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This quality of taste gets your
mood and attitude in the journey
right at the start.

Choose the mouthfeel that fits you best

How to Use


Acidity is a good coffee quality. It comes in different flavors and intensities.

Choose the acidity that fits you best

How to Use


Acidity is a good coffee quality. It comes in different flavors and intensities.

Choose the acidity that fits you best

How to Use


Choose 3 flavors that fit your tastes



This term is definitely interpreted by consumers as negative. Professionals, however, understand this differently. Good acidity is a positive in coffee. Let me give you two analogies to help explain what I mean.

An unripe pineapple is all acid and no sweetness. Overripe it is all sweetness and no acidity. Both too sweet and too acidic are unpleasant. In a pineapple, perfectly ripe means a balance exists between sweetness and acidity.

Another example is carbonated sodas, once called phosphates. To make a soda bright and lively, phosphoric acid was added in minute amounts to increase the sparkle. Kenya coffees, known as among the brightest, were found to contain high levels of phosphorous acid-forming compounds when brewed. Experimenting with a single drop of phosphoric acid in a cup of mediocre coffee improved its quality in a measurable amount.

What you need to know is that acidity in coffee does not refer to its pH value, but to its ability to activate the taste receptors on the lower sides of your tongue.

There are three types of positive acidity in coffee. You should evaluate each cup's acidity value. These acidity types are:

  1. Citric (bright and lively) Forward on the palate
  2. Plum (soft and mellow) Mid-palate
  3. Blueberry/strawberry (sweet/sour) Back of palate


Coffee quality is related to altitude. Coffee trees cultivated about 3000 feet above sea level mature more slowly than lower grown trees. The air is drier and thinner, the nights cooler, the soils are younger, the overstory more dense.

The tree has learned that these are less than ideal conditions for seed germination, and every plant is concerned and focused on survival. So to compensate for iffy germination conditions, the tree uses its energy to produce as much food nutrient as it can in one season, for the express purpose of getting it into seeds which are the coffee beans maturing within the fruit (cherry). This food (starches, oils and proteins) provide the seed with the extra energy it will need to germinate under the less than perfect conditions it finds itself in above 3000 feet.

These extra nutrients are what makes specialty coffee taste better than low grown commercial coffees.


An unripe pineapple has too much acidity – too acidic.

An over-ripe pineapple has too much sweetness.

A perfect pineapple has a balance between acidity and sweetness. It is easy on the palette and easy to enjoy the succulent flavors.

Ultra light roast coffees are like unripe pineapples. The starches have not yet heated up enough in the green bean to break down into simple sugars (pyrolysis), so the brew is over-bright with too little sweet flavor to balance it. It is, in fact, unripe.

Coffee Varieties

There are hundreds of varieties, but only about 10 are commercially grown. The two major species are: Coffea robusta and Coffea arabica. Both have many varieties, and there are hybrids deriving from both.

It is enough to know that they are quite different for very good reason. Their growing habitats are uniquely different.

Simply put, Coffea robusta is grown at lower altitudes where sunshine, moisture, rich soil, and heat produce an excellent seed germinating environment. The tree, realizing this, does not need to produce a seed with a lot of energy food needed for germination in harsher growing conditions, so it preserves that energy by producing a minimalist seed with less food (starch) and more waste products (caffeine). The caffeine is a natural insect repellent, and at lower altitudes, there are more insects than at the higher altitudes where Coffea arabica reigns.

What you need to know is that Robustas are less sweet, less nuanced, and mostly found as filler in canned coffees and as the main coffee in instants.

Coffea arabica is the Ferrari of coffees with varieties such as Typica and Bourbon. This tree needs to put lots of energy food into its seeds because it operates in a difficult environment where the air is cooler because of altitude (3000-6000 feet), the rain is very seasonal, the soil is thin, and the sun is shaded so the soil may be cooler. The tree, recognizing its seed may need additional time to germinate and get its leaves pointing at the sun, produces multiple kinds of starches and oils from which the seed can draw its initial power. It is these energy foods that create the great coffee flavors when they are roasted by the artisan roaster.

A side benefit is lower caffeine content. The photosynthetic energy went into food production instead of waste production, of which caffeine is but one of 1600 compounds found in coffee.

It is the Arabica varieties and their hybrids that comprise the specialty coffees we love.

Continent Origin

Yes, coffees from Africa taste different than coffees from Asia and Central America. Culture, tradition, climate, soil, weather, distance from the equator, varieties cultivated and so much more, create large brush stroke differences; but in the overall picture, that only counts, or is only recognized, in the lighter roasts – and is but a limited factor in your search. It certainly is not a leading factor. In general, I would categorize continents as follows:

But with such great land mass, exceptions abound. Thus, origin continent is not an important factor.

Dry Processing

The ripe cherries are picked and immediately put on the drying patio in the sun to dry. The skin and pulp remain attached. The skin shrinks, locking the fruit sugars in. The cherry raisins up and drys hard around the seeds. The fruity flavors penetrate the porous seeds within. The mass, when hard and dry, is milled (like white rice) to remove the hardened pulp and skin.

The taste produced is sort of like blueberries or strawberries. A mix of sweet and sour fruit. The acidity is softer and mellower.

Ethiopian naturals

These are special coffees in the world of single origin coffee flavors. These coffees, when the highest quality is tasted, are mellow and heavy on the palette. They have a distinctive sweet/sour blueberry flavor. That flavor comes from the processing system they have used for centuries in Ethiopia called now the dry or natural process.

Fair Trade Certified

Fair Trade is a marketing system for small scale coffee farmers who belong to producer cooperatives. It is not available for plantation owners.

The Fair Trade certification guarantees a floor price regardless of the vagaries of the marketplace. It also supports the group-up practice of democracy, as cooperatives operate on a one-farm, one-vote decision making process. For more detailed information go to .

Farm Cultivation Practices

Coffee trees need a lot of love year-round. They will respond to having their particular needs addressed. They need to be fed properly. They need the right amount of shade. They need to be pruned to remain vigorous. They need protection from insects and nutrient-robbing weeds. Doing all that on a yearly rotation will get the farmer his crop. Will it be a tasty crop? Well, it s/he does not work the details, you can be sure it won’t be tasty. Flavor depends on doing the necessities and a host of other, more esoteric essentials can come into play to decide on the quality of the coffee’s flavor.


After you swallow your coffee, see how long the flavor stays with you. Does the coffee flavor drop off immediately, or does it stay for 10 seconds or more?

A long finish is preferable. It is related to:

French Roast

There are many names for the dark roast that is more black than brown, has rich and copious levels of surface oil and is roasted to produce deep carbony, smoky, flavor notes with perhaps only 10% of the actual coffee flavors remaining. You see this dark roast called Italian,Italian Expresso, and a host of other proprietary names like Rocketman Blend, Foglifter, etc.

A roaster can make a French Roast out of one single origin coffee or from a blend of many coffees of different origins. What you need to know is that 90% of the flavor is derived from carbonization of the coffee beans, not from the careful cultivation of the coffee tree by a caring farmer.

Note: be careful with this dark colored coffee because often it is a dumping ground for mediocre and less expensive beans whose flaws are easily masked by burning them out at the high heat needed to make a French Roast.

What to look for: large, uniform, shiny beans. Single origin French Roasts are rare, but if you see a bin card that defines its French Roast as from a single origin, one country, select it before you select a French Roast blend. Chances are the roaster is proud of that coffee and your selection has a better chance of being of pedigree stock.

French Roast is a strange name for the darkest of roasts. Do the French drink coffee this way? I doubt it. I believe early artisan roasters during the 1960s created this designation, believing erroneously that this carbonized vegetable matter was a European approach to coffee. The bans do not originate in France.

A well-made French Roast should have burnt sugar notes, licorice and roasted chestnut flavors and a long wet (not ashy) finish.

House Blend

Does it indicate that because you can attribute its creation to someone, and that special attention was supposedly paid to this creation, that it is the best among your choices? Consider the possibility that House Blend may mean Economy Blend if it is the least expensive of your choices.

But, if the roaster’s brand name is prominent on the bin of produce, and someone’s reputation is riding on its taste, it might just be fabulous. Especially if it is featured and is not discounted, except when it is on sale.

I always ask the store owner or manager how it got to be the House Blend. Sometimes they actually worked with the roasting company to create something special. Then, there is ownership and pride attached, and you can bet you are going to get a House Blend of quality.


Intensity of flavor is not just power. You will know a big coffee when you taste it. But within that power hit there is the time factor. Some coffees linger longer on your palette, some give their flavor immediately.

Intensity Profiles

The flavor intensity of the coffee in Profile A peaks quickly, reaching maximum flavor intensity almost as soon as it is sipped. The coffee in Profile B slowly peaks and stays intense longer, then disappears.

Part of experiencing coffee is knowing how your own palate works. By comparing coffees with the same roast color, you are eliminating the roast variable and comparing the flavor nuances, i.e., apples to apples.

Light Roast

This roast color is where good things begin to happen. Balance between acidity and flavor, fruity nuance, lively mouth feel, and long finish all are achievable at the true light roast. When purchasing a single origin coffee, the great ones are best at this roast color.

They are very forward on your palate, because the carmelized sugars are at their highest level and because the roasting process has not yet begun to burn the vegetable matter. Thus, if you are looking for differences between the coffee from one country or region and one from another region, taste them in their light roast form, for that is where the differences show up best and most clearly.

Maillard Reaction

At about 440° F the sugars in the roasting coffee bean combine with the remaining fats and proteins in the bean to create exquisite flavors found wherever proteins, fats, and sugars combine a high temperatures (BBQ, bacon, Red Ale).

Medium Roast

About 20 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the light roast, the color shifts into a chocolate brown. It might have only taken less than a minute to go from light roast to a medium roast but the chemical reactions at ±440°F are much more developed. The bright and lively acidity of the light roasts morph into a smoother, deeper, and more balanced mouth feel. Dark chocolate notes may appear, acidity is reduced, and the flavors are experienced a bit further back. A certain mellowness and maturity prevails.


This is another one of those words that says different things to different people. To some it indicates an unfavorable weakness in flavor, to others it means tea-like or watery. It falls into the category of meaninglessness as do both rich and strong. Let’s just aggress that these three words serve no purpose for us, and thus we cast them to the trash bin and move on.

Mocha Java Blend

This classic coffee blend might just be the very first coffee blend. It most probably dates back to the early 1500s when the Dutch, having smuggled coffee seeds out of Yemen, created plantations of coffee trees on their colony islands in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia – specifically the island of Java.

The growing conditions on Java were different from those in Yemen. The sweet, bright, acidy, and fruity coffees of Yemen, when grown on Java produced a low acid, heavy and mellow coffee. It was inevitable that these coffees, almost opposites in their best qualities, would find themselves together in a brewed cup of 16th century coffee.

The Mocha Java Blend should be a balanced and smooth coffee. The bright acidity balanced with a heavy-bodied mellowness and mouthfeel. No one knows if today's 21st century Mocha Java Blend tastes similar to its 16th century ancestor. The planet's ecology was very different 500 years ago. What we do know is that when an artisan coffee roaster markets a Mocha Java Blend s/he is professionally bound to use coffees from the Indonesian islands that were planted with coffee by the Dutch, and East African coffees from Yemen and/or Ethiopia.

An interesting study of Mocha Java Blends might reveal a range of interpretations as to what this blend should taste like.


Some call it body, but that is an illusive quality to describe without an understanding of how to judge body. Well it’s all about mouthfeel.

The body sensation of a coffee beverage is affected by two main factors:

  1. The coffee-to-water ratio;
    • too much water = thin, bland, flat
    • too little water = sharp, astringent.
  2. The amount of soluble sugars and fats that are released by the coffee into the water during the brewing process.

Coffee is a colloidal suspension. Of the 800 +/- different chemical compounds in roasted coffee, some are water-soluble and some are oil-soluble. Brewing extracts both, but oil-soluble compounds tend to take longer to extract than the water-soluble compounds in the grinds, and the oil-solubles tend to be on the bitter spectrum. Thus a 3-4 minute brew cycle will be sweeter and more pleasant than an 8 minute cycle.

Now, just for a practical application of the mouthfeel, let’s use this progression: water, skim milk, low fat milk, 2% milk, whole milk, half-and-half, heavy cream. In coffee, drip method preparation might approach 2% milk, while espresso may give you a similar mouthfeel as half-and-half. Finally, roast color does have an important influence on the body of a coffee, regardless of brew method. The key: the lighter the roast, the greater the body. The darker the roast, the thinner the mouth-feel. The importance of body relates to flavor retention or finish. The greater the body, the longer the finish.

Organic Coffee

Grown without petroleum-based chemical herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers. Look for a certification agency logo on the package or bulk bin. It is essential that a third party federal (USDA) or private (Demeter, OCIA) certification agency put their stamp of approval on the coffee.

Because you can’t grow organic coffee in direct sun, all organic coffee is shade grown. Why is this?

Without the forest canopy, there are no birds to eat the insects, so pesticides are needed to keep the bug level down. (An average forest has about 100 species of ants and even more spiders, both of whom eat bugs. A clearcut forest loses 90% of those species.)

Without shade, the forest floor grows undesirable brush that requires herbicides to keep them in check.

Without the canopy’s annual left litter deposits, the soil would become depleted of nutrients in just a few years, requiring fertilizers to keep the coffee trees producing.

These chemicals poison the groundwater, cost a lot of money, and kill the soil and the biodiversity it supports.

Buy organic coffee, it’s better for you and the farmers, and the planet.


The goal is a seed (bean) with 11-12% moisture, which makes it stable. This is not an easy feat, but the sun will do the job of getting the fresh seed from 50% moisture to 11%, usually in 4-6 days on an open patio in full sun.

Then the beans are sorted by size and density, sacked and rested for 60 days indoors until ready for shipment. Since the harvest goes on for up to 4 months, harvest season is when the heavy lifting is a part of everyone’s life in the coffee growing communities.


At 405° F the complex carbohydrates break up into simple sugars, which form a portion of the taste of your coffee. (See Ultra Light Roast glossary section for more details.)


This is a round coffee seed (bean) that was formed because of incomplete pollination of the flower, thus producing only one seed inside the cherry. Two seeds (not attached as one like a peanut) is the normal cherry content.

Having nothing to press against, the seed grows round instead of having one flat side. Many say that this concentrates the flavor of two beans into one. My experiences does not bear that out, although I will say that artisan roasters do notice that peaberries roast more uniformly. Maybe that produces better flavors than their flat sisters.

Peaberries grow on the same trees as do the flat sided beans. They are rarely more than 5-10% of a tree’s production. They are separated out during the grading process by air separators or size-grading equipment.

Are they worth the extra price? I think not. Form your own opinion when you get the chance.

Region or Appellation

Microclimates create flavor nuances which can be maximized by the color of the roast the artisan roaster selects. The sweet spot may be at 410°F with a 12-minute roast using 9 pounds of gas pressure, or it may be at 440°F medium roast in an 8-minute roast. The roaster's challenge is to uncover the secret of the region, the magic that the terroir infused into the growing plant. Unlocking the magic is what single origin coffees are all about.

What you need to know is that single origin coffees from specific appellations are light roasted to reveal their character. There is more to coffee than the light roast flavor band, but what would coffee be like if we hadn't evolved to the point of knowing that there are subtleties, even if we are all hard pressed to recognize them.

Roast Color

Like a piece of bread, raw coffee is mostly carbohydrates like starches and oils, although there are over 1600 chemical compounds in a single coffee bean.

When a slice of bread is toasted, it browns until it burns. Toasted light, you can taste the wheat. Toasted until burnt or very dark, you taste only the charred remains. So it is with our coffee bean (seed).

The flavor changes with the degree of roast. A light roast Colombian tastes more like a light roast Nicaraguan than like a medium roast Colombian coffee.

Roast color is a function of temperature and time. Relatively speaking, artisan roasters use variations of these controllable factors to create flavor. Roasting is a craft much like pottery is. Two potters using the same clay, the same glazes, and the same shapes will have different outcomes. Temperature + time in the kiln will determine what the craftsman's effort will produce. So it is with coffee.

Generally, the coffee begins to roast at 405°F when the starches can get no hotter and they break down into simple sugars that carmelize at about 420°F. That is when the light roast is pulled or dumped. It can take from 8-14 minutes to get to a light roast color.

Between 420° and 475°F the color darkens until nothing is left to taste except burned plant matter!

Shade Grown

Coffee is an evergreen. It does not lose its leaves and replace them, as do most broad-leafed trees. It is very sensitive to sunlight. Farmers use the forest canopy to provide filtered light for the coffee trees planted beneath the taller tress. The shade softens the sunshine light that reaches the coffee trees. In direct sunlight, the coffee trees’ leaves would dry out, turn brown, and die. The tree will then die. So shade is essential for the proper cultivation of coffee.

Environmentally, this is good for the forests and its inhabitants. Shade grown coffee provides an annual forest crop. In shade a coffee tree can live 50-80 years and produce for 90% of its life span. The preservation of the forest canopy in order to grow coffee conserves forest habitat for migratory and indigenous songbirds, monkeys, ants and spiders, and everything in between.

The leaf litter from the forest canopy provides a forest floor mulch, which in turn provides bionutrients for the forest soil to use. The coffee trees benefit as well. Over 90% of all organic coffees are grown in the shade.

Buy shade grown and help save our subtropical forests where coffee is a sustainable forest product.

Single Origin

Over 60 countries produce and export coffee. They are located 10 degrees above and below the equator where frost is not a factor. Every country produces good to great coffee as well as filler and triage with little flavor value. Like any crop, there are good growing regions in each country, and lesser regions where climatic conditions are not optimal.

What you need to know is this; a single origin coffee marketed with a country name may be no better than what is inside a can of mass-marketed inexpensive coffee. There is no guarantee that your Costa Rican beans are the best that country produces.

Here are some things to look for to help you make your single origin coffee purchase:

Is there abundant information on the package or bin card? Is the coffee certified as an organic or fair trade coffee? (Certified coffees are usually better cared for.) Is the coffee from a specific cooperative that is named? Are there tasting notes that you can relate to? Is the coffee light or medium in color? Why purchase by country if the roast color is too dark to taste the terroir?

It is fair to say that the more the artisan roaster wants to tell you about the coffee, the more they have put themselves on the line. So their reputation is tied to the coffee.

Rarity impacts price, not necessarily flavor. So it is always the case that a new crop Nicaraguan coffee from Matagalpa at $11.00/pound will always be as good as a Hawaiaan Kona at $32.00/pound although the flavor nuances at the highest grades might be a bit different. Don't be sucked into the wrong price for flavor.


What does it mean when referring to coffee? It can refer to:

Because the word strong is not clearly defined, we use it based on our cultural experiences. Strong to some means you can stand a spoon up in it. To others it defines a coffee that tastes bad. To still others, it means dark, oily beans. Darker = strong. Let's stop using that word and work harder to be clear on this word. We have already eliminated rich as an adjective, so let's remove strong too. Both words have become meaningless when describing coffee.

The Taste Sensation

We are all different when it comes to how we taste all things, including coffee. Our flavor receptors are individualized in terms of sensitivity. Some people lack the gene to taste cinnamon, others have 25-50% more taste buds, others have restricted nasal passages and still others may have burned their tongue long ago and lost some sensation. So in approaching coffee, know thyself is important although elusive, but knowing where you experience various flavor sensations can help a lot. So here are some clues:

The sensation is localized and is a feeling rather than a flavor. Sweetness is experienced forward on the palate, on the tip of your tongue. Acidity or brightness (liveliness) is felt on the lower sides of your tongue.

A complex coffee with intense flavors will provide multiple sensations as the coffee moves from front to sides and then the top of your tongue.

The Rule: the lighter the roast color, the more forward on your palate. As the color darkens, its flavor recedes in increments toward the back of your mouth.

Yes, this is simple stuff. You don't need more than this to naturally progress and evolve on your own.

Ultra Light Roast

Traditionally this roast color has been considered under-roasted. However, it has become vogue in certain circles and especially among artisan roasters who entered the craft during the last decade. The coffee taste at this level is overly bright (acidy) and out of balance, like an unripe pineapple.

Roasting is our way of ripening the coffee bean. At about 450°F starches within the bean convert to sugars. The process is called pyrolysis. Bringing beans to a finish below this temperature skews the balance because sugar development was incomplete. Result: the taste of candy corn with straw and wood notes.

The green coffee is not brought to a temperature that is high enough to convert all ot its starch compounds to sugar. This chemical process happens at a temperature of just close to 405° F. The chemical reaction is called pyrolysis.

Starch is a form of carbohydrate that is not sweet (unripe banana, potato). At high temperatures, the long chain molecules of starch break down into simple sugars. Coffee flavors are directly related to this process. Sugars, as the heat rises, caramelize (light and medium roasts), then carbonize (Vienna and French roasts), then burn at about 475° F producing first, flat black beans and then FIRE!

Ultra Light Roasts are unbalanced, with overly bright, acidy mouth-feel. Mostly so unbalanced they are impossible to enjoy at 100% of the brew.

Long chain molecules of starch = starch is a form of carbohydrate, known by the chemical formula C22H12O11 (C=carbon, H=hydrogen, O=oxygen).

Simple sugars = are a form of carbohydrate, known by the chemical formula C6H12O6 (C=carbon, H=hydrogen, O=oxygen).


You will often see references to Typica, Maragogipe, Bourbon, and Catura. These are common varieties. Catura is a hybrid, and there are many other varieties, perhaps hundreds. Most are wild and not cultivated or even investigated, although that is beginning to change as more coffee lovers (and roasters) try to discover new tastes and flavors.

What you need to know is that these varieties were commercialized to adapt to their growing regions for greater productivity, resistance to pests, and improved flavor. Most professionals have a hard time distinguishing between the various varieties unless they are tasted side by side. It would be a rare individual who, when taking a first sip, would exclaim, this is definitely a Bourbon!

Vienna Roast

A Vienna Roast is also know in some quarters as a Full City roast. It is considered a dark roast, but on the lighter side. Bean color is still more brown than black, but in fact, dark brown is a better description, more like the color of bakers chocolate. Hints of red/orange colors brighten the dark brown bean. Fresh Vienna Roast coffees have a shiny coat of coffee oils on their surface.

A good Vienna Roast hints of carbonization but is neither smoky or tasty. For the roaster, it is the most difficult roast color to get right.

Hint: if Vienna Roast color beans have no shine or oil patina on their surface, or if the oil lacks shine, the beans are most probably older than three weeks and are probably stale. Move on to a Vienna Roast that shines!

How Vienna Roast are made: any fine coffee bean can be roasted to a Vienna Roast so there are single origin Vienna Roasts and there are Vienna Roasts made up of coffees from various origins – what you need to know is that once a bean gets to the Vienna Roast color 80% of its flavor is related to roast color; not its terroir or country of origin.

Wet Processing

When the cherries are ripe they are picked, the skins and pulp removed mechanically, and the seeds are wet and slippery, gooey with a honey-like outer taste. They are allowed to sit, slightly fermenting in the heat of a day/night rest in contact with each other. They are then soaked for 12-36 hours in a water bath, washed, and removed to drying patios where they will dry down to about 11-12% moisture over a 2-4 day period.

The wet process produces a citric-like acidity or brightness with a slight lemony flavor. In the extremes like coffees from Guatemala and Ethiopia and Kenya, the brightness is palatable. However, wet process coffees produce a softer plum-like acidity as well. Wet process coffees are more forward on the palate than their brothers and sisters of the Dry Process.

Coffee has many shades of red, brown and yellow, reflecting them differently with different light sources. It is the relative shade differences that the serious coffee blender must learn to recognize. Here are a few comparisons to help you on your journey as you travel down that path toward your perfect cup.

Ultra Light vs. Light

Light vs. Medium

Medium vs. Vienna

Vienna vs. French

French vs. Burned

Ground Coffee

"There is a path, no simple highway,
between the dawn and the dark of night,
and if you go, no one may follow,
that path is for your steps alone."
- "Ripples", The Grateful Dead

You are used to buying coffee that someone else blended and named. Now you will learn to blend your own coffee and know why you chose the coffees to fill your bag.

  1. Find out what roast color combos will get you into your taste preference range and then blend your own coffee by using the bulk bin section in your local store.
  2. Discover your blend and instantly purchase by clicking “Buy Now”. This will take you to the Thanksgiving Coffee Company web store for the coffee we produce that is closest to your taste preferences.
  3. When you click “Buy Now” you may discover that we do not have a blend that matches your flavor profile. In this case, I (Paul Katzeff) will make a custom blend for you using our finest coffees.
  4. Use the Smart Coffee search over and over until your journey has led you to your perfect cup. The journey is a life long project and as the saying goes: “The journey is more important than the destination.”