Adapted with permission from
Mission Coffee Roasters
Choosing a coffee is not unlike choosing a wine and may even be a bit more complicated. There are over 700 flavor components present in roasted coffee making it one of the most complex tastes known. Subtle variations in soil, climate, or roast can change the chemical makeup of the bean altering the flavor of the beverage. To the average person, the terminology alone can be confusing. Here are some of the basics you will need to know to select a "really good coffee" that suits your tastes.
The two primary commercially grown species of coffee are Arabica and Robusta. Robusta thrives in low lying, moist river deltas which are much easier to farm than the highlands required for Arabica coffees. Robusta flowers up to four times per year, producing about four pounds of coffee per plant. High yield combined with low farming cost make Robusta a favorite with large commercial coffee companies which are more concerned about cost than taste. While Robusta beans are less expensive than Arabica, they tend to be harshly acidic and woody in flavor.
Arabica is the oldest known variety of coffee. It is planted on steeply sloped and terraced highlands to benefit from the abundant sunlight and rainfall in these climates. Arabica plants typically yield only one pound of coffee per bush per year. All of the energy and nutrients absorbed by the plant are devoted to a single crop. In general, Arabica coffees are characterized by their mild full flavor, desirable acidity, and lower caffeine content. Mission Coffee Roasters only roasts Arabica coffee.
Coffee is commercially grown in the Tropics due to sunlight requirements. It usually grows at elevations no higher than 6,000 feet in the regions of Indonesia, Africa, South America, Central America and Mexico.
Though often referred to as a tree, coffee is actually a bush which yields fruit during the rainy season and lies dormant during the dry season. Coffee flowers begin to blossom a few days after the first rains. At the close of the rainy season, the coffee fruit or cherry, is fully ripe and ready for harvest. Harvesting is usually done by hand so that only ripe coffee cherries are selected.
After harvesting, coffee is primarily processed using one of two methods to prepare the beans for export and roasting. Wet processing relies on fermentation to separate the coffee beans from their ripe red husk. Most African as well as most Central and South American coffees are wet processed. After soaking in water for several days, the husks are removed and the beans are sun-dried on large brick, cement, or mahogany patios for up to six weeks. The coffee is continually raked by day, and moved into covered buildings by night until the beans are completely dry.
The second method is the dry process. The primary difference is that the husk is left to dry around the coffee beans instead of being removed immediately after harvesting. Many Indonesian coffees such as Sumatra, as well as some African coffees, are dry processed. This method imparts more nutrients and fruit-like flavors to the coffee. Once dry, the husks are removed from the beans.
Finally, the green coffee is sorted by size, color, density, and flavor to prepare it for auction and export. Before roasting, green coffee can be stored for two years if handled properly.
Through the application of heat, chemical reactions take place inside the bean, producing the wonderful aromas and flavors which are unique to coffee. Depending on the degree of roast, coffee exhibits dramatically different taste characteristics.
Mild or Light roasts tend to have bright acidity and mild aroma. They often lack complexity, depth, and significant body.
Medium or Full City roasts exhibit balanced, deep-toned acidity, full body, and complex flavor and aroma.
Dark roasts mute the acidity resulting in very full bodied coffees having a mild aroma with developed sweetness and pungency. They tend to be an acquired taste and were traditionally reserved for espresso or milk based beverages. Dark roasts have recently gained popularity with many large coffee companies since the pungent charcoal undertones remain long after the more delicate aromatics are gone. This stabilizes the flavor of the coffee allowing for a slightly extended shelf life.
Still not sure which coffee is for you? Try them and see. Your palate is as unique as our coffees. While one person may savor the full body and complexity of our Sumatra, another may prefer the classic American flavor of a Colombian. Whether it be the bright acidity of Kenya, the balanced flavor of King's Blend, or the subtle accent of our flavored coffees, our goal is to provide you with the best tasting brew possible.For more detailed look at the processes see our: Green Coffee Beans page.