Coffee Basics — 1 of a Monthly Series

Different Types of Coffee & Coffee Basics

Coffee is a worldwide staple, with 52% of Americans drinking the beverage on a daily basis. It goes without saying that most of us enjoy coffee and have a level of expectations when it comes to our daily cup of joe. What we aim to explore with this article is learning the basics of coffee as well as the different types of coffee that occupy the marketplace. If you are here learning for your own benefit, this will help you narrow down your favorite roast and preparation method. If you are here to prepare for food service in a professional environment, this will help you get a better understanding of the various types so you can accommodate different types of palates.

Coffee Basics


Coffee is the fruit of a small tree that is grown in tropical and sub-tropical regions throughout the world. The fruit surrounds two flat-sided seeds. These seeds are the coffee beans. When ripe, the cherries are harvested and cleaned, fermented and hulled, leaving green coffee beans. These beans are then roasted, blended and ground and brewed.

There are only two species of coffee bean routinely used: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica beans are the most important commercially and the ones from which the finest coffees are produced. Robusta beans do not produce as flavorful a drink as Arabica. Robusta, however, are becoming increasingly significant commercially as they are hardier and more fertile than Arabica trees.

Because the sunlight, soil, and air can dramatically change the flavor and character of the coffee bean, each valley and mountain produce coffees distinct from all others. These are separated by geographical names to identify the beans whether they are from Arabica or Robusta. Thus, you may know certain beans as Columbian, Chanchamayo (Peru), Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), Blue Mountain (Jamaica), Java and Sumatra (Indonesia) or Kona (Hawaii) to name a few.

Roasting Coffee


Roasting releases and enhances the flavors in coffee. It also darkens the beans and brings natural oils to the surface. Traditionally, almost everyone roasted their own coffee beans because all coffee beans were sold green. Today, however, roasting is left to experts who possess the necessary equipment. It is important to recognize and understand some of the standard descriptions used for various types of roasting. No single international organization controls the naming of roasted coffee, however, so a coffee roaster may refer to products by any name.

In general, roasts fall into four categories based on their color — light, medium, medium-dark, or dark.


From raw coffee bean to dark roast coffee


City Roast Coffee

Also called American or brown roast, city roast is the most widely used coffee style in North America. City roast, which is medium brown in color, produces a beverage that may lack brilliance or be a bit flat, yet it is the roast most North Americans assume they prefer because it is the roast most often used in grocery store blends.


The Brazillian roast is a type of coffee that is somewhat darker than a city roast. The Brazillian roast should begin to show a hint of dark roast flavor. The beans should show a trace of oil. In this context, the word Brazillian has no relationship to coffee grown in Brazil.


Also called medium-dark roast, the Viennese roast is a type of coffee that generally falls somewhere between a standard city roast and French roast.

French roast

French roast, also called New Orleans or dark roast, approaches espresso in flavor without sacrificing smoothness. The beans should be the color of semi-sweet chocolate, with apparent oiliness on the surface.

Espresso roast

Espresso roast, also called Italian roast, is the darkest of all. The beans are roasted until they are virtually burnt. The beans should be black with a shiny, oily surface.

What’s Best?


When you serve coffee, you should take into account how it is being enjoyed. A dark strong bitter coffee can compliment and offset something sweet to be enjoyed in small amounts. A light coffee can play a more predominant role in a meal or can be used for a higher volume intake.

Knowing what type of coffee to use takes a bit of thought and can affect the experience and effect it has on you or your guests.

Be sure to check out more articles surrounding coffee as we explore the aspects of grinding and brewing.

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