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Coffee 101

I love coffee, ergo, I loved touring coffee fincas (plantations) and coffee beneficios (processing facilities) throughout coffee growing regions in Central America during my Trans-Americas Journey. I learned a lot, too. Especially after talking to Leonardo Vergnani,  a guide at the certified organic coffee plantation at Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Inn in Costa Rica with more than 25 years of experienced in the buzz biz and Andy Newbom who visited El Salvador for years to source the best beans for  Barefoot Coffee in California before moving to El Salvador to open Brew Revolution beer company.

Being that I know how much Latinos love their coffee; here’s what the pros want TLK readers to know about buying, storing and brewing great coffee.

BUYING GREAT COFFEE

Packaging Matters

It doesn’t have to look pretty, but the composition of the bag your coffee comes in is important. Vergnani recommends laminated packaging made up of an oxo-biodegradable plastic inner layer and a paper outer layer. This type of packaging is nicer to the environment and better than a simple paper bag when it comes to ensuring freshness. The other main types of packaging–plastic and aluminum–are impossible to recycle. Avoid vacuum packed coffee altogether. The process of vacuum packing actually removes some of the essence of the beans.

Look for Freshness Valves

Those little plastic air valves in some coffee packages are important too. They preserve the quality of the coffee because they allow excess gases built up during the roasting process to exit the bag. Once the internal pressure of the package is equal to external pressure some gas remains in the package where it helps keep the coffee fresh. That’s why they’re called “freshness valves.”

Don't Trust Your Sniffer

One drawback of the freshness valve is the temptation to judge a coffee by the way it smells when you squeeze the bag.  ”Judging a coffee from its smell is only part of the experience,” says Vergnani. ”It’s the combination of fragrance and flavor that determine quality. You can cover the smell of a pig by spraying perfume on it,” he adds, “but that’s certainly a waste of perfume.”

Buy Whole Beans

Ground coffee provides a greater surface area that could be impacted by the three enemies of freshness: humidity, air, and sunlight. Also, it takes a higher density, higher quality bean to remain whole during the roasting process. Lower quality coffee beans grown in lower elevations often break and split during roasting and are immediately ground for sale.

Expensive Isn't Always Better

But Newbom believes that any coffee under $8 a pound will not be good quality.

Next, how to store and brew great coffee...

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