Home Coffee Roasting Basics. What are the different types of Coffee Roasts
Do you know your types of coffee roasts? Light, dark, medium, city, city plus, French, Vienna, Italian, American, and espresso are commonly used words to describe the types of coffee roasts. There is very little industry standardization for roasting which can cause confusion. In general, roasts fall into four color categories. We will explain and clarify what the common roasting levels are and their characteristics.
After a few minutes you will hear the first ‘crack’. The bean will have visibly expanded in size and will be light brown in color. There will be no visible oil on the surface because the beans are not roasted long enough for the oils to break through to the surface. These roasts are generally preferred for milder coffee varieties. Often this roast will exhibit more of its ‘origin flavor’. Beans from regions such as Java, Kenya, Ethiopia, Hawaii, and Jamaica are commonly roasted to this level so that their signature characteristics come through in the flavor. This roast tends to be higher in acidity and lighter in body.
Medium Roasts (aka City, American, Breakfast)
Shortly after the first ‘crack’ but before the ‘second crack’ occurs the beans are considered to be at a medium roast. Beans will be medium brown in color and still exhibit a non-oily surface. This roast is generally preferred in the United States. There will be sweeter tones than the light roast and the body will announce more balance in acidy, aroma, and flavor. This is a great starting point for coffees you’re roasting for the first time. Generally, most coffees taste good at this roast point and it will be easy to gauge whether a lighter or darker roast is needed to suit the bean or your own taste preferences.
Medium-Dark Roasts (aka Full City, Continental)
You will hear the bean begin its ‘second crack’ and you will see oils rise to the surface. The bean will become a rich, dark color and the surface of the bean will appear slightly shiny. Taste at this point will be spicy, chocolate, dark berries and less acidity. You will have a fuller bodied cup and aromas and flavors are more evident. Finishes tend to be drier, more like baker’s chocolate or dry wine. Central American, South American, and Indonesian coffees generally taste very good at this roast point.
Dark Roast (aka Italian, French, European)
Beans will be shiny and have an oily surface. The beans will begin to smoke and the sugars begin to carbonize. Tastes will be smoky/sweet with lighter body. The darker the roast the less acidity will be found in the cup. Here is a good place to note that there is no such thing as an “espresso roast.” Espresso is a beverage, not a roasting point. Beans intended for espresso are generally roasted Medium-dark to dark. We’ve found that Brazilian and Indonesian beans stand up well to a Dark Roast.
Coffee flavor profiles vary so dramatically, that when searching for the perfect cup you never know where you may find it – understanding different Coffee Processing Methods is essential to understanding which beans are likely to carry your favorite types of flavors, as is basic knowledge of different Coffee Regions and different Strains or “Cultivars.”
What do we mean by “Processing”?
Several different processes are used to prepare raw coffee cherries for transport, storage, and roasting. The process used on each lot has a significant impact on possible cup characteristics. Each particular variety and each unique growing season yield their own special beans, and the varied soils and climates of widespread coffee regions produce distinctive terroirs, just like fine wines. In addition to this basic palette of flavor profiles inherent in each raw coffee cherry, the most noticeable aspects in your cup will be determined by the coffee processing method, and skilled producers know which processing will best complement each lot and bring it to its highest quality.
High-quality coffee processing is meticulous and very labor-intensive, and is often one of the most influential factors on the higher prices of premium coffees. And in most cases, the processing method is the second most influential factor on final cup profile (your choice of roast level is number one), even more than region or cultivar. For new home coffee roasters, a basic understanding of the most common processing methods will make it easier to identify varieties that you may like, or in some cases dislike.
Natural Coffee Processing is when coffee beans are dried within the coffee “cherry,” a thin coating of tart red fruit. This method is most common in arid regions, because it requires much less water, but nowadays many farms all over the world prepare special lots of Natural beans for the premium market.
There are many variations on this method, leading to incredibly diverse cups. The basic approach is to harvest ripe coffee cherries, then spread them out on a concrete patio (though there are still plenty of farms that are so small and impoverished that they cannot afford the concrete and simply lay the coffee cherries on the ground). They let them dry slowly, covering with tarps to block the sun and delay drying if necessary, for 2-3 weeks or more. When the fermenting fruit has imparted just the right amount of bright citrus and berry notes, then farmers use machines called “pulpers” or “hullers” to mechanically remove all fruit (or they may pound and winnow the beans the old-fashioned way). The final step is to give beans a little rinse, using only a tiny fraction of the amount of water needed for Washed Coffee Processing, and then they get graded and bagged for shipping.
Many people seek out Natural coffees not only because it is a fun flavor adventure to discover so many bright and exciting tones, but also because they use less local resources, making them more environmentally-friendly and sustainable.
Flavor profiles vary widely among Naturals, but the most important distinction is between two main categories – “fruity” vs “not fruity” (that’s not technical language! just the best way that we have found to explain clearly), also referred to as “ferment” vs “non-ferment” (but that can be confusing because “ferment” is also sometimes used to describe unpalatable flavors caused by processing defects).
Roasting Naturals can be a little more challenging because variations between individual beans are increased when dried in the cherries – each one ends up with slightly different moisture content and appearance. As a result, beans may roast unevenly and there will be more chaff. Historically considered an inferior process, over the last few decades more precise Natural Coffee Processing techniques have been dialed in to create unique products that often demand a premium over Washed coffees. Still, they can be a little unpredictable – adding that much more fun to your flavor adventure!
“Fruity” (or Ferment) Natural:
Farmers pick ripe cherries and arrange them in a single layer to air-dry – not too fast, as they need time for the fruit to ferment and add sweet/sour/spicy layers to the beans – and then use a mechanical huller to remove the fruits when the beans are down to about 12% moisture content.
This process is very sensitive. The desired flavor profile usually contains a strong blueberry note, but actually achieving that is really quite rare. The darker fruit notes come from just a hint of fermentation – if coffee cherries are not fermented enough, flavor profiles tend to resemble the more traditional Brazil processing, or if fermented too much, undesirable tones resembling rotten fruit, almost boozy, will tend to develop. Over time, fermentation will begin by adding darker fruit tones and then as it progresses more cherry notes and then an almost strawberry aspect, and further from there to the boozy, over-fermented flavors. Although new technology allows much better control of Natural Processing and delivers more reliable products, this is the original way that coffee was produced and it still gives an artisanal cup with an old world style.
“Conventional” (or Non-Ferment) Natural:
Brazil has made this process famous, and their weather has made it mandatory – most years the harvest season is extremely dry. So this process is similar to the above but the drying time passes very quickly. In some climates, this can even happen on its own – “Raisin Natural” coffees are left on the trees to dry. These varieties tend to come only from regions with dry climates and typically produce more traditional flavor profiles.
Combo of tones:
In practice, most naturals have a mix of fruity and conventional flavors. Some offerings will be powerfully fruity (Natural Ethiopias, Natural Panamas, or Bali Kintamani for example), some mildly fruity only detectable at lighter roasts, and some will have no detectable ferment (standard Brazil coffees). Remember to read the tasting notes to see what aspects of Natural Processing are detectable in each unique lot.
Are you considering taking up a new hobby in home coffee roasting? This article is a great place to start! Are you ready to roast your first batch? “Home Roasting for Beginners” is the one that you want!
What is Home Coffee Roasting?
Roasting coffee at home is much easier than you might think! There are 3 big benefits:
Fresh coffee tastes better! Unroasted coffee beans stay fresh for a year or more, and require no refrigeration
Green coffee beans are much cheaper, so you can purchase larger amounts of your favorite specialty top lots and treat your friends!
A much more diverse and superb selection of raw coffee beans – far beyond the limited and often already-stale bagged coffees that we find in supermarkets – makes for many opportunities to discover exciting and exotic new flavors!
Many coffee connoisseurs view home roasting as the next level of their love for this “magic bean” – a passionate hobby and daily ritual of close attention and appreciation of nuanced aromas and flavors. A wide spectrum of roast styles can draw different flavor notes out of every freshly roasted batch, and you can taste a different cup every day if you like – more and more people are excited to embark on the flavor adventures of home coffee roasting!
If you would like to roast your own coffee at home, you can get started with only 3 things:
1. Green (unroasted) Coffee Beans
The world of coffee is huge. Cultivated in 50 nations, with often thousands of farms in each, today’s coffee selections encompass nearly 40 strains of Arabica, plus new hybrids and undocumented varietals being discovered every day. Different processing methods produce very different beans to suit everyone’s varied tastes, and the possibilities in your morning cup can be quite infinite!
Heat is essential to roasting coffee. Target internal temperature for roasted beans ranges from about 390-460F, so usually folks use heat sources that go above 450F. This means that there are many options for heating your beans!
3. Something to Roast On or In
Parts 1 & 2 are easy, but the challenge lies in roasting your beans evenly without scorching any of them. Fortunately, there are numerous simple and low-tech methods.
Most Americans do not realize that in past generations nearly everyone was a home-roaster! In the 19th century nobody was selling roasted coffee in plastic bags, only green coffee by the pound (just like we still do today!). You can roast your coffee the old-fashioned way too – simply place the beans in any sturdy metal container and set it over/in a flame (in the old days, this may have meant shaking beans in a soup can over a campfire); stir and mix well throughout the duration of the roast. When it is roasted dark enough for your taste (and before it is on fire), remove from heat and cool by shaking in a strainer or placing in front of a fan.
Feeling a little silly roasting your coffee in a soup can? Many find that non-stick pots and pans work well, with heavy cast iron favored because it can be preheated and roast much faster. Mixing is the key with these methods – stir very often, almost constantly. Don’t worry too much if it gets a little smoky, that is normal (but you may need to stir faster!).
Some folks get tired of so much stirring – a Whirley Pop can help with that. Or in the oven, perforated trays produce the least scorching.
For those uninterested in playing with fire, electrical automatic heating devices drastically reduce the amount of work and attention required. Some use old popcorn poppers, rotisserie ovens, electric woks, etc. These devices are rarely advertised as coffee roasting tools, but a quick google or youtube search can yield loads of successful roaster hacks and other creative ideas that make home coffee roasting accessible to all.
Please note that you may need to modify these appliances, adding a thermometer to monitor the roasting temperature. There are also some special procedures and limitations to these methods. If you want to experiment we advise getting a good book on Home Coffee Roasting like the one by Kenneth Davids. He has some detailed tips on making the most of various roaster hacks.
Fluid Bed Roasters such as the FreshRoast SR models are similar in design to hot-air popcorn poppers. They have a glass roasting chamber that allows you to watch and stop the cycle when beans reach the desired roast level. These popular roasters are very economical, lower priced and able to roast a modest batch in a speedy 7-20 minutes, and they are easy to clean and maintain.
The new Nesco Home Roaster is super-simplified and affordable even on a tight budget, ideal for those who are curious to try home roasting without too much investment of time or money.
Drum Roasters such as the Behmor 1600 Plus and the Gene Café Roasters have a rotating screen drum that tumbles the beans as they are roasting. These models allow larger batches and roast beans more evenly and consistently, and they give more control over the entire process than the simple fluid bed roasters.
All of the home roasting equipment carried at Burman Coffee Traders is top quality, just different volumes and mechanisms to suit different needs. Please keep in mind that just because it costs more and looks fancier, that doesn’t necessarily mean your cup of coffee will be better. In every roast, the most important ingredients are the beans and the roastmaster – YOU!
– Understanding the Taste Characteristics of Good Coffee: How do Burman Coffee Traders evaluate coffee beans from growers all across the world? What are the characteristics we use to judge quality and how do we ensure a wide variety to suit many different tastes?
Coffee flavor profiles vary so dramatically, that when searching for the perfect cup you never know where you may find it – basic understandings of variations between different Coffee Regions, different Strains or “Cultivars,” and different Processing Methods are essential to finding your favorite coffees.
Where does the best coffee grow?
Coffee trees are able to grow only at relatively higher altitudes within the tropics (specifically, between 25 degrees north and 30 degrees south, and between 1000-3000 feet for Robusta or 2000-6000 feet for Arabica), and because most high-quality Arabica strains are very sensitive and finicky, cultivation opportunities for premium coffees are really very limited (you will never ever get that Norwegian or Floridian coffee you’ve been dreaming about – sorry!).
Several distinct species of Coffea trees are all native to Africa – some of the beans harvested in Ethiopia still come from naturally-occurring wild coffee forests! – but farmers have successfully cultivated coffee in over 50 countries all over the world. The two commercially farmed species evolved in different climates, and therefore they have different cultivation needs: Coffea arabica is native to mountainous regions of Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya. Coffea canephora (commonly known as Robusta) is endemic throughout Sub Saharan Africa, meaning that it grows more easily in adverse conditions and lower altitudes.
Each distinct variety and each particular growing season yield their own special beans, but even more importantly the unique soils and climates of widespread regions produce distinctive terroirs, just like fine wines. For new home coffee roasters, a basic understanding of the tendencies of major coffee-producing regions is essential, as it will make it easier to identify varieties that you may like, or in some cases dislike.
Here is a simple list to help you get started. As always, be sure to read the tasting and roasting notes for each lot – these broad descriptions are just general trends, and many of the boutique micro-lots that we carry really break all the rules!
AFRICA tends to produce coffees that are very bright and spicy, with big bold juicy flavors. Many conventional coffee drinkers are shocked by the unexpected flavors in their first African cup!
Ethiopia (Natural): The strongest fruity flavors tend to be found in Ethiopian Naturals; that elusive “blueberry note” is rarely present in beans from other regions. Many claim that Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, and when villagers collect wild beans from uncultivated coffee forests to this day, it is hard to refute. Ethiopian coffees often have these wild unpredictable beans thrown into the mix, meaning that Ethiopian Naturals are sometimes strange and very inconsistent. Other unique and elusive flavor notes to look for in Ethiopian Naturals include pear, prune, jasmine, lavender, rose, cinnamon and/or clove!
Ethiopia (Washed): Dramatically different from naturals, Washed Ethiopians are much more reliable but still pretty flashy and novel compared to many other coffee regions, dominated by subtle aromatic citrus and floral flavors, often presenting lemon, bergamot, tea, peach, and/or honeysuckle notes.
Kenya: Intense and distinctive, Kenyan coffees offer very high acidity, syrupy body, powerful aromas, and tend toward grapefruit, strawberry, cocoa, molasses, and a variety of floral and herbal notes (these herbal notes can tend toward grassy/vegetative when under-developed, but add depth to the bright acidic qualities when roasted just right).
Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and other African regions: Similar yet less intense than Kenyans, African coffees generally tend to be described as offering above-average acidity coupled with floral vanilla, chocolate, raisin and berry notes. Kenya’s high standards are unmatched in other African countries, so the quality and consistency of these coffees may be less reliable.
THE AMERICAS include many locations with fertile volcanic soils that are ideal for coffee trees, but each is unique and coffee flavor profiles vary significantly from one micro-region to the next. Compared to African coffees, American coffees are generally more mild and balanced, making them very popular.
Brazil: With a long tradition of coffee cultivation and enormous plantations, Brazil easily leads in overall coffee production with a whopping 30% of the global total! Descriptors often attached to Brazil coffees include clean, sweet, mild, caramel, peanut and cinnamon.
Colombia, etc: Offering what are arguably the best-balanced cup profiles in the world, Colombia has become almost synonymous with coffee, and it ranks third in total production. The Colombian tradition is very different than that of Brazil, because it is composed mostly of tiny fincas (family farms) rather than vast plantations. This means that artisanal micro-lots can vary somewhat due to each farm’s preferred growing and coffee processing methods, but in general Colombian coffees are known for mild, sweet, nutty, medium-acidity flavors. Coffees from Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia are usually similar.
Costa Rica and Panama: These tiny countries are full of steep mountains that create distinctive micro-climates, meaning that coffees can vary considerably even when grown just a few miles apart. Common descriptors include crisp, spicy, floral, lemongrass, chocolate, and honey. But there is astounding variety – though small, this isthmus region stands out because of so many producers who are on the cutting edge of experimentation with innovative coffee processing techniques.
Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and other Central American Regions: Not far away, yet differing significantly due to mountainous micro-climates, many Central American coffees are labeled by local region; some of these regions, like Guatemala’s Huehuetanango or Antigua, have become world famous for their superior artisanal coffees. Honduras and Nicaragua are similarly loved for their rich history of coffee cultivation, and many coffee connoisseurs will recognize regional names like Copán and Matagalpa. Though flavor profiles can vary widely, most Central American coffees are generally described as delicate, lightly spicy and floral with medium acidity, and may present pear, honey, hazelnut, chocolate, and vanilla notes. Coffees from El Salvador or Belize may be similar.
Mexico: The largest producer in North America, Mexico has a coffee industry based mostly on small family farms. Rarely practicing the meticulous quality-control that is seen in other countries, Mexican coffee farmers usually sell bargain beans. But a good boutique lot can be really lovely, brewing a light and clear sweet cup similar to Brazilian.
Jamaica, Haiti, and other Caribbean Coffee Regions: Some Caribbean islands have towering volcanic mountains with beautiful abundant soil, perfect for coffee cultivation. Because of limits to scale, the total volume of Caribbean coffees is quite small, which tends to raise prices – authentic Jamaican Blue Mountain beans are among the most expensive in the world! Caribbean coffees tend to have full yet subdued flavor profiles. There is a lot going on in that cup – cocoa, dark fruit, floral, spicy, nutty, maybe a little earthy too – yet it remains overall very mellow and soft, with a rich mouth feel and a pleasant balance.
Hawaii: Similar to the Caribbean nations, tiny islands severely limit the scale of Hawaiian coffee production but the fertile soil and predictable rainy/dry seasonal cycles seem to be pretty ideal for coffee cultivation. Hawaii boasts some of the most well-loved (and expensive!) coffees in the world, like Kona and Blue Mountain (Hawaii’s big island is one of only three places in the world that this finicky cultivar can tolerate). Hawaiian coffees tend to be medium-acidity, diverse and well-balanced but tending toward darker tones, resembling Caribbean cup profiles but a little more delicate.
ASIA is the largest continent, and though most of it is well outside of the “bean belt,” the widely-spread and climatically-diverse growing coffee regions which surround the Indian Ocean yield a very wide range of coffees. We have separated Asia into West and East to make it easier to grasp the general tendencies of two distinctly different types of climates.
Yemen: Some say that this is the birthplace of coffee, though most give that credit to Ethiopia. The frequency with which one finds ancient coffee trees planted in the gardens of old family estates makes it clear that Yemen has been a leader in cultivation and improvement from the very beginning – the first carefully bred commercial cultivars (Typica, Bourbon, and Mocha) all originated in Yemen. Due to very dry climate, Yemen coffee beans tend to be small and maybe a little ugly, and they are always natural processed. Letting fruit dry and ferment on the beans gives them surprisingly diverse, yet well-rounded and delicate flavors, and many coffee connoisseurs get very excited about boutique Yemen beans. Relatively rare nowadays, Yemen coffees tend to sell quickly because they are prized for unique spicy nutmeg and cinnamon tones, as well as the rich, powerfully sweet chocolate flavors that made “Mocha” world-famous.
India: Some regions of South India have steep volcanic slopes that support biodiverse rainforests and are suitable for growing both tea and coffee, as well as spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and pepper (sometimes all on one farm!). It seems appropriate that Indian coffees are known for aromatic, spicy, robust and intense dark fruit flavors.
OCEANIA includes Australia and some portions of that big mess of islands that is mostly considered part of Asia. It is always a little difficult to decide where one continent ends and another begins (geographers have been arguing over such things for centuries!), but for the purposes of this primer, separating East Asia countries like Vietnam and Indonesia and comparing them with Oceania countries like Papua New Guinea makes a lot of sense.
Indonesia, etc: The 17,000 volcanic islands that make up the vast country of Indonesia are perfect for coffee cultivation, and it ranks fourth in overall production, just a hair behind Colombia. Different islands impart different nuances, and many coffee aficionados are familiar with names like Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi. In general, most Indonesian coffees are in the same ballpark though. Their distinctive flavor profile is due mostly to a special artisanal processing method adapted to the extremely wet local climate and the transportation challenges posed by island life. With very low acidity, taste descriptors are significantly different than most coffee regions, like earthy, woody, caramel, creamy, rich and full-bodied. Indonesian coffees are almost always dark-roasted, producing a velvety mouthfeel that is unparalleled in other cups. Coffees from Malaysia or other nearby islands like Timor-Leste may be similar.
Papua New Guinea: With their own unique growing regions and processing methods, PNG coffees may be significantly different than Indonesians. Sweetness stands out, and common descriptors include bright, syrupy or “full-bodied,” notes of honey, melon, cocoa. Papua New Guinea’s Wahgi Valley is one of only three places in the world where the famous Blue Mountain cultivar can grow.
Vietnam, etc: It may be surprising to learn that the second-largest coffee producing nation is Vietnam. Robusta or Robusta-Arabica hybrids make up the vast majority of coffee produced in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries like Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar, meaning that they mostly get blended into bargain coffees. The strong pungent flavors of Robusta are why the Vietnamese style of coffee preparation is always insistent on copious sugar and condensed milk! But don’t just write it off – we seldom carry Vietnamese coffees, but once in a while we may be pleasantly surprised by a really special top lot displaying strong dark tones and rich robust body, perfect for dark roasts.
China, etc: We very rarely see coffees coming from other East Asian countries like China, Taiwan, and the Philippines. This is partly because coffee cultivation is a relatively recent development in East Asia (but is now growing very rapidly, as evidenced by Vietnam). China also produces a surprising volume of coffee nowadays (it falls just a little short of being in the top 10!), but almost all of it gets consumed domestically, and they snap up most everything from nearby countries too. However, we do occasionally see special top lots exported from these regions. Earthy, malty, and bitter baker’s chocolate tones tend to dominate, making these coffees good for dark roasts.
Remember, many regions produce excellent coffees – it’s really just a matter of taste! The most important factors going into an exceptional cup are attentive farming and expert processing, freshness, and that perfect roast that brings out each bean’s unique strengths. Be sure to always consult tasting and roasting notes to better understand the potential of each unique lot.
Matcha is used in numerous special drinks and baked goods – really you can add it to just about anything! If matcha is new to you, and whether you use Chinese Organic Matcha or Japanese Kansai Matcha powder, this simple yummy recipe is a great place to start.
1/4 Cup boiling water
3/4 Cup unsweetened almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, or cow milk
Bring milk to a simmer in a small pot over medium-high heat. If using cow milk, take care, as it may boil over very suddenly.
Place 1 teaspoon matcha powder in a large cup, then gradually whisk in 1/4 cup boiling water, then 3/4 cup hot milk, tipping your vessel slightly to help create more foam.
Sweeten to taste with honey or agave syrup, as crystal sugar may not dissolve completely.
Also delicious iced – just put all ingredients (cold water & milk, not hot) into a cocktail mixer with a few ice cubes and shake very vigorously – or as a smoothie – just add 4-6 ice cubes and a handful of your favorite fruits, then mix in a blender for 2-3 minutes. Feel free to experiment with added flavors such as coconut, mint, or other fragrant herbs such as basil or rosemary.
Coffees vary so dramatically that it is sometimes hard to know how to choose – but you can be confident that you are pointing yourself in the premium direction with knowledge of common Strains or “Cultivars.” Check out 2 more primers in this set: basic knowledge about coffee-growing Coffee Regions and why producers choose different Processing Methods is, in most cases, even more important than identifying the specific cultivar.
What do we mean by “Coffee Cultivars” ?
Coffee plants are small trees that can grow over 15 feet high, but are usually pruned shorter to facilitate easy harvest. They have delicate white jasmine-like flowers and plump oval berries that change as they mature from green to yellow, pink, red, or purple when ripe. There are several related species; the two commercially cultivated are Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora (commonly known as Robusta).
Arabica coffee is native to mountainous regions of Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya. Robusta coffee, which grows more easily in adverse conditions and lower altitudes, is endemic throughout Sub Saharan Africa. Something like 30-40% of coffee grown around the world is Robusta – although it has a very high caffeine content, the strong pungent flavors of these beans are intolerable to many. Robusta is commonly blended into Arabica coffees to boost caffeine and reduce price (think Folgers).
All premium coffees are varieties of
Arabica. Over the generations, many distinct cultivars have been
bred to meet the needs of different regions. For most farmers,
considerations like adequate yield and disease resistance are the
main factors in choosing which cultivars to plant. Any variety of
coffee may make an excellent cup, if it can survive rough
weather and pests and other challenges that farmers of this sensitive
species must overcome.
“Cultivar” means a specific variety
which was intentionally bred for optimum potential in commercial
cultivation. Related terms like “varietal,” “strain,” or
“hybrid” may be used to mean essentially the same thing. Or they
may mean a newly discovered wild mutation, or a mix (“hybrid”) of
both – the world of coffee is increasingly diverse with each new
day! And we sure are excited to explore it with you…
But it can be overwhelming to try to understand the differences between nearly 100 widely known cultivars. Because of frequent intentional hybridization as well as unintentional cross-pollination, it is not a straightforward family tree, but a big messy pool of diverse genetics evolving constantly. For the purposes of this primer, we will stick to just the most well-established cultivars; you will see all of these names in our coffee lists from time to time.
Typica – The original coffee cultivar isolated from diverse semi-wild coffee trees in Yemen, Typica beans were bred for excellent quality (but low yield) and were the first coffees planted in Indonesia and the Americas.
Bourbon – Also bred very early by farmers in Yemen, this cultivar was named after an island off of Madagascar where it was first grown on a large scale. Bourbon trees produce about 30% more than Typica trees, with comparably high-quality beans. These plants were put to work in many locations around Africa and Latin America, and today almost all existing Arabica cultivars are descendants of either Typica or Bourbon plants.
Mocha (sometimes Mocca, Mokka, or Moka) – Another old cultivar originating in Yemen, it is named after the port city from which it was exported all over the world. A unique potential for a smooth, clean, sweet and rich chocolate-like flavor made this variety famous. The original “Mocha” was an early premium-quality single-origin cup, not a chocolate flavored sugar bomb from Starbucks! More recently, farmers in various locations have bred many specialized derivatives and replicas of this original cultivar, so sometimes you may see a “Mokka” that will claim Brazilian origins – we don’t want to quibble over histories which are often fuzzy, because whether it is the original strain or a more recent replication, we still get to enjoy that lovely chocolatey cup.
Maragogipe (sometimes Maragogype) – A natural mutation of Typica discovered 150 years ago in Maragogipe village in Brazil, these giant coffee beans are sometimes known as “elephant beans.” The trees themselves are extra tall and lanky too, and although the beans are big, they are few and the average yield is considered “very low.” Flavor profiles are surprisingly flexible, changing dependent on soil and really highlighting the local terroir. Because of low yields and flat unimpressive flavors when grown in poor soils, Maragogipe trees are only rarely cultivated today, but there is still some market for them due to their novelty.
Caturra – An early fork of the Bourbon family tree originated in a natural mutation discovered 100 years ago in the town of Caturra, Brazil, then was intentionally bred because its short stature and thick trunk led to a hardiness that combined high yield and high quality. Caturra thrives at lower altitudes and is relatively more disease- and pest-resistant, but its limiting factor is a need for close attention and lots of fertilizer. Very popular in Latin America, these beans are known for the mild well-rounded flavors commonly associated with Colombian coffees.
Pacas – A more recent derivative of Bourbon, this variety is named after the Salvadoran family who noticed that one of their coffee trees was unusually short (or “dwarf”), which led to significantly higher yields because the plant was able to direct more of its energy into beans. This also makes it possible to plant the trees closer together, meaning that farmers utilizing Pacas can get much more production per acre. These beans tend to produce a cup that is well balanced with lots of spicy and floral aromas.
SL28 – Very popular throughout Africa, this cultivar was carefully bred from naturally-mutating Bourbon trees at a coffee research center in Kenya (of course it was a scientist who gave these awesome beans a totally boring name!). SL28 has many positive attributes, primarily an exceptionally high yield coupled with good drought resistance and very little need for fertilizers. This characteristic is sometimes called “rusticity” – these trees can survive for decades without any human intervention – some Kenyan farms have SL28 trees that are still very productive after 80 years! These beans are known for the big bright flavors that we have come to expect from Kenya.
Timor Hybrid (aka Indo Hybrid) – Stemming from natural cross-pollination between Arabicas and Robustas, by now a large family of varietals have branched off from this very successful cultivar. The Timor Hybrid took off in the early 1900’s after rampant coffee leaf rust disease devastated almost all Arabica trees planted in Indonesia and neighboring islands like Timor. Robusta trees are much hardier, capable of withstanding many pests, harsh weather, and other stresses that often afflict Arabica trees. And because of the rainy climate in the region, many trees produce beans all year round, which makes for a lot more harvesting work. This has prompted farmers to focus on varieties that require very little attention – “plant it and forget it” is the hallmark of the Timor Hybrid. Many Robusta-Arabica hybrids are capable of producing a very nice cup, but will tend more toward dark, woody and earthy flavors.
Pacamara – Combining the best aspects of both Pacas and Maragogipe, this excellent and very popular cultivar displays attributes of both dwarfism and gigantism – the trees are short, but the beans are huge! Pacamara trees are still very susceptible to diseases and pests, but they require less fertilizer and attention than other popular breeds. They are known for producing exceptional beans that give a spicy, aromatic cup.
Catuai – A hybrid of Caturra and Mundo Novo (a naturally-occurring cross-pollination between Bourbon and Typica trees), Catuai plants are extra-hardy, with sturdy fruit that do not fall off in storms, making them a reliable investment for farmers in many locations. Many coffee connoisseurs consider the flavor of these beans to be “good but not great,” so Catuai beans are less often separated into boutique micro-lots. However, there is a good chance that Catuai beans are included in many estate-wide blends, because these trees are ideally suited for planting on high ridges and other marginal lands that experience more extreme weather.
Catimor – A cross between Caturra and Timor Hybrid which is highly resistant to common diseases like rust and yields an impressive abundance of beans. The Timor Hybrid’s partial Robusta heritage makes the plant much stronger but the flavor of the beans less appealing. Catimor, hybridized again to move the cup more toward Arabica quality while still retaining the benefits of hardy Robusta, is very popular world-wide due to its early maturation and abundant production even in harsh conditions or lower altitudes. Similar to Catuai, we see micro-lots of this variety less often but can assume that it is present in many estate-wide blends.
Blue Mountain (aka Caribbean Strain) – A very famous cultivar selectively bred from Typica, primarily for resistance to coffee berry disease and increased yields at high altitudes, and first grown in Jamaica on the mountain from which it gets its name. The premium prices fetched for Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee are primarily due to its rarity – only very specific climates and soil types can support this cultivar, and the only successful crops outside of Jamaica are in Papua New Guinea’s Wahgi Valley and the Kona micro-region of Hawaii (which also has its own unique, though closely related, Typica variant called Kona). Blue Mountain and Kona coffees are known for complex and rich flavor profiles, but they may not be 10x yummier than an artisanal single-origin Bourbon or Caturra, as a 10x higher price tag might suggest.
Gesha (sometimes Geisha) – Believed to have originated from a wild mutation discovered on Gesha Mountain, Ethiopia, in recent years it has been established as a distinctive new cultivar. It is known for unusually elongated beans and very low yields (which means it’s pricey!), and a remarkable unique flavor profile with complex aromatic floral and spicy notes. A handful of specially-processed Gesha beans coming from Panama are the trendiest thing in the premium coffee market today – when you see them come into our stock, be sure to order right away because they sell out very quickly!
Remember, almost any cultivar can produce an excellent cup – the most important factors are attentive farming and expert processing, freshness, and that perfect roast that brings out each bean’s unique strengths. The wide range of possible flavor profiles are also affected by the soil and climate of the growing region as well as each lot’s specific processing methods – a Brazil Caturra and a Colombia Caturra may look and taste very different, and the effects of Natural or Washed processing methods may produce widely divergent flavor profiles even in beans coming from the exact same fields. Be sure to always consult tasting and roasting notes to better understand the potential of each unique lot.
Tasty and healthful drinks may be created from a wide variety of leaves and flowers other than those of the tea plant Camellia sinensis, and we are pleased to share a great collection of yummy herbal infusions.
From ginger and mint to chamomile and lavender, from lemongrass and ginseng to tulsi and rosehips, we have blends that will soothe your stomach, relax your mind, boost your energy (without caffeine!), or cleanse toxins and reduce inflammation. Here are just a few of our favorites:
Winter Elixir – Ginger, Orange Peel, Mint, Eucalyptus: A soothing, head-clearing tea with many benefits. Ginger strengthens the immune system, aids in digestion, and improves respiration, while orange peel lends the healing power of vitamin C plus a yummy citrusy tang. Mint helps to speed and ease digestion while eucalyptus provides decongestant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Calming and easy to drink, it can be a helpful aid in reducing cold and flu symptoms.
Lavender Sleepy Time BCT Premium Blend – Chamomile, Lavender, Spearmint, Lemon Peel: Lavender Sleepy Time is a special blend created right here at Burman Coffee Traders. A deeply relaxing and soothing cup, the uplifting aromas and gentle flavors of lavender and lemon are followed by cool spearmint and chamomile tingling the mouth and belly. Lavender and chamomile both reduce stress and promote restful sleep. All ingredients in this blend help to reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and calm stress and anxiety.
Bianca Blend – Chamomile, Hibiscus, Orange Peel: A delicious pairing of two lovely flowers, with bright orange complimenting both. When steeped shortly, the infusion is golden and fragrant with soothing chamomile blossoms, a stomach tonic and sleep aid. Steep it longer to really get the most out of the orange peel and hibiscus – the liquid becomes more red and succulent, with strong lingering cranberry notes. Makes an exquisite iced tea.
Herbal Energizer – Ginseng, Licorice, Peppermint, Hibiscus, Lemongrass, Passion Fruit, St. John’s Wort: Vibrant red, with powerful aromas, our caffeine-free Herbal Energizer is attention-grabbing and memorable. Sour lemongrass stands front and center, but spicy licorice and chilly peppermint compete for attention, while hibiscus and passion fruit supply a syrupy body to hold it all together. Ginseng and St. John’s wort are powerful “adaptogenic” herbs – they help your body adapt to stress and imbalance – so those who are sensitive to caffeine or who suffer from depression, anxiety, or caffeine crash will find this infusion to be far superior to any tea.
Holy Detox – Tulsi (Holy Basil), Spearmint, Rosehips, Lemon Myrtle, Linden Blossoms: Who knew that medicine could be so delicious? Tulsi, or Holy Basil, has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine as a powerful immune-booster and “adaptogen” – helping the body adapt to stress, imbalance, and seasonal changes – and is used in many different forms as a daily health supplement. Combined with cooling spearmint, it presents a sweetly spicy flavor profile as it eases digestion and uplifts the spirits. Rosehips, linden blossoms, and lemon myrtle also contribute to the anti-inflammatory detoxifying attributes of this health tonic and add subtle floral notes to the cup. Holy Detox is especially helpful when recovering from a cold or flu.
Begin with the perfect pot of water. In the ideal cup of tea, the water is almost as important as the leaves. If possible, use water which is clean, fresh, well-aerated, and with a good balance of minerals. Unfortunately, bottled water is generally mineral-free and not well-aerated, leaving it dull-tasting, but tap water which smells of chlorine can really disrupt the subtle aromas of a fine tea. Traditionalists say that the perfect place to get the perfect pot of water is “a naturally flowing spring.”
Go figure, it sounds like even getting water for your tea
entails some kind of spiritual journey!
It is true that for many tea enthusiasts, the tea experience is sacred,
and the utmost respect is given to every part of the process. But rest assured, if you don’t have the
perfect pot of water or a gurgling spring outside your kitchen window, you will
surely still enjoy your tea. These rules
and the following are guidelines for those who strive for that perfect
cup, but they will also help the tea-curious begin to understand the tea
experience, and what to look for in a superior cup.
Your perfect water needs to be at perfect temperature. It is important to heat your teapot and cups by filling them with boiling water (discard this water). If your vessels are cold, they will throw off the precise optimal steeping temperature. Then heat another pot of water to the optimal temperature for whichever type you are steeping.
Generally, white teas are best at 170 degrees (or less),
green teas are best at 180 degrees (or less), Oolong teas are best at 180-200,
and black and Pu-Erh teas are best at boiling (212). Use a thermometer, or estimate by letting
boiling water cool for 2 minutes to 180 degrees, or 3 minutes to 160
And then there is the perfect amount of water, the perfect
amount of tea leaves, and the perfect steeping time… but opinions differ
widely, by region and taste. We provide
guidelines below, but every tea is different, and for many you will need to
determine the perfect combo by trial and error – enjoy!
Eastern and Western methods of tea preparation are quite different. We will outline examples of both here, beginning with the more familiar British style. We encourage you to try the Chinese style as well, especially for Green, Oolong and Pu-Erh teas.
Tea leaf quantities are by weight, as volume becomes a tricky variable. In theory, one “teaspoon” equals 2 grams. But only if you are using dense black tea like Earl Grey. A light, large- leafed green tea like our Dragon Well may require up to 2 tablespoons to weigh 2 grams. If you do not have a scale, just estimate 1 teaspoon = 2 grams for denser teas, 1 tablespoon = 2 grams for lighter teas.
How to Steep the Perfect Cup of Earl Grey Tea (British style)
2 grams of tea per 6 ounces (175ml) of water: serves 1
Preheat teapot and cups. Discard this water. Place tea leaves in teapot (or infuser). Pour in fresh boiling water. Close, allow to steep for 3-5 minutes, depending on size of vessel and taste. Remove leaves or pour liquid into another vessel.* Drink immediately, with a squeeze of lemon and a little sugar. Other black teas are usually taken with milk, and some folks like Earl Grey that way too, so we also have instructions for the perfect “London Fog.”
*Note that this method may be used to produce a good cup of tea from any leaves. Adjust the temperature and time to the appropriate type of tea (White: 170 for 3 min, Green: 180 for 2-4 min, Oolong: 180-200 for 3-5 min). White, Green, Oolong, and Pu-Erh teas may be re-steeped, just increase steeping time by 30-60 seconds each time. Most black teas are not recommended for re-steeping, as they turn bitter.
How to Steep the Perfect Cup of Dragon Well Tea (Chinese style)
6 grams of tea per 6 ounces (175ml) of water: serves 2-4
Preheat teapot and cups. Discard this water. Place tea leaves in teapot (or infuser). Prepare water at 170-180 degrees, pour over just enough to cover the leaves, and then pour that out immediately. Blanching the leaves cleans them and uncurls them for maximum infusion. Pour this first batch of water into cups, but then discard it. This keeps cups warm and provides an initial aroma – appreciate it (Chinese and Japanese tea enthusiasts write eloquent poetry about the looks and smells of steamy tea leaves!). Pour hot water into the teapot, cover, and allow the liquid to steep for 15-30 seconds. Enjoy a light and small sample of the unique taste and aroma of this tea. Then re-steep, for 15-30 seconds longer each time.* You may find yourself drinking up to 8 distinctly delicious cups as you savor all the delicate flavors that unfold in each re-steep.
*Note that all Green and White teas excel in this preparation. It is highly recommended for appreciating the complex and aromatic Oolong and Pu-Erh teas. This method is less often used for black teas, though some First Flush teas are so lightly processed that you may enjoy trying them in this way. If you use this method with traditional Black teas, it is extra-important to remember to blanch them before the first steep, to reduce bitterness.
Try this delicious recipe for an extra-special rooibos-based winter warm-up:
ROOIBOS-CIDER HOT TODDY
½ Cup prepared rooibos infusion (will require approx 1 tsp rooibos leaves, or more to taste)
½ Cup natural apple cider (any apple juice will do, preferably sugar-free)
½ inch piece of ginger, or more to taste
½ inch piece lemon peel
1 ounce Bourbon
1 ounce Cognac
½ ounce Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 lemon slice (round)
3 cloves, studded in lemon slice
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole nutmeg
½ Tablespoon honey, or more to taste
pinch of salt, to taste
Bring apple cider to a boil, steep ginger and lemon peel on medium heat for 5-15 minutes, then combine with rooibos infusion (also good steeped for 5-15 minutes, to taste). Place lemon, cloves, and cinnamon in a mug and stir in rooibos, cider, and booze. Grate a little nutmeg (be careful, its very powerful!), add honey and a few grains of salt to taste, and serve piping hot.
The traditional hot toddy cider is simply whiskey, water, lemon and honey, and has been used by many to fight off cold and flu season. This classic combo is delicious on its own, but our special holiday recipe also includes a well-rounded mix of liquors and spices that instill complex and memorable flavors and infuse even more warming powers than the old-fashioned version. For hot toddies using Rooibos Masala Chai or Rooibos Chocolate Chai blends, omit the lemon, lemon peel, and apple cider (use 1 full cup of rooibos infusion instead). For the kiddos, just omit the booze – it is still scrumptious! Feel free to experiment with the spice mix – delightful additions include black pepper, cardamom, mace, peppermint or wintergreen, or a whole vanilla bean (you may prefer to omit lemon & lemon peel if adding vanilla).
Rooibos, or “red bush,”
is native to the western coast of South Africa, and it has been harvested from
the wild for millennia. Only recently
has it been cultivated, but with a high reputation as a cheap and delicious
caffeine-free tea alternative, in less than 100 years its popularity has spread
to every continent.
Rooibos is frequently used to
substitute tea in herbal blends. The
tiny leaves have a malty sweetness reminiscent of black tea, but also a variety
of their own unique accents, with strawberry, honey, and vanilla notes, as well
as earthy and tobacco undertones. This
premium variety, organic from South Africa, has particularly strong vanilla
notes and a surprising sweetness – it’s really lovely!
Mild and forgiving, it is
impossible to over-steep rooibos, and it lends itself well to flavored blends,
providing a substantial yet relatively neutral body which is easy to build upon
– it is excellent with sugar, honey, milk, nut milks, fruits, herbs and spices. You will love rooibos especially if you enjoy
experimenting with your own unique recipes, as it lends extra body and
sweetness to any cup. And you will love
it on its own too – very smooth, mellow yet complex – add milk and sugar and
that special vanilla-honey flavor profile might have you imagining that you are
drinking a cake in a cup!
If you are looking for a
caffeine-free hot beverage alternative, try this rich and vibrant red herbal
infusion today. For those who want to
impress guests with unusual treats, versatile rooibos may be prepared as you
would mulled cider, or used in novelty cocktails at your big holiday bash. For those who like to keep it nice and
simple, soothing rooibos is perfect for cozying up by the fire with the family,
its mellow pleasant flavor well-received by all.
We carry 5 delicious flavors: pure top-quality Organic Rooibos, as well as fortifying Turmeric Cider Spice, warming Herbal Masala Chai, and rich Herbal Chocolate Chai. Plus NEW Rooibos Blood Orange Blend!
Organic Rooibos, South Africa – This top-shelf variety is smooth, sweet, with ample vanilla flavor and rich honey and tobacco undertones. This is our most versatile herbal infusion – you can steep any amount of leaves for any amount of time and it is always delicious, never bitter.
Turmeric Cider Spice Blend – Rooibos with turmeric, cinnamon, peppercorn, ginger, lemon and vanilla flavors. This blend makes a warming and fortifying tonic – turmeric is anti-inflammatory and immunity-boosting, excellent for cold wet winter days. Not a lot of spices, this cup still maintains a mellow, subtle profile (though you can always add more if you like it spicy!).
Herbal Masala Chai – Rooibos with ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and vanilla flavors. These spices will really warm you up. Rooibos is ideal for this style of chai, with its rich vanilla flavors amplifying the sparkly spices. Add a little milk and sugar and it might as well be dessert! Makes a perfect caffeine-free Christmas morning cup.
Herbal Chocolate Chai – Rooibos with ginger, cardamom, and chocolate chips. Another blend that will warm your hearts this holiday season. Vanilla notes and rich red liquor are just begging for this delightful combo of ginger, cardamom, and chocolate.
NEW! Roobios Blood Orange Blend – Rooibos with orange peel, hibiscus, apple, rosehips, rose petals, safflowers, lemon, orange and vanilla flavors. A masterfully designed herbal blend with a whole range of fantastic flavors, very versatile and great for iced tea too.
½ Cup prepared rooibos infusion (will require approx 1 tsp rooibos leaves, or more to taste)
½ Cup natural apple cider (any apple juice will do, preferably sugar-free)
½ inch piece of ginger, or more to taste
½ inch piece lemon peel
1 ounce Bourbon
1 ounce Cognac
½ ounce Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 lemon slice (round)
3 cloves, studded in lemon slice
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole nutmeg
½ Tablespoon honey, or more to taste
pinch of salt, to taste
Bring apple cider to a boil, steep ginger and lemon peel on
medium heat for 5-15 minutes, then combine with rooibos infusion (also good
steeped for 5-15 minutes, to taste).
Place lemon, cloves, and cinnamon in a mug and stir in rooibos, cider,
and booze. Grate a little nutmeg (be
careful, its very powerful!), add honey and a few grains of salt to taste, and
serve piping hot.
The traditional hot toddy is simply whiskey, water, lemon and
honey, and has been used by many to fight off cold and flu season. This classic combo is delicious on its own,
but our special holiday recipe also includes a well-rounded mix of liquors and
spices that instill complex and memorable flavors and infuse even more warming
powers than the old-fashioned version.
For hot toddies using Rooibos
Masala Chai or Rooibos Chocolate Chai blends, omit the lemon, lemon
peel, and apple cider (use 1 full cup of rooibos infusion instead). For the kiddos, just omit the booze – it is
still scrumptious! Feel free to experiment
with the spice mix – delightful additions include black pepper, cardamom, mace,
peppermint or wintergreen, or a whole vanilla bean (you may prefer to omit
lemon & lemon peel if adding vanilla).
Almost all white teas come
from famous Fujian province, which claims to be the first producer of white,
black, and oolong teas. Like green teas,
receiving heat treatment to stop the oxidation process, white teas capture the
delicate aromas of spring and dance many subtle flavors across the palate. Most Americans have never heard of white
teas, because just a tiny fraction of each year’s harvest is permitted this
special designation. Only the very
earliest and freshest growths, young buds picked when
they are still tightly enclosed in new, pale, silky leaves, qualify for
the title of “white” tea.
Our Pai Mu Tan teas are some of the finest produced in Fujian. Large, fleshy buds plus only the next two leaves are classified as Pai Mu Tan or “White Peony,” and are very rare in the West. These teas are prized for abundant antioxidants and minerals in a delicate and often surprisingly sweet liquor, making a light, mild-tasting yet powerful daily health tonic.
Our top-shelf Pai Mu Tans have been enhanced with fruit and flowers, making them ideal for those who generally do not care for tea but desire its many health benefits. They are also excellent for iced teas, cocktails, or as a base for your own signature blend. Black tea fans should note that white teas are typically steeped in 160-170℉ water for 2-3 minutes (less is more with Pai Mu Tan!).
Champagne Raspberry Pai Mu Tan – A sparkling aromatic bouquet of jasmine, chrysanthemum, and raspberry. The fruit notes sit front and center, but the complex floral notes of the white tea fill the mouth and clear the head, so the hint of champagne makes it seem almost effervescent.
Lemon Ginger Pai Mu Tan – Lemongrass shines through this tea, giving it stimulating vapors and a zippy mouthfeel, and boosting natural floral notes of the tea. Subtle ginger slowly builds a lingering warmth in the mouth, throat, and stomach; makes a great digestive.
Pomegranate Pai Mu Tan – With light yet lively flavors, pomegranate is an excellent fruit to pair with a white tea, adding subtle layers to its astringency and complicating it with a little sour and sweet. No overpowering added flavors here, you can really appreciate the exceptional Pai Mu Tan.
Plum Pai Mu Tan – Our new favorite flavored tea! Sweet tangy plum and rich figs fill out a velvety rose petal accent that enlivens the subtle pinewood and grapefruit notes of the tea.
Don’t like added flavors? All of the Pai Mu Tans that we currently carry are flavored – white teas have subdued profiles that make them easy to enhance with fruit or flowers – but if you would like to try a pure and perfect white tea, we got you covered there too. In fact, we have something very special for you! “White Exquisite Soft Pearls” are attractive green/silver spheres hand-rolled from only the most perfect new buds – they make a stellar cup that is unlike anything else we carry (and is difficult to find anywhere in the USA). Those just beginning their tea exploration adventures should check out this rare artisanal variety, it’s a real level-up!
All of us at Burman Coffee Traders are flavor
adventurers – always searching for the freshest and most interesting coffees
and teas, always excited to discover unique beverages from unusual
regions. If you have seen our coffee
list, you already know that we are dedicated to sourcing the highest quality
products from all over the world. But
you may not realize that we have a fantastic (and growing!) selection of teas
and herbal infusions to complement our coffees.
So we have opened this blog to educate each other and to share these
world-class premium teas with a wider audience.
Tea fans: welcome!
We are very excited to continue exploring the world of classic and
exotic teas with all of you.
Coffee fans: try tea! We can assure you that this well-traveled
path will bring its own rewards, with ancient herbal wisdom and many exotic
Coffee is our passion – as you know well – but we are also excited to
explore the even bigger and more diverse world of tea. Tea is the most-consumed beverage (besides
pure water) in the world! Billions of
people have enjoyed countless unique preparations of tea for thousands of
years, and new processing techniques and new flavorings continue to diversify
the field, even as ancient traditional preparations remain popular. We have partnered with some of the foremost
tea distributors in the world to bring you exceptional top-shelf varieties of
all your old favorites as well as unique and rare products from famous
tea-producing regions in China and India.
We continue to work hard to source more varieties, but we won’t settle
for anything but the freshest and most perfect lots.
Tea contains significantly less caffeine than coffee (making it more suitable in the evening or for those who are very sensitive to stimulants), yet is rich in antioxidants, alkaloids, and minerals that promote strong health and mental wellness. Other herbal infusions provide wide-ranging benefits such as aiding digestion, warming the body, cleansing out toxins, or calming stress and encouraging sleep (technically, infusions made from herbs other than the tea plant Camellia sinensis are not actually “teas”– read this Tea Primer to learn more about different types of teas and herbal infusions).
For your guests who do not care for coffee, or for late-night gatherings where a gentle digestive is more appropriate than another dose of caffeine, or for a daily ritual which is calming and fortifying, our wide selections of premium teas have many delicious options.
Here are just a few of our top picks. With this much variety, you are sure to find something perfect for any occasion!
Organic Pinhead Gunpowder, Wuyuan China – Looking for a place to start your tea adventures? This one’s funny name indicates attractive, very tightly-rolled green leaves with a classic robust flavor. This high-quality tea from a region just outside of the famous Fujian province is available for a mouth-watering sale price! $1.86/oz
Ti Kuan Yin Oolong, Fujian China – Oolong teas, half-way between green and black, have fascinatingly complex flavors, and are perfect for repeatedly steeping many small cups in the traditional style, savoring the unique flavor profile of each unfolding layer. $3.38/oz
Grand Keemun, Qimen China – rich, malty, velvety sweet, with notes of cocoa and caramel. One of the best black teas we have tasted, available at a bargain price. $2.48/oz
Plum Pai Mu Tan, Fujian China – our new favorite flavored tea! The plum, fig, and rose make a lovely sweet cup that elevates the spirits. $3.00/oz
Holy Detox, India – tulsi or “holy basil” is a powerful immuno-booster and cleanser of respiratory and digestive systems used extensively in ayurvedic healthcare. Mixed with rose hips, mint, and lemon – who knew medicine could be so yummy? $2.63/oz
Chamomile Spice, India – perfect digestive, chamomile and ginger both soothe the belly, very warming. $2.50/oz
Bianca Blend, India – chamomile, hibiscus, orange; tart tropical flavors coupled with cozy chamomile, makes a bright yummy dessert cup. $2.70/oz
Organic Rooibos, South Africa – when you need a hot cup without the caffeine, rooibos will make you smile. With warm vanilla and honey notes, versatile rooibos is the base for many herbal blends. $2.20/oz
Organic Cascara, Hawaii – this unique product feels out of place on our tea list, because it is actually coffee! Cascara, Spanish for “husk,” is the fruit of the coffee bean – uniquely light and fruity, it contains about ¼ of the caffeine plus abundant antioxidants. Rare! and in limited supply, give it a try today! $3.15/oz
Been a long time since we offered a Yemen coffee – we love them incredibly but with the political battles and atrocities taking place we avoided them. Recently we have gotten into some good discussions with coffee folks and the recent thinking is, good to support these Yemen farmers regardless of what is politically happening in the country. Yemen does aggregate farming, small holders – they do not have traditional farms like we normally see. Traceability is hard on these coffees but we are good buddies with Bob and Max at Royal Coffee and the Yemeni Importer has been good friends with Bob and Max for a long time. As vetted as we could get.
Part of what makes Yemen coffee so cool is shared with Ethiopia – these places are the original habitat for coffee, tons of undocumented strains and wild plants incorporate these beans (partly why they roast uneven). Be prepared for some flavors unique to Ethiopia and Yemen.
Coming from family owned plots located in the Al-Haimah districts in the Sana’a governorate within the western highlands of Yemen, parallel to the Red Sea. Yemen is perhaps the most historic coffee growing region in the world, second only to Ethiopia, with a lineage spanning more than 2,000 years. Coffee production continues today with many of the same traditions dating back to the 15th century, like drying coffee naturally in the cherry on the rooftops of houses perched on the edges of steep mountain ridges. Mocca Peaberry is the product of 23 producers who work closely with an export company called Pearl of Tehama. Through the collaboration small producers have learned processing techniques to ensure consistency in their coffee. Pearl of Tehama is also providing localized receiving warehouses to ease the burden of transporting coffee and ensure safe storage. Pearl of Tehama is currently helping producers organize formally because recognized producer associations can solicit international assistance for need infrastructure improvements like roads, schools and water systems.
Tasting Notes: Classic Yemen coffee – fruity and chocolaty. Yemen coffees are the rare cup where you can occasionally see a “banana” like fruit tone – don’t worry though, its a little bit of a reach for banana, its not like eating a banana or banana flavored coffee, although with developed tongue, most can pick it up. Red fruit and bakers chocolate are the dominate tones – fruit is accentuated with lighter roasts, chocolaty with darker roasts. A lovely super complex old world natural.
Roasting Notes: Yemen Mocca is old world natural processed – high chaff and a bit uneven roasting. The cup profile is good light to dark, if roasting on the lighter side, make sure the beans are through first crack – darker roast is easy. Our favorite was a nice medium roast, chocolaty factor is nice and strong but doesn’t mute all the front end jazz.
A very tasty aggregate production (co-op called CBS) coffee coming from the Letefoho sub-district of the Ermera municipality in Timor.
Similar to much of Indonesian, Timor has its own strain of coffee that naturally crossed an Arabica strain with a Robusta strain creating a wonderful hybrid that has now been used around the world. Although this happened naturally in Timor, the idea behind this is currently saving the coffee industry. As climate continues to change and world trade keeps expanding, coffee has been getting hit with a lot of disease and pests that Arabica plants are susceptible to but Robusta is not. These hybrid strains have been keeping the farms alive and over the years and they have really dialed in a unique and tasty cup with the strain over the years.
CBS has organized producers to achieve organic certification and to establish best farm management practices. CBS has also provided quality control training with the help of international development aid and increasing premiums from specialty coffee. Producers have also been able to make improvements to processing infrastructure, including the addition of drying structures that have greatly improved their ability to consistently meet quality standards for moisture content and water activity.
Tasting Notes: Similar to its Indonesian cousins (except washed processed), this cup is full bodied, low acidity with very cool darker toned complexity. The fuller roasts and where this cup shines – retains it sweetness and a little hint of soft fruit even when into 2nd crack; gets a little roasty but definitely compliments those strong chocolaty/molasses and smoky tones.
Roasting Notes: After drinking this cup at a multitude of roasts and curves, we though it worked best from a full city to dark roast. A quicker ramp up (roast higher temps for less time) left the cup a bit crisper and more interesting. If shooting for lighter roasting, would flip the curve and drag it out a bit to develop some darker tones at the light to medium roast levels. Easy to roast, great screen of coffee.
Before we found some personal friends in Papua New Guinea, this is the coffee we used to rely on. Awesome folks even though at the time we had never met them. One of the few Estate produced coffees (a bit smaller than Carpenter) and located just a couple miles down the road.
A couple years back times were rough with Kimel, PNG is a tribal land and not all the tribes get along all the time. To have an estate in PNG means you have to have an open environment between the tribes living/working on or near the estate. Unfortunately Kimel had a rough couple of years due to some tribal conflicts and coffee production and quality wavered pretty good. This is when we started working direct with Carpenter Estates and found some absolute gems of beans. When I got this years Kimel AA sample though some friends, we couldn’t help but to pick it up. Great screen, super clean cup profile. A bit milder and sweeter than last years Sigri. Plus it got here earlier, our Carpenter Estate beans are still a week or two away.
Tasting Notes: Medium bodied, low acidity and a clean cup. Perfect example of what a premium PNG should taste like. Not super jazzy but great prep and carries the tastes PNG fans are looking for. Smooth chocolate, bigger body and low acidity. Hard not to enjoy this cup. Lighter roasts are milder and sweeter, not quite the heft of the medium to dark roasts but tasty. Medium roasts bring out a bigger body and stronger chocolaty tones, turns a bit more semi-sweet as one gets real close to 2nd crack. Dark roasts get smoky and thicker with a little bitter edge to it.
Roasting Notes: Although traditionally PNG coffees are taken a little darker, go a shade lighter that you think. We thought a city + roast was wonderful. Smooth, sweet and more down the milk chocolate alley. Maybe a little hint of acidity lighter but with a 2-3 day setup, it will be gone. Darker roasts work great with this bean but turn it stronger, loses its delicate tones and shows more Indo style tones into 2nd crack.
This is a top cupping lot from the Gatomboya coffee factory in Nyeri. Very tasty with some exotic acidic fruit notes upfront (grape/lemon/orange) and a strong classic and super clean chocolate spice undertone.
This cup is sourced from family-owned farms organized around the Gatomboya Factory (wet mill) in Nyeri County, Kenya. The Barichu Farmers Co-operative Society Limited manages the Gatomboya Factory, which processes coffee from 600 members who generally cultivate approximately 250 coffee trees on half-acre plots.
Tasting Notes: Strong coffee. Kenyans are always a little more extreme in their tones and this cup is no exception. Higher acidity with a fuller body and heavy balanced darker tones. The brightness upfront really shines at the light to medium roasts, a purple/red grape skin like tone mixing with some floral and lemony acidity is quite the tasty treat. The acidity is balanced with a chocolaty factor but one that’s unique to Kenya, very spicy, almost a peppery/currant herbal chocolaty tone. The darker tones are greatly accentuated at the medium to dark roast levels, will turn a bit edgy into 2nd crack.
Roasting Notes: A Kenyan top lot is all about the brighter tones. With this lot, to see it shine, a nice medium roast is the best bet but be prepared for a bit of acidity coming through; gives the cup a huge depth of flavor. Dark roasts will be pretty awesome as long as you like strong coffee, light roasts are only for acidic fans.
Usually Kenyan coffee lose some of their track-ability through the mill aggregation model. This cup is cool for its an estate produced offering, where is came from and the folks behind it are well known.
Kiriga was established in 1954 and currently has 130 acres of land in use for coffee cultivation, which stretches along the Chania river, the natural border between Kiambu and Muranga counties and the source of the famous Chania falls. Brian Gakunga inherited the estate from his father, Aloysius Gakunga, who first planted coffee for his father (Brian’s grandfather) in the 1950s until he realized his own dream of purchasing the the Kiriga Estate, which he had admired since Childhood. Kiriga has its own mill where cherry selection, depulping, fermentation, washing, and drying are meticulously executed. The Kiriga estate also runs a local pre-school that has several dairy cattle to ensure that the children always have access to fresh milk.
Tasting Notes: A bit mellower and smoother than most of the prime AA lots. No missing this cup is a Kenyan though, decently strong acidity upfront especially on the lighter roast side; comes off pretty buzzy and citric with a little soft fruit. Smooth and not over the top herbal spice notes in its balanced more chocolaty undertones. If you want to shoot for a more acidic bright cup, roast it a bit lighter, looking for more of the robust spice and chocolaty tones, take it a bit darker.
Roasting Notes: This cup like most Kenyans, its best to avoid extreme roasts, too light or too dark will highly limit the fans of this cup. Very drinkable by anyone at a nice strong medium roast, only those who love classic Kenyan coffees will like it decently light or decently dark.
This cup is sourced from family owned farms organized around the UtamaGro cooperative, located in the Takengon highlands of the Aceh province on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. UtamaGro cooperative currently has 1174 members. On average, producers cultivate coffee on 2.5 acres of land using their own micro-mills to depulp and dry coffee. The cooperative hosts regular training on best agricultural practices to assist small producers with their organic certification while improving the quality of their coffee.
Tasting Notes: Full bodied and darker toned, low acidity with pretty clean chocolaty and smoky tones. Medium roasts are very smooth and creamy with just a hint of a sweet edge. A little hint of that classic herbal pete moss.
Roasting Notes: Medium to dark roast coffee, light roasts will be pretty underdeveloped and a little grassy but it blooms into an awesome cup starting about halfway between first and second crack.
These beans are sourced from small scale producers associated with the Sara Ate Cooperative which was founded in 2011. Members of Sara Ate cooperative come from villages near Takengon, a well-known coffee town in the province of Aceh located at the northern end of Sumatra. The cooperative currently has approximately 517 small coffee producing members. The typical processing method used by Sara Ate coffee producers is called “Giling Gasah” in the Bahasa language. This processing method starts with a locally made pulping machine called a “luwak” that removes the outer skin from the coffee cherries which are left to ferment for up to a day. Then the coffee is washed to remove the rest of the cherry and dried in parchment until the moisture content is reduced to 30% to 35%. Finally the parchment is removed from the bean while in this semi-wet state which gives the beans their unique bluish-green appearance.