All gourmet coffees are not alike. There are amazing, good, average, poor and bad coffee beans that are sold as specialty gourmet coffee. If you are seeking great coffee beans you can rely on expert evaluations, like Coffee Review, but if there is no published evaluation there are some things you should consider:
- Origin Marketing slogans like “Breakfast Delight” don’t mean anything. Coffee roasters who source great coffee know the farmer who grew the beans. Look on the bag or on the website for the name and location of the farm where the beans were grown. If you can’t find the name of the farm it may mean that a mill collected beans from a lot of farmers and then processed them. The more farmers the more likely the coffee is only average.
- Altitude How high the coffee was grown makes a difference. Some farms have both low and high altitude orchards. The higher the altitude of the plantation, the cooler the temperature. There is a limit to how high coffee will grow. Frost or freezing weather will kill coffee trees. So coffee near the equator can be grown up to 6000 feet but coffees grown near the Tropics of Cancer or Capricorn have to be grown below 3500 feet. Coffee grown at lower temperatures tends to be brighter and more complex than the same coffee grown at higher temperatures. The roaster should tell you the altitude of the farm.
- Varietal Different varietals of coffee are grown all over the world. Some varietals are amazing, others so-so. You can’t assume that a bag labeled “Jamaican Blend” contains any of the “Jamaican Blue Mountain” varietal. Look on the bag or the website for a varietal description. Every varietal has unique flavors. The coffee may be a blend of two or more varietals. Taking two good varietals and blending them into a great coffee is an art. Taking a little of a great varietal and adding it to average coffee is a fraud. If the bag contains great coffee the roaster should be proud enough to put the varietal names and the percentages on the bag or on the website. If you can’t find all the varietals and the percentages assume the roaster is ashamed to tell you.
- Crop Year When the beans were picked is just as important as when the coffee was roasted. Find out whether the beans are current crop or past crop. Most coffee is brewed from beans that were grown years before. Even if the coffee is “fresh roasted” the beans may still be old. Coffee from Africa and South America often sits for months in warehouses and shipping containers. Fresh roasted old coffee is still old coffee. Gourmet coffee is brewed from this year’s crop. We don’t drink wine made from old grapes and we don’t drink coffee made from old coffee beans.
- Processing You need to know how the coffee was processed. If you expect a light, fruity coffee and buy a dry natural processed coffee you are going to be disappointed. Processing changes the flavor of the coffee. Look on the bag or website for a description of whether the coffee was processed as a Dry Natural, Pulped Natural, Semi Washed or Washed Coffee. The roaster should know how the coffee was processed and should put it on their website or on the bag.
- Roast Date The day the beans were roasted should be on the bag. Coffee in sealed coffee bags stored at room temperature will start to stale within a month. Supermarkets leave coffee on their shelves without a roast date for up to nine months. If the roast date isn’t on the bag, the coffee is probably old.
- Roast Description. Be wary of marketing terms like “Vienna Roast” or “City Roast” on coffee bags. There is no standard agreement on those terms. One roaster’s Vienna Roast is another roaster’s City Plus Roast. Look for terms like light, medium, medium-dark or dark. Those terms are not scientific but they are better descriptors. Be aware that roasters cover up bad coffee by over roasting it. If the coffee beans are dark and oily and taste burnt, it is not great coffee.
Hula Daddy Kona Coffee LLC is a boutique farm in Kona, Hawaii that grows, processes and roasts its own current crop coffee beans. We grow 7 different varieties of coffee and process them using 4 different methods. We roast date every bag of our coffee.
In 2014 we won the Kona Coffee Cupping Competition. In 2015, we won the Hawaii Cupping Competition. In 2016 and 2017, we came in Second in the Hawaii Cupping Competition and First in the Kona Coffee Cupping Competition. In December 2016, Coffee Review rated our Laura’s Reserve SL-28 as Number 3 in the top Thirty Coffees of 2016.