How to Select Gourmet Coffee

How to Select Gourmet Coffee,

Gourmet Coffee Guide

What makes gourmet coffee "gourmet coffee?"

It's the choice, select gourmet coffee beans. And it's the roast. And the blend. And the grind. And sometimes the flavoring. And it is certainly the freshness. That last one eliminates most grocery stores' so-called gourmet coffees.

Take a quick tour through coffee creation and if you still feel like ordering "expresso" or Vienna-grown coffee beans, read it again.

The Beans: Arabica vs Robusta

There are basically two types of commercial coffee beans. The first is Robusta (coffea robusta) from which most everyday and instant coffees are made. They need few special growing conditions so the focus is on quantity and low cost, rather than quality.

The other is Arabica (coffea arabica) coffee beans. Gourmet coffees are made from hand-selected Arabica coffee beans, which grow only at high altitudes in tropical or sub-tropical climates. (Yes, they're picky, but it does such nice things to the coffee beans.) Of these, the choicest, most select gourmet coffee beans are "Certified Organic" beans, grown without chemicals of any sort.

This next section is much easier to understand if you look over Basic Gourmet Coffee Terms first.

Major Coffee Growing Regions

There are many countries that grow arabica coffee beans, but only three major growing areas. Each area produces its own range of coffee flavors and characteristics, although they overlap some.

  • South and Central America These coffees have a lively acidity, a crisp, sparkling quality, on the sweet and spicey side. Gourmet coffees from this region include Columbian Supremo, Costa Rican Tarrazu, and Guatamala Antigua.
  • Africa and Arabia This growing region produces the widest range of flavors, often with fruit and winey flavors. They tend to be mellow, having a fine balance of acidity and body, with great aromas. Gourmet coffees from this region include Kenya AA, Ethiopian Fancy, and Yemen Mocha. Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of coffee.
  • Pacific or Island This region produces rich, full-bodied coffees with very earthy and nutty qualities, smooth with a dry finish. Gourmet coffees from this region include Sumatra Mandheling, Jamaican Blue Mountain, and Hawaiian Kona Coffee.

Coffee Roasts

Roasting the green coffee beans to perfection is vital to any gourmet coffee. It's what develops the coffee bean's true character. And it's much more art than science. The process and timing varies from one bean to the next as moisture content, size, quality, desired darkness, and even the weather all come into play. Some gourmet coffee beans should never be dark roasted, for instance, and some, never light.

It takes a master to do it right. That's why coffee houses employ "roast masters."

Some common coffee roasts are:

  • American Roast or Cinnamon Roast: A very light roast most common in commercial Robusta coffees of the "quantity, not quality" kind, but not usually gourmet coffees.
  • City Roast or Vienna Roast: A semi-light roast, usually the lightest gourmet coffee roast.
  • Full City Roast: Some coffee beans need a little darker roast to bring out their full flavor. This is it. It often produces a subtle caramel flavor.
  • French Roast: This is a dark roast. Many prefer this roast (including at least one major coffee house) for the slightly burnt flavor. A dark roast releases flavor and the oils in the coffee as well, giving your coffee that shiny look in the cup.
  • Italian Roast: This is a very dark roast, decidedly burnt, with very dark, shiny, brittle beans. Cappuccino and Espresso are made from dark roast coffee beans. When someone asks for "espresso coffee beans" or "cappuccino coffee beans" this is what they mean. (*Note the proper spelling: espresso, rather than expresso coffee beans.)

As you can see, American, Vienna, French and Italian roasts only refer to a degree of roast and have no connection to geography.

The terms or the degree of roast may vary slightly from one coffee house to the next. For instance, some add another level of dark roasted coffee, like Espresso Roast, to the menu. But everywhere, American and Cinnamon are light roasts, Italian Roast is very dark, and everything in between is, well, in between. That should make it a little easier to select gourmet coffee, wherever you shop.

Coffee Blends

The darker the roast, the less acidity remains in the coffee. This is just one reason gourmet coffees are sometimes blended with other gourmet coffees.

The goal, though, is always to create a pleasing combination of tastes, body, acidity, finish and aroma. Most coffee houses have their own special signature blends, but it's not easy. It may take 20 tries to get one worthy of commercial marketing. They work, we benefit.

Flavored Gourmet Coffee:
Another common blending is the infusion of non-coffee flavors into the roasted coffee beans. Common flavors include chocolate, vanilla, almond, hazelnut, cinnamon, caramel, even bourbon, rum, amaretto, apple, and pumpkin spice.

The only question left is what to choose. Try a gourmet coffee club! At least, taste a variety, decide on your favorites, and then select gourmet coffee beans to suit.

Gourmet Coffee Terms

More Gourmet Food Tips and Tutorials

Top of How to Select Gourmet Coffee

Surprise me


Join the party! Tell us how you were able to use or improve the recipe(s) or tips on this page.


Join the party! Tell us how you were able to use or improve the recipe(s) or tips on this page.

"I spend many happy hours
on your site."

Karen, Canada

Art for the kitchen...

"Your website has the best dip recipes. They are easy and everyone loves them... Your BLT Dip is a manly favorite. Your Pumpkin Dip totally ROCKS!!!"
Lee Ann, U.S.

About Wine and Cheese Parties...

"I have researched the net and I found your site the most helpful. You make it look so easy!"
Zelda, Australia

Theme Parties

Pasta Party

Mexican Fiesta

Martini Party

Have a Ball!

Housewarming Party

Wine and Cheese Party

Movie Awards Party

Soup Party

Tea Party

"Think I've found a little gem. Thanks."
Chris, U.K.

" I love this site. I'm a caterer & I find so much info, ideas & recipes!"
JoAnn, U.S.

"I love your recipes, and the humour you dish up with them."
Kate, Australia