade of brown. This provides any caffeine newbie the ability to conceptualize what they are ordering before they drink it; cue when I said that this was a “near-universal scale.” Each coffee company conceptualizes their own boundaries as to what a light, medium, medium-dark and dark roast is, and to which degree they want to separate those three categories. For example, some roasters provide multiple levels in-between medium and extra dark, whereas others maintain four steady categories. Ultimately, every roaster will satisfy whatever preference you have, but here are three important points of wisdom from your favorite barista (me):

  1. Light roast beans (Enzymatic) retain the most amount of caffeine and never let anyone tell you otherwise. That being said, they also taste that way in regard to the acidity level.
  2. Medium roast beans (Sugar Browning) are what every coffee shop has. They may provide one or two other roast levels, but this is their standard because it is the most preferred.
  3. Dark roast beans (Dry Distillation) have an oily surface and are always, without a doubt, the bitterest cup of coffee you will experience with no caffeinated payoff.  Through personal experience, most decaf coffee is also a dark roast.


Above all, however, if your goal is to be as caffeinated as possible, choose espresso. Contrary to popular belief, espresso is nothing more than a different method of preparing coffee. The major differences are the heat and pressure applied to the beans that create a more concentrated final product. In the end, you could have five crappy cups of coffee or two shots of decent espresso—choose the latter.

So here we are, collectively knowing a lot about coffee and only on the third week of Coffee Craze. This is fun, right? In the words of Ron Swanson, “Don’t half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing.”

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