A Barista Coffee Maker is someone who makes coffee drinks as a profession. Naturally, that experience will shape
how beans are judged. Coffee Cuppers (coffee contest judges or professional tasters) and company buyers share the
goal of the Barista Coffee Maker in finding beans which produce a great drink. But it's the barista who stands in
front of the final consumer every day and receives immediate feedback on the success or failure of those efforts.
So, let's find out what the barista thinks about a bean and its product...
Roughly 70 countries now grow coffee from which beans are produced, from Africa to the Middle East, from South
America to the Caribbean and over to Hawaii - all within a band about the equator of roughly 25 degrees north or
Not surprisingly then, given the differences in climate altitude, equipment and techniques - and a host of other
factors - beans from different countries show marked differences. Even different plantations will often have
drastically different products.
Even so, coffee plants come in two main categories - arabica and robusta. With half the caffeine of the robusta,
the arabica is used almost exclusively for the finest coffees. Its beans are more flavorful and full of aroma.
Since coffee grows better at higher altitudes the Milds - arabica beans from plants grown at 3000 feet (915m) or
above - are to be preferred. 'Brazils' by contrast are arabica beans grown in Brazil, but at a much lower
Beyond that, judgments will differ depending on whether the consumer intends to 'roast their own' or not.
Unroasted beans are green, soft and have a vegetative odor, which is normal.
For those seeking roasted, the categories broaden. There's a light or 'cinnamon' (named for the color of the
spice; nothing to do with the flavor). These are acidic and highly caffeinated.
The medium or 'American' roast is slightly darker and enormously popular since it's the degree used by the major
coffee vendors (Folger, Yuban, etc). Not a quality cup by most barista's standards.
Dark or 'City' roast is what is seen in many specialty shops, where the process has reduced the caffeine and
acid taste. The result is a less bitter, often sweeter cup. This is what's generally used for the average
Next in line is the 'French' roast, so named because the French tend to prefer their coffee more full-bodied.
The beans will appear very dark brown and have an oily texture or sheen. Look carefully and sniff so as not to
confuse these with beans that have merely been burnt.
Darkest on the drinkable scale is the 'Italian' roast, often used in specialty espressos. The deep brown color
and pungent aroma are distinctive and make a fine cup.
As one goes down the scale of color, the cups made from these beans will be increasingly less acid and more
sweet. This is a consequence of the carmelization (browning and thickening into syrup) of sugars resulting from the
roasting process. At the same time some of the caffeine - a bitter chemical - is burned away, producing a mellower
So, next time you shop for beans give a thought to the barista coffee maker who stands daily in front of an
array of choices and with an arsenal of machines. That person knows their coffee beans.