How to Choose the Perfect Coffee

Can't start your day without a cup of joe? Check out our crash course on how to choose the best coffee!

We Americans are passionate about our coffee. Though we're drinking less coffee today than 30 years ago, more than half of us can't start off our day without a hot cup of java. We socialize with a cup in hand, we welcome its stimulating effects as a pick-me-up during our workday, and we sip it at the end of our meals. Coffee drinking is an enjoyable and important daily ritual to millions of Americans.

Evidence of our love affair with coffee is everywhere: Specialty coffee shops are found at almost every mall, and on every street corner. Gourmet coffee is now sold in neighborhood grocery stores. High schools are even selling cappuccino and latte in their lunchrooms.

Coffee 101: A Basic Crash Course

Selecting the Brew That's Right for You

Every individual coffee has its own unique flavor. When beginning your coffee tasting, try to think of each coffee somewhere on a scale from sweet to acidic. (Acidity is not bitterness, but a liveliness or tartness.)

As a rule, arabica beans produce a better cup of coffee than the more common and less expensive robusta beans. Most specialty shops sell only arabica coffees. These beans produce coffee with a stronger taste, and surprisingly, contain less caffeine than the robusta beans. Cappuccino and espresso are usually made from arabica coffee beans.

Taste testing is a fun way to learn just what types of coffee please your palette. Many coffee specialty stores have several brands made up for you to sample. If not, just ask. Or you may prefer to sample coffees in your own home. Bring home two or three different types of coffee. Here's a quick guide to the spectrum of coffee tastes:

  • Mild, sweet coffee: Hawaiian Kona, or for a real taste treat, Jamaican Blue Mountain
  • Medium strength, acidic coffee: Guatemala Antigua, Costa Rican Tarrazu, or Tanzanian Peaberry
  • Medium strength, sweet coffee: Colombia Supremo
  • Strong, acidic coffee: Viennese
  • Strong, sweet coffee: Kenya AA or Sumatra Mandheling
  • Very strong, acidic coffee: French Roast, or Puerto Rican Blend

To begin your adventure, prepare the coffee you have chosen, using milk or cream if that is the way you normally drink it--but leave out any sweetener as you taste. Your coffee should be cool enough to sip easily.

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