It's all about the bean!
Roasted coffee beans are a natural package for the delicate and volatile oils that supply coffee flavor and aroma. For the most part, most of the flavor differences between Arabica beans result not from differences in the plants themselves but from the variations in moisture, climate and soil compositions of the region in which the coffee is grown, hence the regional classification of coffees.
The main coffee growing regions of the world are Central and South America, Africa and Indonesia. Coffee is grown between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Of the hundreds of species of coffee grown, Coffee Arabica is considered the finest.
For coffee producers, selective picking (only the ripe cherries), quality processing (pulping and drying) and quality grading (size of bean, defects, cup quality) are important steps in producing specialty coffee.
For the coffee roaster, the best green beans and the best roast method for that particular type of coffee are important in maintaining the quality of the specialty coffee. For the coffee consumer it is very important to use the best grind and brewing method in order to experience the package of flavor and aroma that was crafted during the process from coffee plant to coffee cup.
The cup quality is how good a coffee tastes and smells. It is the roasters job to chemically and physically change the green coffee bean into a roasted bean that exhibits the cup qualities of the coffee.
What To Look For
Acidity is a desirable characteristic in coffee. Acidity is the brightness, dryness, briskness and sharpness of the notes of the coffee. These pleasant snaps or twists describe the acidity. It should not be confused with sourness or astringency. A good analogy is teh difference acidity makes in a sharp cheddar versus a medium cheddar cheese.
Body is the feeling the coffee has in your mouth after swirling it around. Body can be heavy or thin, have texture or be oily, give a creamy lining to your mouth or leave nothing behind at all.
Aroma is the smell detected just before consumption of the coffee. Aroma descriptors come in many varieties and include acidic, smoky, floral, berry, vanilla, nutty, spicy, earthy and buttery.
Character and balance are a combination of the previous three. Some coffees display a fuller, richer flavor than others. Some are more balanced, others more complex. A coffee may have an acidity that compliments or dominates everything else. Some are flat, some are strong but monotone.
Aftertaste is the flavor the coffee leaves in your mouth and throat after it has been swallowed.
Coffee is at it's peak about a day out of the roaster. After that it undergoes a natural process of off gassing. This results in loss of flavor and aroma the longer the coffee is allowed to stale. Staling happens immediately after coffee is ground so it is best to buy whole bean and only grind right before brewing. Store coffee whole bean, in an airtight, dark container. Do not store in refrigerator or freezer. Grind coffee according to brew method and immediately brew for peak experience. This will give you the best chance at making the perfect cup.
The cupping of coffee can be a life time adventure. Learn how to spit.