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coffee 101

Coffee Origins

Where did coffee come from?

The first record of coffee was in Ethiopia in the 9th century. The legend is that a shepherd observed how his goats experienced a sudden burst in energy and appeared to dance after eating the cherries of the coffee plant. At first, coffee cherries were both eaten with animal fat as food and fermented into a wine. Over time, people learned to roast, grind, brew and drink the coffee bean inside the cherry.

Where does coffee come from today?

Coffee is grown in countries near the equator which have tropical climates.

What is Fair Trade Coffee?

Fair Trade is both a social movement and alternative business model that addresses the injustice of conventional trade by ensuring that farmers and crafts people earn a fair wage for their goods. Fair Trade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and an improved standard of living for some of the world's poorest producers. Fair Trade means that trading partnerships are based on reciprocal benefits and mutual respect; that prices paid to producers reflect the work they do; that workers have the right to organize; that national health, safety, and wage laws are enforced; that products are environmentally sustainable and conserve natural resources.
Fair Trade is not a charity. It is a holistic approach to trade and development that aims to alter the ways in which commerce is conducted, so that trade can empower the poorest of the poor. Fair Trade organizations, importers, and retailers seek to create a sustainable and positive change in developing countries, as well as our own.

In reference to coffee, Fair Trade means that a minimum price per pound is set to insure farmers a decent income from producing coffee. If the coffee market in New York goes below that price, the farmers who grow Fair Trade coffee will be paid the higher Fair Trade price. If the market price rises above the Fair Trade price, the farmers will get the higher price plus an additional premium of 5 cents per pound. This system protects farmers from the unstable coffee commodities market.

Coffee Characteristics and Tasting Terminology:

Aroma refers to the fragrance or odor of brewed coffee. Aromas may be:

  • Lacking or faint
  • Delicate
  • Strong

Body (1-5 scale)

The sensation of fullness in the mouth and how long it lingers is body. Full-bodied coffee combines long-lasting flavors with compounds that coat the taste buds, giving the mouth a sense of fullness. Brewing method also influences body. A French press or espresso machine allows more oils and fine particles into the finished brew, producing heavier-bodied coffee. Conventional drip machines use paper filters that trap particles and flavor oils, resulting in lighter-bodied coffees. Some examples of levels of body:

  • Light (most Decaf, Mexican)
  • Medium (Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda)
  • Medium-full (Ethiopia Harrar, Colombia)
  • Full (Kenya, Sumatra, French Roasts, Black & Tan)

Brightness, or, acidity (1-5 scale)

Brightness is the crisp first impression of a coffee's flavor sensed at the tip of the tongue. The brightest coffees have a snappy, palate-cleansing quality. Coffees with less brightness are soft and smooth, and dark roasts are less bright than light roasts of the same origin. Examples of the brightness range of various coffees:

  • Low (Sumatra, Celebes, Peru, French roasts)
  • Medium (Colombian, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea)
  • High (Kenya, Costa Rica, Rwanda, Guatemala)


Flavor is the combined impression of a coffee's aroma, brightness, and body. There are 3 sets of coffee flavors, each perceived in a different part of the mouth:

  • Front - Crisp flavors that form the first impression of a coffee, often described as citrusy, floral or winy
  • Mid - Rich, creamy notes that define a coffee's overall flavor, these flavors register at mid-tongue and on the upper palate. Descriptive terms abound - plum, berry, milk or dark chocolate, maple, caramel, malt, etc.
  • Back - Deep savory and smoky notes that form the lingering impression of a coffee's taste, these are perceived from the base of the tongue into the throat. The flavors added by dark roasting fall mainly into this category, and include smoky, earthy, syrupy and bitter sweet.