Coffee Beans for Italian Espresso Machines
When buying an Italian espresso machine don’t forget about the beans. Beans are at the heart of every coffee, so here’s a brief K Bean guide to coffee beans for Italian coffee machines.
There are two coffee species used in coffee bean production – Coffee Arabica and Coffee Robusta. Coffee Robusta is easy to grow at low altitudes and easy to harvest. This makes it the most common choice for instant coffees and cheap supermarket whole beans. Coffee Arabica is the “good stuff” and most coffee beans labelled "specialty" are 100% Coffee Arabica.
Coffee Arabica specialty beans are generally hand-picked, organic, and farmed on family or village lots. They are sold via co-ops, and farmers get rewarded with high prices for high quality. This means that specialty beans are not just the right beans for your coffee machine. They are also the ethical choice.
Just like with grapes there are a number of Coffee Arabica varietals. With grapes the varietals include Shiraz, Merlot and Pinot Noir. With Coffee Arabica the varietals include Bourbon, Typica and Caturra. The varietal has a significant effect on the beverage. Now you know about the varietals it’s time to go out and try them all. Go for it :)
Coffee Arabica beans tend to have traits typical of their origin (region). This is because there are common factors in regions such as coffee bean varietals, processing methods and growing altitudes. There are always exceptions but here’s a rough guide to the 3 key origins:
Central & South American – Clean, sweet, simple, thin
African – Fruity, spicy, complex
Asian – Spicy, earthy, thick
The processing method has a significant effect upon the beans. The two main categories for processing are wet processed and natural / dry processed. Other categories include honey processed and wet hulled. Wet processed coffees tend to be brighter, cleaner and thinner. Dry processed coffees tend to be spicier, earthier, fruiter and thicker.
Coffee Growing Altitude
Altitude is another factor effecting your beans. As a rule of thumb, beans get sweeter, fruitier and more acidic as altitude increase. Does higher mean better? Well, that really depends on you and your taste buds.
Single Origin Coffee v Coffee Blends
For coffee purists (yes, that includes me) single origin is the way to go. Exploring single origins is an everyday adventure. However, if you are just looking for a great coffee to drink every day then blends generally have the edge. This is because in blends the beans are combined to “optimise” results in the cup. Here’s an example. A roaster could take a high altitude, wet processed, South American bean that produces a clean, sweet cup and add 20% of a high altitude, dry processed African bean to add a wack of fruitiness. Yum!
Roasting profiles are a mix of science and art and it takes a skilled roaster to really squeeze the very best out of a bean. When it comes to an espresso from an Italian coffee machine you can expect the following:
Light roast - High acidity, sweet, simple, thin
Medium roast – Medium acidity, fruity sweetness, complex
Dark roast – Low acidity, bitter sweet, simple, thick
I hope you enjoyed my brief summary and I hope this changes the way you that you understand and value quality beans. Also, I hope you will always treat your Italian coffee machine to the very best beans you can find. And good luck on your quest for the perfect coffee bean. It’s a futile quest. You will never find “perfect” but the quest is something that makes the home barista hobby so gripping.
I have roasted my own coffee beans for many years now and get a great amount of joy from the roasting process. I highly recommend that you find yourself a local roaster. It's not difficult. There are plenty of great roasters around.