Guide to Coffee Roast Styles

All of us coffee fans have at some point felt mystified by the seemingly endless and arbitrary list of distinct roast styles. What are the differences between “City,” “City Plus,” and “Full City”? What do we mean when we talk about “American,” “French,” “Italian,” and/or “Vienna” roasts? And why is one “Espresso Roast” so much darker than another? This article will clarify common terms used to indicate roast levels, and what characteristics can be expected from each broad category.

There is very little standardization of terms for roast levels, which often causes confusion. We generally find that only professional roasters actually benefit from a perfect understanding of all the specific styles; for most coffee lovers, it is good enough just to know the differences between “light” and “dark” (and why we at BCT almost always go for “medium”).

A Wide Spectrum of Coffee Roast Styles

All roast styles fall within a spectrum from lighter to darker, but sometimes the differences between the most popular roast styles – like “City,” “City Plus,” and “Full City” – are so tiny that it is difficult to get a clear vision of the whole spectrum. For example, those names indicate internal bean temperatures ranging between 426-437º F, and the difference in roasting times may be less than 1 minute, but the perceived differences in body and flavor profile can be very significant. Most boutique coffees that we consume in the United States are roasted somewhere within this very limited range, while most bargain coffees are further into medium-dark range (but not nearly as dark as some cultures like them!).

city roasts

“City,” “City Plus,” and “Full City” roasts – most boutique beans in the USA will be roasted within these levels

An experiment will help to clarify: treat the same beans with a City roast (426º F) and a Full City roast (437º F) – or just think of it as “two levels darker” – then taste-test them right next to each other, and you may be shocked by the big differences in body and flavor profile! But then give those beans a Cinnamon roast and a Spanish roast, and you may not even recognize them as the same coffee!

Viewed on the whole, all roasts will fall into one of four color levels, described below. Listed in parentheses are common names for specific roast styles falling within these broader color levels.

spectrum of roasts
Spectrum of coffee beans, from raw to burned. Everyone has different preferences, but we generally recommend aiming for the middle range of this spectrum; the extremes at either end (greenish yellow or totally black) will be unpalatable to most.

Since we cater to home roasters who are mostly figuring out their favorite roasts by trial and error and lots of fun taste-testing, rather than precision measurement of the internal temperatures of the beans, we recommend that you avoid stressing out about all the specific terminology – describing a roast level as “light” or “dark” rather than “New England” or “New Orleans” is just so much easier! But it can be fun to learn all the nuanced roastmaster vocabulary, so we have included popular names for specific roast levels. The designations listed in parentheses go from lighter to darker (though even this is debatable due to lack of standardized terminology). Those in italics are vague descriptors, less commonly used within the premium coffee world (though favored by the big cheap coffee companies), and quite frankly we do not know exactly what they mean, because everyone uses them differently!

Light Roasts (aka “Half City,” “Blonde,” “Cinnamon,” “New England,” “Light City”)

light roasts
Light Roasts – note that some chaff still clings to the beans on very light roasts

After a few minutes you will hear the first “crack.” The beans will have visibly expanded in size and will be a brighter orange-brown color, dry with no visible oils. “Blonde” (second to left) or “Cinnamon” (third to left) roasts may not even make it to first crack with some beans – we generally advise against such light roasts because they may taste raw and vegetal or “grassy.” But some enjoy light roasts because they are significantly higher in caffeine – “Half City” (far left) roasts may be barely drinkable, but nowadays they are often used for trendy high-caffeine beverages.

Light roasts are sometimes preferred for milder coffee varieties, and often will exhibit more of the subtle nuanced “origin flavor” or terroir. Generally, coffees roasted to this level can be expected to be higher in acidity and lighter in body, and they may taste harsh and underdeveloped.

Beans from regions such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Hawaii, and Jamaica are often light-roasted so that their signature characteristics shine through in the cup.

Medium Roasts (aka “City,” “American,” “City Plus,” also “Regular,” “Breakfast”)

medium roasts
Medium Roasts – a wide range! Notice how there are less specific names even though this is the largest section of the spectrum.

Shortly after “first crack” but before the “second crack” occurs, the beans are considered to be within the medium roast range. Beans will be medium brown and still exhibit a dry surface, though they may appear to have a slightly more velvety texture. “City” (far left) roasts generally end shortly after first crack, “City Plus” (fifth from left) may require a couple of minutes longer, but at this point the roast level will progress much more quickly, so pay close attention!

Medium-roasted coffees are generally preferred in the United States. There will be sweeter tones than the light roasts and the body will present more balance in acidity, aroma, and flavor.

A good place to start with a new unfamiliar coffee, most beans taste good medium-roasted, and it will be easy to assess whether a lighter or darker roast may be needed to better suit the bean or your own taste preferences.

And we encourage you to experiment! Coffee culture in the US has not yet invented distinctive names for the smallest shade variations, as Europeans have given to their preferred dark roasts, but the best part about home roasting is that you can figure out exactly what roast point is perfect for each unique bean – and you can call it whatever you like!

Medium-Dark Roasts (aka “Full City,” “Viennese” or “Vienna,” “Full City Plus,” also “Continental,” “European,” “After Dinner”)

medium-dark roasts
Medium-Dark Roasts – note how the surface begins to get a little oily as the beans near second crack, and some beans may be chipped

Eventually, you will hear the beans begin their “second crack’”and you will see oils rising to the surface. The beans will become a rich, dark color and appear slightly shiny. “Full City” (far left) is still a few moments short of second crack, while anything beyond “Full City Plus” (far right) will progress beyond the second crack phase and well into dark roast territory.

At this level flavors will tend more toward spicy, chocolate, and dark berries, a lower-acidity full-bodied cup with abundant aromas and a drier finish, more like baker’s chocolate or fine wine.

Central American, South American, and Indonesian coffees typically taste very good at this roast point.

Dark Roast (aka “French,” “Italian,” “Turkish,” “Neapolitan,” “New Orleans,” “Spanish,” also “High,” “Double”)

dark roasts
Dark Roasts – it becomes more challenging to notice the differences by color, but beans get significantly more oily as they are further roasted

After second crack, beans will swiftly turn very dark – Spanish-roasted coffees are charcoal black – and very shiny – touch them and the surface will be noticeably oily. In the roaster, beans will begin to smoke as sugars carbonize.

Tastes will be smoky/sweet with lighter body. The darker the roast the less acidity will be perceived in the cup. Dark roasting will also decompose much of the caffeine, so dark-roasted coffees will have less stimulant effect than light-roasted ones (this is the reason why high-caffeine Robusta beans are often added to espresso blends).

Many beans lose their distinctive flavor profiles under the dominant smoky flavors of a dark roast, but we have found that Brazilian and Indonesian beans stand up very well to this treatment.

burned coffee beans

Burned coffee beans – if they look
like this in your roaster, hit the
cool cycle before they start on fire!

Historically, mainstream tastes have tended toward the dark end of the spectrum (dark roasts are more reliable for consistent commercial coffees, simply because they blast all the unique flavors out of the beans) and therefore there are a lot more designations for incrementally darker roasts. The differences between “French” (far left) and “Spanish” (far right) roasts are actually much less than the differences between “City” and “City Plus” roasts. If you like a specific level within this range, be sure to pay very close attention to your roaster – once the beans get up to these high temperatures, they will be moving into the next roast level every few seconds!

“Espresso Roast” : We would like to note that there is no such thing as an “Espresso Roast.” Espresso is a brew style, not a roast style. It can be very tricky to guess the exact roast level of coffees labeled “Espresso Roast,” because every roaster has their own idea of what that means. But they typically reside within a predictable range – most beans intended for espresso are roasted medium-dark to dark (“Vienna,” “French,” “Italian,” or “Continental” roasts are all commonly used for espresso).

Also note that because coffees intended for espresso are usually a special blend of beans from different regions, challenges may arise due to inconsistencies in roasting times. For example, you may notice that our BCT Espresso and Jumpstart blends will roast up with some beans a little darker, some a little lighter – but don’t worry! – these are carefully crafted recipes that provide deep and balanced flavor profiles, and they are supposed to look that way.

An important note about “Set-up”:

A crucial detail often neglected when first learning about home coffee roasting is that freshly roasted coffee beans will off-gas carbon dioxide for several days, up to several weeks (and after this off-gassing is finished, they are considered stale). Carbon dioxide stored in the beans creates carbonic acid when it combines with water. This means that freshly roasted beans will taste more acidic than those that have rested or “set up” for a few days.

This part requires no work or attention – just put them in a bowl immediately after roasting and let them air out at room temperature. For most beans, we recommend letting them set up for at least 24 hours, up to a week or more, depending on the variety and your preferences. It can be really fun to experiment with the set-up curve – roast on Monday, then savor a sharp intense flavor profile on Tuesday, a milder medium-acidity cup on Thursday, and more balanced mellow tones on Saturday!

Often, we roast just enough to always have one fresh batch, but if you prefer to roast more and want to keep the beans fresher longer, simply put them in a sealed container after they have set up. Mason jars are preferred, but any reusable food storage container will suffice. Plastic bags must be the type with one-way valves, or else they will puff up with gases. Store at room temperature to maintain optimal moisture – refrigerators are too damp, freezers too dry. Please note that although you can slow the process with a sealed container, there is nothing that you can do to stop freshly roasted coffee from going stale – except to brew and drink it!

Remember to let beans “set-up” for at least 24 hours for optimal flavor


Read more Home Coffee Roasting Primers: Coffee RegionsCoffee Cultivars, and Coffee Processing Methods

Papua New Guinea’s Carpenter Estates Group: Extraordinary Coffees from a Unique Region

primitive house, gardens

In a world that is rapidly losing all of its wild places, Papua New Guinea’s Highlands region is still teeming with life of all forms as well as fascinatingly unique traditional cultures. Unimaginable diversity, both biological and cultural, is the overwhelming first impression that a new visitor will receive. Chaos may be a close second. But so it goes in places where the majority of people still live very close to the land – as every ecologist knows, systems with extreme diversity have a way of balancing themselves out quite perfectly, but they look a mess!

The Carpenter Estates group comprises 3 allied estates with a combined total of over 900 hectares in production, making them the largest coffee operation in the country. The 3 Carpenter Estates together present one of only a few examples in PNG which are producing premium coffees in a controlled, reliable, and professional way. To get a sense of the free-for-all style of the majority of PNG coffee harvesting and processing, check out this complementary article about the “Wild West of coffee production.”

Sigri Estate, along with Bunum Wo and Kindeng,
make up the Carpenter Estates Group

Carpenter Estates have a very different approach, one that may sound more familiar to those who like to support fair trade and socially responsible coffee production. Coffee estates all over the world often organize themselves as integrated villages, providing workers with structure and services as well as housing. Each of the Carpenter Estates – Sigri, Bunum Wo, and Kindeng – takes care of the needs of its workers fully, providing a modest but distinctively modern lifestyle almost totally independent from the outside world. This is especially significant in PNG, where roads, electricity, and clean water are still rare privileges. Inside the gated compounds of the Carpenter Estates, residents have access to high-quality housing, communal markets, farms for produce and livestock, schools, doctors, and other social services which are partly self-organized, partly guided and funded by estate managers.

Carpenter Estates also strive to improve the sustainability of their operations by conserving water and encouraging bird habitat. In addition to coffee trees, they carefully manage the forests by inter-planting two types of native shade trees which promote very even ripening of coffee cherries while also providing habitat for over 90 bird species.

For Sigri, Bunum Wo, and Kindeng beans, search our coffee list for “Papua New Guinea”

A view of Sigri Estate schoolhouse

All of the Carpenter Estates are nearby one another in the Wahgi Valley, which is one of only 3 places in the world where the finicky Blue Mountain cultivar can grow. The Kimel Estate (whose coffees we also carry) is a close neighbor.

The Highlands in the center of PNG are most definitely coffee country; it looks like every activity and infrastructure is directed primarily toward growing, harvesting, processing, and transporting coffee. The Highlands contain one significant city – Mount Hagen – which is the center of the coffee trade. Upon venturing out of the city, almost every sign of government or “civilization” in general quickly disappears. Electricity and running water are inconsistent; many get their water from rain collection. Roads are very poorly maintained, but sometimes kids fill the huge holes with rocks, and then collect change from grateful motorists. Adults work on the roads too, in the form of independent self-organized work crews; they typically maintain a short stretch of the road through their village and then demand tolls in return. Many villages have rudimentary flea market areas, but “businesses” as we think of them are non-existent; commerce is simply not a significant part of villagers’ daily lives. The coffee estates are an exception to the normal way of life, which still revolves around tribal villages and remains very isolated from the rest of the world.

In contrast to the small subsistence villages around them, each of the Carpenter Estates is home to thousands of people, full-time workers as well as some who participate only in the peak season (about 4000 total workers in peak season), plus all of their families. All of these residents have access to the social services of the estate, making it very appealing to any locals who may be longing for a different way of life.

Steep mountains create many micro-climates, weather and soil may change dramatically from one field to the next, and intimate knowledge of the land is vital to premium coffee production. At Carpenter Estates, workers whose families have been right there for many generations are capable of profound understanding and close relationship with the land and all plants that grow there. Jon observed that the overseers seemed to know personally every single coffee tree on the farm, and had an awareness of the individual needs of each, even though there are many thousands of trees in their care! They understand the particular soils in each corner of the mountainous landscape, the differences between the various strains of coffee in each plot, and exacting details of the care needed to improve the quality of the beans on each and every plant. This is knowledge passed down through generations, and creates a connection to place which is very meaningful (and very different than the perspectives held by most of us in the West).

Within each estate is a microcosm of overall PNG society. There are 3 main tribes that have claim to these lands: the Huli, Gogodala, and Meldpa. For millennia, their relationships to each other have been trying, sometimes violent and rarely commingled. This is typical of PNG’s 1000+ diverse cultures, and is fairly normal in traditional tribal societies in general. For Westerners, it may be easier to think of each tribe as more-or-less a village. Everyone is settled together in one place, sharing laws, language, spiritual beliefs, and agricultural practices. Neighboring settlements may contain different tribes with very different laws, languages, and practices, and these differences are still acutely felt when members of different tribes work together. On the Carpenter Estates, there are essentially 3 mini-villages to accommodate each of the tribes, but services like school and market are shared by all. In the fields, crews are made up of members of all 3 tribes, and they find ways to work together effectively, but split into their separate groups at the end of the day.

The special needs of these unique cultures do present challenges to efficiently running the estates, but managers have organized the workflow skillfully, and their extremely fastidious quality control coupled with expert processing proves that they have learned how to do it right. Each estate has independent fully functioning coffee production facilities – nursery, expert botanists, wet mill and drying patios. The one exception is that the 3 estates share a dry mill (used for final grading, sorting, and bagging of beans) for the sake of efficiency.

The mills on the estates have a very effective streamlined process that is running 365 days a year due to PNG’s perfect climate. Freshly harvested beans first enter the “wet milling” stage that sorts out the obviously bad beans and any sticks or debris, then the fruit is stripped off and clean beans soak in spring water for 12-36 hours to loosen any remaining fruit. Fancy pressure washers are used to fully wash the beans, and then they dry on patios until they reach the ideal 12% moisture, and finally go through “dry milling” to remove parchment and to be sorted by size. An extra step that is uncommon in other countries is to employ a large staff of real people (not automated machines) to closely inspect everything and pick out any remaining defected beans. This very precisely-controlled process leads to coffees that are clean, consistent, and far superior to many other coffees coming out of PNG.

The current owners are not the original founding family, as is often the case on well-established estates, but many of the managers have been born and raised in PNG (though they are of European/Australian descent) and they see their work as uplifting and benefiting the land and the people who live there. Not only are they creating sustainable agricultural practices with premium shade-grown coffee trees intermingled with native cloud forest species, but also running an enterprise that effectively increases access to the most beneficial aspects of modernization while still allowing locals to retain their traditional ways as they see fit.

Jon made many friends at the Carpenter Estates!

Workers at the Carpenter Estates are proud to be a part of a thriving business as well as intimately connected with their lands. They were born on these lands, and they will die there just like countless generations of ancestors. On the other hand, the estates provide structure, security, income and material improvements like electricity and clean water, making for a much higher standard of living than in surrounding villages. For many of the workers, access to sanitation, health care, and education for their children are dreams come true. Although they still maintain an ancient connection to the land, they are very grateful for the prosperity and comforts that come with modern technology (even if their lives may appear impoverished and challenging from the perspective of a US citizen).

The secret to PNG coffee is the people who produce it. On the Carpenter Estates, ancient agricultural heritage and intimate connection to land and all the plants on it makes for exceptionally attentive growing, harvesting, and processing, and ultimately produces some of the best coffees on the market.

For Sigri, Bunum Wo, and Kindeng beans, search our coffee list for “Papua New Guinea”


Papua New Guinea – The Wild West of Coffee Production

security guards, bow and arrow

Papua New Guinea is a fascinating region, even for those who are not interested in coffees – rich history, unique cultures, unparalleled biodiversity, and isolation from world markets have made this young nation truly unique. Nowhere else on earth will we find the same combination of ancient traditional life-ways with the chaos and opportunity brought by rapid modernization.

For coffee fans, mysterious PNG is even more enchanting due to its offerings of many uncommon and delicious beans. In 2017, Jon made a trip to PNG to visit some of our favorite estates and learn about the challenges and benefits that come with their unusual approach. He met lots of lovely kind people and was surprised by huge differences in culture and agriculture.

In brief, a lush tropical climate combined with high mountain ranges encourage an enormous diversity of “micro-climates” and create a land with unparalleled cultural and biological diversity. The Highlands region is perfectly placed to provide the ideal conditions for growing coffee. But the complex and peculiar sociopolitical situation in PNG makes effective, profitable coffee farming very challenging. Life is so very different than what we know in the West that it requires a lot of explaining to really accurately paint a picture of it – this article will highlight just a few of the most notable characteristics of the “Wild West of coffee production.”

For PNG beans like Sigri, Bunum Wo, Kindeng, Kimel, Kunjin, and/or Siane Chimbu, search our coffee list for “Papua New Guinea”

These houses (Sigri Estate) are much nicer than the
accommodations of many Papuans

Papua New Guinea was, until 1975, a neglected colony controlled by Australia. The entire island (which is now half PNG, half Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua) was a battleground for European colonial powers in the 19th century, until 1905 when the Brits kicked out other European settlers and turned over control of the territory to the Commonwealth of Australia. It was also the site of intense conflict between Japanese and Australian troops during World War II. But preceding and outlasting these colonial histories are the indigenous peoples who have inhabited the island for millennia – their ancestors were some of the first humans to journey out of Africa, and their cultures are some of the most ancient in the whole world.

With the backing of the UN, Papuans appealed for and gained independence in 1975, but it remains a part of the British Commonwealth system and is heavily dependent on Australian aid money for industrial development and public services. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s uprisings and civil war plagued Papuans as they struggled to find their place in the world.

Today, although traditional practices of head-hunting and ritual cannibalism have virtually disappeared, other forms of violence remain – PNG ranks very low on indexes of human rights and violence against women, and vigilante murders of “sorcerers” are not uncommon. Public education is woefully inadequate and illiteracy rates are extremely high.

On the other hand, PNG is unequaled in beautiful dense diversity, with over 1000 distinct cultures speaking over 800 languages. Many of these communities still practice traditional ways that are rarely seen anywhere else on earth. It is considered a “megadiverse” region because of the incredible numbers of unique endemic species. Wild food grows everywhere; banana trees sprout up like weeds.

It is also abundant in many natural resources, and exports of raw materials (gold, copper, petroleum, palm oil, tuna, etc) make up the majority of the economy. This fact in itself has led to many of the difficulties that Papuans face, as almost all of the corporations engaged in extraction are of foreign origin and do not seem to care much about their impacts; scientists predict that well over half of PNG’s rainforests will be destroyed by 2025.

One way in which Papuans have attempted to alter the legacy of colonization is to establish a system of “customary land title.” Only a tiny fraction of the land is held by private property owners; about 97% of the country is considered to belong to the indigenous inhabitants, and passed on to future generations by their traditional methods. This interesting concept can lead to big challenges; there are constant and unending arguments over who has the primary rights to any given piece of land. And as you might imagine, denying the right to private property makes it pretty tricky to run a coffee estate!

The Parliament is one of the fanciest buildings in
Port Moresby

Today, even the most impoverished developing nations have at least a few modern-looking cities. Papua New Guinea has just one, the capitol Port Moresby, pop. 300,000. Port Moresby has one shopping mall, one movie theater, and a handful of expensive hotels catering to tourists. All of these have been built in the last 10 years, giving a sense of how extremely isolated PNG has been. The city has well-maintained roads and some tall buildings, but is conspicuously non-Western in appearance; everything is locked down and gated, most houses and buildings are surrounded by tall walls, and security guards search cars and send pedestrians through metal detectors just to get into an ordinary restaurant. Police are notoriously corrupt and appear to spend most of their time harassing people at random in hopes of extorting bribes.

With the exception of a few foreigners, nearly everyone who lives in Port Moresby has left traditional village life to seek economic opportunity, most of them walking for many days just to get there, and only able to visit home once or twice per year. Most of these folks feel blessed to have clean water and electricity, amenities almost unheard of as recently as the ’70s, even though their lives may appear very hard-scrabble and destitute by Western standards. Jon observed that the mall and the movie theater are extremely popular – hundreds of people go there just to hang out and watch the hustle and bustle, even though they do not have enough money to purchase anything.

Rural PNG is another story entirely. Just getting to any location other than Port Moresby is a hefty challenge, because roads are incomplete and very poorly constructed. There are a couple of major highways connecting Port Moresby to other nearby economic centers, but beyond that it is typical to find roads that just end suddenly or disappear into enormous potholes. Adventurous travelers may find success traversing in a 4×4 truck, but they won’t get anywhere quickly! Most tourists who want to visit other areas do so in chartered bush planes. About 85% of Papuans live in tribal villages and practice traditional subsistence agriculture. They walk anywhere they need to go, and most of the time they have no incentives to travel outside of their familiar territory, especially given the potential for violence from other tribes with ancient rivalries.

Most of the premium coffee coming from PNG originates in the Highlands region, a mountainous spine stretching the length of the island. The Highlands are astoundingly abundant, covered in tropical cloud forests and relatively dense human populations.

A foreign visitor may be surprised and disturbed to see that nearly all of the trucks (no cars can handle the Highlands “roads”) are customized with thick steel bars welded across every window, sometimes even the windshield. But locals will reassure them that it is really not that bad – petty crimes and opportunistic thefts are just an accepted part of daily life in impoverished places, and relatively minor security precautions will discourage most anyone with devious intents.

Traditional village life is easy to witness in the Highlands; the main highway out of the city of Mount Hagen is dotted with clusters of humble houses and tiny local restaurants and pubs. Areas with more dense populations may have ramshackle flea markets, but stores as we think of them are non-existent. Most of the vendors have tiny rustic fruit and vegetable stands, plus a few racks of cheap clothes made in China hanging out in the sun. There are very few other industrial products beyond the most essential tools. Often, locals gather along the roadside and get great entertainment from watching traffic puttering by. For some, the one road snaking through their village may be their only exposure to the outside world. In fact, PNG is known to have numerous “uncontacted peoples” and there are still many settlements that have no roads whatsoever.

The climate in the Highlands is enviable, about 70-80° F every day, all year round. Proximity to the equator ensures consistent warmth, while the altitude keeps it from getting too hot. Seasonal concepts like spring, summer, autumn, and winter have no place in PNG; it is just Dry or Rainy. For those unfamiliar with tropical weather patterns, this can be hard to imagine. Basically, between November-March it rains every day, and the rest of the year it is sunny every day. We can’t even imagine weather conditions more different than what we get here in Wisconsin!

The combination of perfect temperatures and perfect altitudes create conditions in which coffee trees have an unbroken endless growing season, and they yield flowers, fruits and beans 365 days a year!

Almost all PNG coffees undergo standard washed processing, making them significantly different than neighboring Indonesian coffees, which use a special local processing method. PNG fans rave about their coffees’ sweetness, often describing them as bright, syrupy or “full-bodied,” with notes of honey, melon, or cocoa. 

For PNG beans like Sigri, Bunum Wo, Kindeng, Kimel, Kunjin, and/or Siane Chimbu, search our coffee list for “Papua New Guinea”

On the other hand, many PNG coffees may be unpredictable or a little rough. This is because almost all of them are processed and bagged in aggregate mills, which do not engage in cultivation at all. At one point, there were a number of coffee estates in the Highlands, but most lost their property rights when Papuans gained independence and insisted on reducing foreign control of their lands. When the “customary land title” policy was implemented, many European settlers just gave up and returned to their motherlands – but the coffee trees remained.

So now, most coffee harvesting is done by enterprising individuals who wander the Highlands rainforests and pick any ripe coffee cherries that they may find. Estate owners complain that they must constantly defend their crops from thieves who sneak in late at night and cart off as much as they can carry.

Due to lack of expertise, many of these “coffee foragers” pick far too many under- or over-ripe beans, just grabbing whatever they come across until their pick-up truck is overflowing. Truckloads of freshly picked cherries line up outside of aggregate mills every single day, and foragers are paid pennies per pound. This is justified by saying that the quality is low and that the mill workers are forced to spend countless hours screening out under- or over-ripe cherries, but we can’t help but wonder… if the mills paid people better, maybe they would try harder to do a good job?

Regardless, at the end of the day, coffees coming out of these aggregate mills are very mixed up – many different varieties coming from many different locations – and they can be inconsistent and sometimes intense, edgy. For some, this is part of what makes PNG coffees exciting, but for others it is unappealing.

The good news for our coffee connoisseurs is that there are a handful of estates which have managed to hold onto control of their lands, and these professional operations are practicing stringent quality-control measures and producing reliably outstanding beans that we love.

Supervised by expert coffee producers, the mills on the professional estates have a very effective streamlined process, beginning with the “wet milling” stage that sorts out the obviously bad beans and any sticks or debris. Then the fruit is stripped off and clean beans soak in spring water for 12-36 hours to loosen any remaining fruit. Fancy pressure washers are used to fully wash the beans more quickly and efficiently than the channel systems that are used by most processors. After this, beans dry on patios until they reach the ideal 12% moisture, then go through “dry milling” to remove parchment and to be sorted by size. A final step that is uncommon in other countries is to employ a large staff of real people (not automated machines) to closely inspect everything and pick out any remaining defected beans. This very precisely-controlled process leads to coffees that are clean, consistent, and far superior to many other coffees coming out of PNG.

One of the farms with which we work closely is called Kimel Estate. In the heart of the Wahgi Valley (one of only 3 locations where the sensitive Blue Mountain cultivar can grow), this smaller estate is noteworthy for its indigenous ownership – it was purchased from the Australian founders by a coalition of local tribes in 1979 – and its pursuit of sustainability through recycling of wash water and composting fruit/pulp into fertilizer.

The Carpenter Estates Group oversees three different farms – Sigri, Bunum Wo, and Kindeng – also located nearby in the Wahgi Valley. We have another article highlighting everything that we love about this awesome exceptional coffee producer.

We highly encourage our customers to try premium Papua New Guinea coffees. From megadiverse rainforest origins to sweet and sparkly cup profile, PNG coffees are unique and exciting, and the “Wild West of coffee production” may be the next frontier for intriguing and delicious boutique beans.

For PNG beans like Sigri, Bunum Wo, Kindeng, Kimel, Kunjin, and/or Siane Chimbu, search our coffee list for “Papua New Guinea”


NEW! Berry Mint Black BCT Premium Blend

Berry Mint Black Tea

We are very excited to launch another custom BCT Blend. With a lovely sweet South Indian Nilgiri BOPF black tea and a unique blend of premium fruits and herbs, this versatile tea will appeal to many different tastes.

This unusual mix will surprise you with a big punchy flavor! The fine sweet Nilgiri brings only light astringency and virtually zero bitterness, while a dynamic fruit blend of currant, black currant, lemon peel and hibiscus turn the cup a pretty red color and provide a tart fruit punch note right up front. A little spearmint subtly rounds out the vibrant flavor profile; it may be noticeable only in an effervescent aroma and slightly chilly mouthfeel lingering after other flavors fade.

“BOPF” stands for “Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings.” The “Orange Pekoe” part of the name indicates that this is an above-average quality tea, while the “Broken” and “Fannings” descriptors mean that we have only the smallest pieces left over after the larger pieces (considered higher grade) have been sold. This is still a very yummy tea! but due to lower grading it is available at a discount price. Keep in mind that the small particles cause this tea to extract faster – basically, you get a stronger cup from significantly less leaves. Fortunately, this exceptional Nilgiri is very sweet and does not turn bitter, making it a perfect match for the strong tart fruits and cool herbs in this blend.

We have tested this blend at various steep times, and found that with less or more extraction the flavor profile changes dramatically. Steep for a shorter time (2-3 minutes) to highlight the black tea and spearmint flavors. Steep for a longer time (4-6 minutes) and watch the liquor turn bright red as it further infuses strong sour flavors of hibiscus, currant, and lemon.

Steeping Time: 2-6 minutes

Water Temp: 212 F

Nilgiri “Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings” tea, spearmint, lemon peel, hibiscus, currant, black currant, elderberry, natural and artificial flavorings

Buy Berry Mint Black BCT Premium Blend

Guide to Coffee Processing Methods

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.

drying coffee beans in greenhouses

Drying coffee beans in greenhouses

Natural Processing (also known as Dry Processing)

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.

natural process coffee beans

Natural Process beans tend to be more varied and
appear kind of brown/orange/yellow

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.

coffee processing machines
Coffee processing machines at Nicaragua’s
Selva Negra Estate

Washed Processing (also known as Wet Processing)

Washed Processing is the original premium processing method, developed in the early 19th century alongside Industrial Revolution advances in mechanical technology.

The first part of the process is called “wet milling.” Step one is to remove all of the fruit, usually within 24 hours of harvest. Immediately after fruit removal with a “pulper” that repeatedly washes and brushes the coffee cherries, mostly-clean beans are dumped into tanks/tubs of spring water where they soak for 12-48 hours. A tiny bit of fermentation happens to loosen any fruit left on the beans. Then farmers move beans through a channel system with fresh water continuously running over them (or in some cases specialized pressure-washer machines), until the water is clear and all remaining fruit has been removed. At the other end of the channel system, beans are hauled off to drying patios or huge rotating drum dryers called “gardiolas” until they reach 12% moisture. 

The second part is called “dry milling,” and involves passing beans through a series of machines that remove chaff and sort by size and density, leading to coffees that are very clean and consistent. This aspect of Washed Processing is what facilitates commercial roasters’ success with much larger batch sizes and darker roast points (too much chaff can be a fire hazard).

washed process coffee beans

Washed Process beans usually appear pale green
and very consistent

Because washing beans before and after minimal fermentation removes most of the fruit flavors and acidity, more subtle cocoa and spicy flavors often rise to the fore in “Fully Washed” coffees. They also tend to be much more reliable from lot to lot – a washed coffee is unlikely to bring too many surprises.

Hybrid Washed Processing:

There are countless variations on both Natural and Washed Processing – think of it more like a spectrum than a pair of opposites.

Nowadays, some farmers are experimenting with leaving beans in cherries for a short time before running through the washing process, which tends to impart a little consistent fruit note in the cup. These coffees are sometimes called “Double Washed” because cherries and beans go through multiple tubs to ensure that the fermentation process is expertly controlled. Some farms are even playing with enzymatic or yeast treatments during the soaking period, scientifically imparting very specific flavors in a fashion similar to craft beers. Or maybe they got the idea from the celebrated Kopi Luwak – now there is an unusual coffee processing method!

Back in the day, Washed coffee never had a fruit note in the cup. If it did, it was inconsistent and usually came from a couple of beans getting stuck in the soak tubs and over-fermenting. This is why the term “ferment” is sometimes used to describe a defect. But popular trends toward exciting and novel Natural coffees are dramatically changing the market demands, and so nowadays many farms purposely give their Washed beans a slight ferment treatment to produce a more interesting cup.

Next, we will look at some of the most popular hybrid processing methods…

Semi-Washed Processing

A few very different specialty techniques all fall under the broad category of Semi-Washed Coffee Processing. In most cases, these hybrid processing formulas are made necessary by regional climate variations, or may be new experimental methods employed in the pursuit of exciting new flavors.

“Pulped Natural” :

Common in Brazil and beginning to be adopted for boutique lots in other Latin American countries, this process uses slightly less water than traditional Fully Washed but minimizes the fermentation much more than a typical Natural. Basically, farmers just skip the soaking step (which produces a little fermentation) by using a special machine to remove just the outer skin of the coffee cherry, leaving most of the fruit or “pulp” still attached before they spread them out on the drying patio. Beans dry out significantly faster than in the normal Natural Process, gaining only minimal fruity notes, and then the pulp is blasted off the beans with a special pressurized-water pulper.

The biggest benefit of this method is that sorting out bad beans (ie, under- or over-ripe) before they go through the pulper is much easier, so the end result is significantly more controlled and consistent than other methods, while reducing at least some of the excessive water wastage commonly seen in Washed Processing. The flavor profiles will tend to be almost exactly like Washed Processing though, so the name can feel a little misleading.

Honey” :

“Honey” or “Miel” Coffee Processing is a trendy new technique becoming more popular in Central America, and it produces coffee with less acidity than natural or washed processes. Honey Processing involves stripping off the skin and outer layer of fruit right after picking, then beans are dried with some residual fruit, a sticky (“honey”) layer called “mucilage” still clinging to the thin seed skin that eventually becomes the chaff. Depending on the farmers’ desired outcome, they may leave more fruit on the beans and extend the dry times to get closer to a ferment Natural, or they may strip off all but a tiny bit and then rinse the beans in spring water, speed up dry times, and get a product much closer to Washed Process.

For farmers, the advantage of Honey Processing is an approximation of some of the interesting characteristics of Natural coffees with lower risk of mold and over-fermentation and a slightly shorter dry time. For consumers, the appeal lies in intensely sweet coffees that stand out from traditional Central American varietals.

honey process coffee beans

Honey Process beans often appear speckled or
two-toned due to inconsistencies in thickness of
mucilage layer on each bean

Again, be sure to read the tasting notes so that you will know what to expect with each distinct Honey Process coffee. Often times it is difficult to tell the difference between a Honey Process coffee at the natural end of the spectrum and a true “Full Natural,” and likewise between a Honey Process coffee at the washed end of the spectrum and a true “Fully Washed.” The Natural end of the spectrum may produce more uniform beans, or if closer to Washed the main perk is often raised acidity and sweetness (of course, many lots will fall around the middle of the spectrum and display a combination of both benefits). This may be contrary to your expectations – usually, Washed coffees are known for consistency, and Naturals are known for brighter flavors – but that is just part of what makes Honey coffees so fun to try!

Choosing between Honey Process coffees is made a little more confusing by a vague color-coding system used by some estates. Color codes are based simply on the look of the beans and are determined mostly by exposure to light. Yellow Honey has had the most light exposure, indicating that it dried quickly, in about 1 week (and therefore will tend to be closer to the Washed end of the spectrum). Red Honey is kept mostly in the shade to slow the drying time to about 2 weeks (and therefore will be in the middle of the spectrum). In sunny conditions, farmers will cover the drying coffee completely to reduce light exposure, and Black Honey coffees get the most shelter from the light, meaning they dry slowly, usually three weeks or more (and therefore will tend to be closer to the Natural end of the spectrum). This extremely labor-intensive method produces the rarest and most expensive of the Honey Process coffees.

Indo Wet-Hulled” :

indo wet hulled process coffee beans

Indo Wet-Hulled Process beans have an
attractive dark jade color but may appear
inconsistent and/or splotchy

Indonesia has an old-world process, used for 90% of their beans, which falls into the semi-washed category but has a very different result. Another tradition necessitated by regional climate, Indonesia’s harvest season is very wet, and the requirements of transportation between islands means that farmers needed to develop a technique that effectively preserved the beans even if it was impossible to dry them fully on the estate.

Usually a low-tech method, it begins with farmers stripping off some of the fruit and drying the beans down to about 20-30% moisture content, then they reintroduce water to the beans and wash off the fruit, and then clean beans are laid out on palm leaves on the ground (occasionally cement patios in some modern areas) and allowed to dry slowly. This special process greatly reduces acidity, and although these beans look a little splotchy in the roaster, they produce a cup full of rich body and robust earthiness, making them favorites for dark roasts.

Other Special Processing Methods

“Monsooned” :

This one is a real oddball, but we get questions about it so often that we figured that it just had to be listed here. “Monsooned” coffee, a specialty product coming only from India, first goes through a typical Washed Process. After that, things get really interesting…

monsooned process coffee beans

Monsooned Process beans look funny, but taste
delicious! They typically appear very pale yellow,
puffy and light

Historically, coffee grown in India spent weeks or months on ships crossing the wide oceans. Sometimes, the torrential downpours of the monsoon season trapped ships in harbor for an additional 3 months or more. Coffee beans on these ships absorbed water from the hot moist air, then dried again, repeatedly swelling in size and subtly changing chemistry and flavor profile.

Originally, this process was unintentional and undesirable, but it turned out that a lot of people really enjoyed the mild, low acidity, creamy and earthy body of this unique offering. So, over the generations Indian coffee farmers learned how to reproduce the effect consistently and called the distinctive puffy blonde beans “Monsooned.”

During the rainy season of June-August, coffee beans are spread out inside well-ventilated warehouses and allowed to slowly absorb moisture. After bloating in size, beans must be periodically bagged and stacked for a time, and then spread out again to ensure proper and uniform “monsooning.” That means that beans are frequently tested to ensure that they are retaining just the right moisture content, and makes this an extremely labor-intensive process.

After September, when rains finally subside and temperatures rise, ghostly pale beans are sent through the final grading (gravity tables and hand-sorting) to confirm consistency and quality, and then exported. This special processing method produces very low acidity, thick rich body, and subdued earthy and spicy tones, making an exceptional dark roast.


All decaffeinated coffee beans will first go through one of the above processing methods. After beans are fully prepared, they must go through an additional process to remove caffeine.

In the early days of decaffeination, concentrated chemical solvents were used to strip the caffeine out of the beans. At first it was primarily benzene, but although that process was easy and effective, it was undesirable because it sometimes made the beans taste bad and many consumers feared the carcinogenic effects of benzene in their coffee. In theory, 100% of chemical solvents were removed before sale, and even if not, the benzene would evaporate during roasting – but still, it made people worry.

Many other solvents have been tested, and today the two that are favored are methylene chloride or ethyl acetate, both cheap common industrial chemicals that leave no toxic residue. These chemical decaffeination processes are mostly conducted by factories in Europe – you might see the label KVW (Kaffee Veredelugs Werk) – and account for the vast majority of decaf coffees. These methods continue to be popular because they are relatively easy, requiring only that beans be soaked in large tanks filled with solvents diluted in water. The specialized solvents selectively leach out caffeine but leave most of the countless other natural chemicals that give the beans their unique flavors.

mountain water process decaf beans

Decaffeinated beans are often a rough brown color –
these beans have not yet been roasted!

It took over 50 years of research and experimentation, but finally in the 1980s, scientists had perfected a commercial-scale method which used water only to produce delicious, premium-quality decaffeinated coffees. Nowadays there are two competing but nearly identical proprietary processes. Both are trademarked and highly restricted to a single operation, making them relatively rare. You may have seen coffees labeled SWP (Swiss Water Process, made in British Columbia, Canada) or MWP (Mountain Water Process, made in Puebla, Mexico). We will focus on the Mountain Water Process, which is used for almost all of the decaf beans that we carry.

Basically, processors begin with one small batch of beans that are sacrificed – they are steamed or soaked in nearly-boiling water for many hours to leach out caffeine (and many other compounds with it) until the water is thick with oils, acids, alkaloids, etc. The caffeine is removed selectively by passing water through specialized charcoal filters, and then this water is reserved for the next batch of beans.

When the next batch is processed in essentially the same way, but using water already dark with coffee compounds, this causes the caffeine to leach out, but most of the other chemicals – the oils, acids, and alkaloids that give coffee all of its diverse flavors – are already at maximum saturation so they just stay in the beans. Once again, the water is passed through caffeine filters and then reused on the following batch.

The suppliers of both Mountain Water Process and Swiss Water Process coffees claim that 99.9% of caffeine is removed, easily surpassing the FDA requirement of 97% removal. And they produce decaf coffees that are exceptionally tasty, retaining the unique flavors of regional terroir and premium coffee processing methods. But they do give the beans a rough brown appearance, and therefore only lots that already look imperfect are sent to decaffeinated batches.

Coffee chemistry sure is fascinating, and we look forward to learning more as new techniques are developed. Some recent variations on Mountain Water Process involve percolating carbon dioxide through lower-temperature water – this is supposedly even better at preserving flavors. And scientists are now experimenting with innovative “Supercritical CO2 Processes” which almost completely avoid using water at all! And just like every other aspect of the coffee industry, we expect to see increasingly clever and effective ways of producing top-notch delicious specialty coffees in generations to come.

A note about “Peaberries” :

"flat beans" v. "peaberries"

“Flat Beans” (leftt) and “Peaberries” (right) are
separated for more predictable and consistent
roasting – both lots are from PNG’s Carpenter Estate

Most coffee cherries contain two seeds; these double seeds grow round on the outsides and flatten against each other on the inside, creating the distinctive shape of normal coffee beans. A small percentage of the time, only one seed gets fertilized, and it grows into a round shape – these abnormal beans are called “Peaberries.”

Peaberries are initially mixed in with normal beans and go through all the same processing methods, but at the end of processing they are very often sorted out into a separate “PB” lot. This is easy to do automatically because they tend to be more dense than the other beans, and is desirable because peaberries may roast unevenly when not separated. Because they roast differently, peaberries may present a slightly different flavor profile than normal beans from the same harvest, even if they went through an identical processing method.

Remember, all of the beans that we carry are superior quality and delicious. We collect the best examples of a wide variety of different processing methods in order to appeal to a wide variety of different tastes. Although processing method is the primary influence on the cup profile, it is also affected by the soil and climate of the growing region as well as the cultivar – compare a Brazil Caturra with a Colombia Caturra, or a Colombia Caturra with a Colombia Gesha, and you may find that they are incredibly different even if they are all “Fully Washed.” Be sure to always consult tasting and roasting notes to better understand the potential of each unique lot.


Read our other Primers: Coffee Regions, Coffee Cultivars, and Coffee Roast Styles

Intro to Home Coffee Roasting

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:

  1. Fresh coffee tastes better! Unroasted coffee beans stay fresh for a year or more, and require no refrigeration
  2. Green coffee beans are much cheaper, so you can purchase larger amounts of your favorite specialty top lots and treat your friends!
  3. 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

Ethiopean Natural Coffee Beans
Green 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!


2. Heat

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!

roasting coffee in large pan
Roasting coffee in a large pan is much easier on a
gas burner, but even an electric range can suffice –
stir, stir, stir!
finished roasting
Roasted beans go into an open container for a
few days of “set-up”

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.

FreshRoast SR500 Electronic Roaster
Fresh Roast SR500 Electronic Roaster

All-in-One: Home Coffee Roasters

For those whose home coffee roasting experience is focused on the luxury of that perfect cup or on the fulfillment that comes with mastery of new skills, consider investing in specially designed counter-top Home Coffee Roasters. We have affordable and easy family-size machines for beginners, and for hardcore coffee fanatics we have powerful and elegant semi-pro machines that can be used at home or as small commercial units. There are two types of roasters:

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!

For beginners, we recommend the easy and affordable FreshRoast SR540 – if you are considering buying a new roaster, please read our guide to using the SR540 and watch the video demo.

An important note about “set-up”:

Please remember that regardless of what roasting method you choose, freshly roasted beans will be at their peak of flavor only after they have “set-up” for a day or more. Read our primer about roasting styles to learn more.

Are you ready to begin your home-roasting adventure? Read more here!

Want to learn more about Green Coffee before diving in? Follow these links:

What is Green Coffee? What are Green Coffee Beans?

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?

Choosing Premium Green Coffees: Our recommendations for beginning to explore our diverse selection: 3 lb Bundles and Sales.

Learn How to Use a Home Coffee Roaster

Learn what to expect from different roast levels and the wide Spectrum of Roast Styles

Learn how the terroirs of Growing Regions, specific Strains or Cultivars, and the Processing Methods used after harvesting – all affect the taste and roast characteristics of each unique green coffee.

Ready to get started?

Guide to Coffee Regions

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!).

mountainous coffee plantation
Steep slopes of Guatemala’s Finca Vista Hermosa

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!

Kenyan coffee

Sacks of coffee from Kenya proudly proclaim their
African origin

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.

mechanical coffee harvester

Mechanical Harvester on Brazil’s Sao Francisco Estate

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 (West)

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.

Asia (East) & Oceania

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.

hand-sorting coffee beans

Jon learns about hand-sorting methods in
Java, Indonesia

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.


Read our other primers: Coffee Cultivars, Coffee Processing Methods, and Coffee Roast Styles

NEW! Sikkim Temi Tea Garden B.O.P. Black Tea

Sikkim Temi Tea Garden "Broken Orange Pekoe" Black Tea

We just got our hands on a really special micro-lot, and we are excited to pass it along to all of our tea fans at a discount price! 

This high-quality single-estate black tea is very sweet, malty and mild, with honey notes up front and a moderate astringency that builds complexity with longer steeping, to eventually deliver a sharper mouth-feel and more robust profile, but still notably sweet and pleasant.  It is just as perfect for a rich, fully steeped milk-and-sugar tea time energizer (British style) as it is for a more delicate treatment that produces a pretty peach-colored liquor and an enticing floral-malty aroma (Chinese style).  A classic, perfectly-processed black tea, this sweet Sikkim is comparable to our popular Grand Keemun.

Temi Tea Garden is the only tea estate in the tiny province of Sikkim in Northeast India.  Squeezed between Nepal and Bhutan and neighboring famous tea-producing regions Assam and Darjeeling, the estate sprawls over mountainous slopes surrounding an old Sherpa village.  It is state-owned and is considered to produce some of the finest black teas in the world.  Winner of several prestigious awards from the Tea Board of India, they now employ entirely organic cultivation methods.

“Orange Pekoe” is a confusing label for tea. It is very important to note that there is nothing related to the orange fruit or flower in this tea.   The old-fashioned British term simply indicates mid-grade tea leaves grown in ideal conditions (compare to “Pekoe” grown in lower-quality regions like Sri Lanka or Kenya) but harvested later in the season and therefore containing few of the prized young buds or “tips” (compare to a high-grade early harvest, which might be called “Supreme Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe,” and be labeled with the ridiculous acronym “SFTGFOP”).  “Broken” indicates that the leaves have been chopped to make them easier to put into convenient tea bags.  It does not mean that the quality of the tea is less, but it does again significantly reduce the price simply because the tea does not look as attractive. 

On close inspection of this “Broken Orange Pekoe” tea, you will notice that many of the leaves are orange-tan, golden, or even silver colored, indicating relatively young leaves, minimal oxidation, and fresh mild flavors.  You will never find another BOP like this one – even though this tea is considered mid-grade by the growers at Temi, it is one of the finest cups we have ever tasted. 

Try this special tea while it is still in stock!  And check back later – we look forward to trying to track down more premium products from this exceptional estate!

Steeping Time: 3 minutes

Water Temp: 212 F

Sikkim “Broken Orange Pekoe” tea

Buy Sikkim Temi Tea Garden B.O.P. Black Tea

NEW! Smoky Grey BCT Blend

"Smoky Grey" black tea

Two classic flavored teas taste even better when blended together! Earl Grey is revered for its crisp fresh citrus peel zip, while Lapsang Souchong is famous for its highly warming liquor whose silky body is beyond compare. Put them together and you have a cup that is amazingly cool and warm at the same time, with bergamot and pine smoke aromas hinting at winter potpourri warming on a wood stove, and with a pleasing mouth-feel and mild sweet and malty tones that infuse the spirit with calm, gentle energy.

This blend of two quite different teas creates an entirely new flavor profile! With a hint of astringency adding crispness at the same time that the pine smoke mellows and warms all flavors, the mild Smoky Grey teas are very refreshing and easy to drink. The tea leaves’ rich sweet malty tones hold up the exciting added flavors and make this a delightful cup for anyone who prefers pure tea without milk, sugar, etc. A squeeze of lemon will amplify bergamot flavors, and a dab of honey will warm you up even more. For those who do like milk, this blend would be a delightful alternative in our Recipe for a London Fog (Earl Grey Latte).

Steeping Time: 3 minutes

Water Temp: 212 F

Black tea, natural and artificial flavorings

Buy Smoky Grey BCT Blend

NEW! Toasty Apple Tart BCT Premium Blend

Toasty Apple Tart BCT Premium Blend

Warming up with a steaming mug of Toasty Apple Tart, you may find yourself drifting back to memories of grandma’s kitchen, gleefully savoring home-baked goodies around the wood stove. This unique blend combines malty Sri Lankan Pekoe with smoky Chinese Lapsang Souchong and a variety of sweet zesty fruits and spices, producing lovely apple pie aromas and a charming pink liquor.

Lapsang Souchong is famous for its silky body, and when combined with fruit and floral elements it produces a highly stimulating mouth-feel and a cornucopia of flavors and aromas all over the tongue. The first and most obvious descriptors for this blend are “sweet” and “tart” – but the rich and surprisingly wide-ranging flavor profile also includes subtle floral notes, a prominent malty element, a moderate astringency hidden under the sweetness, and a light smokiness that warms and slightly softens the more robust tones.

Because of the diverse ingredients, there are several different scrumptious flavor profiles that can be achieved, depending on your preference. At a quicker steep, subtly floral vanilla is not yet overpowered by smoky and malty notes. At a longer steep, hibiscus and orange peel turn the cup a brighter red and begin to dominate with strong syrupy sour tones.

Perfect for a gentle evening pick-me-up, the fruits and spices bulking up this blend mean that there is relatively less tea in it, and consequently less caffeine, making it a very mild feel-good cup.

Please Note: Teas in this blend have some strong bitter/astringent notes when steeped too much. Therefore we recommend using 1.5 grams (or about ¾ teaspoon) of tea for every 6 ounces of water and steeping for 3 minutes or less.

Steeping Time: 2-3 minutes

Water Temp: 212 F

Pekoe and Lapsang Souchong black teas, apple, hibiscus, rose hips, orange peel, pine smoke and vanilla natural flavorings

Buy Toasty Apple Tart BCT Premium Blend

How to Make a Matcha Latte

matcha instant tea powder

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.

Matcha Latte

Serves: 1


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.

Buy Premium Kansai Matcha

Buy Chinese Organic Matcha

Guide to Coffee Cultivars

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.

Old-World Origins:

Typica coffee plants
Typica coffee seedlings at Carpenter Estate, PNG

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.

Natural Mutations:

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.

coffee trees, planted indoors
BCT’s pet coffee trees have not yet mutated to suit
the frigid Wisconsin weather! We bring them inside
for about half of each year, but it sure cheers us up
to see a little green in our warehouse!

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.

Intentional Hybrids:

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.

Catua coffee plants
Catuai coffee fields at Fazenda Sao Fancisco, Brazil

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.

Rare Varietals:

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.

SEE OUR FULL LIST of premium COFFEES for home coffee roasting

Read our other primers: Coffee Regions, Coffee Processing Methods, and Coffee Roast Styles

NEW! Chinese Organic Matcha

matcha instant tea powder

Matcha (literally “ground tea”) is a famous specialty tea hailing from Japan. A cup of matcha is a stunning vibrant green color, with a very thick body and powerful flavors. Because of the unique processing method, these strong flavors tend more toward rich and sweet rather than the astringent and grassy tones that one expects from green tea.

Matcha requires an extremely labor-intensive process, beginning with covering tea bushes with black sheets as the buds begin to grow. This prevents tannins from forming and encourages extra chlorophyll production, leading to the vivid green color and exceptional sweetness of this special cup. Young leaves are harvested and immediately preserved using pressure-steaming, then dried. Tough stems and veins are removed, then the remaining leaf material is ground into a very fine powder.

Because of the enormous amount of labor that goes into every cup, matcha is relatively rare and typically very pricey! We are excited to find this variety – it is organic and exceptional, but because it is made in China, it is also significantly more affordable – win-win! Compared to Japanese matchas that we have tried, this one is a little more mild but still very yummy, with good consistency, impressive color, and an incredibly uplifting “tea high” experience that just cannot be replicated with ordinary teas!

Consuming the entire tea leaf has incredible health benefits – abundant chlorophyll, amino acids, and other powerful phytochemicals give a cup of matcha more than 100x the antioxidants available in ordinary green tea! In Japan it is claimed that matcha boosts metabolism, lowers cholesterol and blood sugar, aids in weight loss, provides numerous valuable vitamins and trace minerals, and detoxifies the body while it calms and focuses the mind.

Preparing matcha requires a special technique, detailed below:

  • First, using a small sifter to break up any chunks, sift 1-2 tsp matcha powder into a traditional tea bowl or very large cup.
  • Add 2 oz hot water (for best results use water just under a boil, approx 200 F).
  • Use a bamboo tea whisk to whip the tea until it gets frothy. If you do not have a tea whisk, a small spoon can work fine (maybe easier if you add a little water to the powder and make a consistent paste before adding the rest of the water and whipping). Typically, a very fast zig-zag motion will yield the best results.
  • Add more water to taste, but not more than 6 oz – a proper cup of matcha has a thick frothy consistency similar to a latte
  • Sip and enjoy!

Steeping Time: Instant

Water Temp: 200 F

Stone-ground organic tencha green tea

Buy Organic Chinese Matcha

Matcha is also used as an ingredient in many excellent dishes and beverages, including green tea lattes, smoothies, cakes, mochi, and countless other recipes. Below we have included an easy recipe to get you started. Matcha lattes are more and more popular as a unique and healthful coffee alternative, as thick body and rich and sweet flavors make matcha and milk great allies.

RECIPE: Matcha Latte

Serves: 1


  • 1/4 Cup boiling water
  • 3/4 Cup unsweetened almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, or cow milk
  • 1 teaspoon matcha powder
  • Honey, agave syrup, or other liquid sweetener

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.

NEW! Japanese Genmaicha

japan genmaicha green tea with popped rice

Genmaicha is a very popular health tea in Japan. The name means “brown rice tea,” as it includes roasted popped brown rice in addition to the mild bancha tea; this variety also includes popped corn for a little extra sweetness. It is cherished for its warm nutty flavor and its abundant minerals and micro-nutrients. With a pale yellow liquor that is sweet, very mild, and lower in caffeine, this wholesome tea is appealing to all and makes a great daily health tonic, especially beneficial for overcoming illness or tolerating extended fasting.

The starch in the rice makes genmaicha remarkably sweet, with caramel and barley tones arising gradually out of the charming roasty aroma. The flavor profile may remind you of Japanese rice crackers such as the popular okaki – roasted rice mimics the nutty and malty tones of black tea, while gentle bancha tea leaves provide pleasant light astringency and a tiny herbal bite that deepens the rich grain flavors lingering on the palate.

Originally consumed only by poor Japanese, as the rice served as a filler and reduced the price, it is also known as the “people’s tea”. It has been used by those fasting for religious purposes or working long hours without meals, and now is popular among all levels of Japanese society. Very warming, not to mention easy to drink and soothing to the stomach, genmaicha is a fortifying beverage for those who are feeling exhausted or under the weather.

Please note that the recommended way to steep this tea is slightly different from other green teas. This is to encourage the roasty notes of the rice to really come to the front while avoiding overpowering them with the sharper flavors of the tea.  If you choose to steep it in the traditional Japanese style, higher amounts of leaves will reduce the steeping time – we recommend beginning with 175F water for 90-120 seconds.  Then, for a second re-steep, use hotter water for less time (190F, 30-60 seconds).  You may be able to pull a third steep with boiling water for 90 seconds, but it will be fairly thin.

Steeping Time: 3-5 minutes

Water Temp: 175 F

Bancha green tea, roasted popped brown rice, popped corn

Buy Japanese Genmaicha

Beyond Tea: Our Favorite Herbal Infusions

Herbal Energizer infusion tea

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 herbal tea infusion
Winter Elixir

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 herbal tea infusion
Lavender Sleepy Time BCT Premium Blend

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 herbal tea infusion
Bianca Blend

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 herbal tea infusion
Herbal Energizer

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 herbal tea infusion
Holy Detox

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.

How to Steep the Perfect Cup of Tea

steeping the perfect cup of tea

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 degrees. 

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.

exquisite pearls white tea
“Exquisite Pearls” unfold elegantly as they steep

For more information about our different teas, check out our tea blog posts! A couple of intro-level articles overview our offerings and are highly recommended for those just beginning their tea exploration adventures: “Welcome to the Wonderful World of Tea” and “Tea 101: Types of Tea” – more coming soon!

How to make a Rooibos-Cider Hot Toddy

Warm Rooibos Cocktails

Try this delicious recipe for an extra-special rooibos-based winter warm-up:


Serves: 1


  • 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).

warm rooibos cocktail
Rooibos Hot Toddy is a wonderful winter warm-up!

Rooibos Herbal Infusions

Warm Rooibos Cocktails

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.

Rooibos - Herbal Chocolate Chai
Herbal Chocolate Chai

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.


Try this delicious recipe for an extra-special rooibos-based winter warm-up:

Rooibos-Cider Hot Toddy
Rooibos-Cider Hot Toddy

Rooibos-Cider Hot Toddy

Serves: 1


  • 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).

Pai Mu Tan White Teas

teapot, teacups, Pai Mu Tan white tea

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!).

Pomegranate Pai Mu Tan
Pomegranate 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.

Plum Pai Mu Tan
Plum Pai Mu Tan

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!  

Exquisite Soft Pearls White Tea
Exquisite Soft Pearls White Tea