Coffee is a commodity traded on the stock market, and the majority of the coffee that is produced throughout the world is commodity grade.
Commodity-grade coffee, as Ian Picco, director of coffee at Topeca and the 2018 U.S. Roasting Champion, describes, is about quantity and not about quality.
The two main species produced commercially are Arabica and robusta.
Arabica is grown for the specialty coffee market. It is a sweeter coffee with less caffeine that thrives at higher elevations. Grown at lower elevations where there is more real estate, it will ripen quicker and not develop as much organic density.
Robusta is harsher with double the amount of caffeine as Arabica and likes to grow in hot, humid environments at lower elevations and produces a lot of fruit.
Robusta is “a good coffee to grow for commodity because it is more risk averse and gives you more fruit,” Picco said. “But grown at low elevations, it’s going to be more bland.”
Your favorite coffee brand will indicate on the label which species it uses. Instant coffees and some espressos use robusta, and many brands advertise the product to be 100 percent Arabica. Many ground blends, however, will have some robusta since it has more caffeine and is cheaper.
Also, specialty coffees use beans that come from berries that are only picked when they are ripe, meaning that a farmer might pick the same trees three to five times during a harvest.
Commodity coffees typically come from beans where the trees are strip picked once a harvest, meaning under ripe, over ripe and rotten fruits are included in the mix.
“What you’re drinking in a mass-produced coffee is one that was grown at low elevations and probably wasn’t great tasting to begin with even without all those defects, but those defects are there,” Picco said. “In specialty coffee, we are literally hand picking out moldy beans, and rotten beans and insect damaged beans – stuff that is going to give off very harsh flavors.”
Staff Writer Mike Averill
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