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Brewing, Tasting, Cooking Coffee: Brought to you by Starbucks

Into the Coffee Zone

Every great cup of coffee begins with top-quality beans: the right variety, grown in the right place, and processed the right way. The more you know about the beans, the more enlightened coffee consumer you will be. After all, the only other ingredient in the brew is the water (and we'll get to that later).

The coffee plant is a tree—some call it a shrub—that thrives in the tropics. Get out an atlas and look at the band between the latitudes of 25°N and 25°S (roughly, between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn). That's where you find Sumatra, Colombia, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Guatemala—all the names you see on the menu board in a specialty coffee store. Between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, you're in the coffee zone.

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There are many species of Coffea, the botanical name for the genus, but only two matter to the coffee drinker. Coffea arabica prefers high elevations and a cool climate and yields the beans for the world's best coffees. Coffea canephora, commonly known as robusta, grows in lower spots and in warmer weather, and it's more disease resistant than the finicky arabica.

But there's a trade-off. Compared to arabica, robusta beans produce thin coffees lacking acidity, complexity and flavor. The mass-market coffee blenders use mostly robusta for their canned and instant coffee brands, which compete largely on price. But specialty coffee—the rich, aromatic cup brewed at high-end coffee stores and in fine restaurants—depends on arabica.

An evergreen with powerfully fragrant white blossoms (sailors have said they can smell it blooming at sea), the coffee tree would reach 15 to 20 feet if left unchecked. But for ease of cultivation, growers keep them pruned shorter—to about NBA player height. After the flowers fall, the berries—called "cherries" because they are round and red—appear. Inside each cherry nestles a pair of seeds, flat sides together. Within six to eight months after flowering, these seeds have matured into the green beans that coffee roasters buy. On average, a single tree produces about one pound of beans per year.

Occasionally, a cherry has only one seed inside, a rounded bean known as a "peaberry." Some aficionados believe that peaberries produce superior coffee, so they are processed and sold separately.

Coffee matures slowly at high elevations, producing a harder, denser bean with more flavor potential. High-elevation coffees also tend to have brisk acidity when brewed, whereas coffee from beans grown at lower elevations tends to be softer, without that bright acid backbone. But there are exceptions. Authentic Kona coffee from Hawaii grows at relatively low elevations but still delivers a compelling cup.

Into the Coffee Zone: An Introduction with Major Cohen of Starbucks Coffee

Recipe links:
Espresso & Chili Rubbed Flat Iron Steak with Warm Chipotle-Tomato Jam and Syrah Demi Jus
Smoked Turkey, Asiago, Apple, Sage Sandwich with Coffee Shallot Jam

This program is sponsored by
Starbucks Foodservice

Starbucks™ Shared Planet™
Learn more about Starbucks commitment to doing business in ways that are good to the earth.