How to choose coffee beans for your café
If the coffee you serve is going to influence your sales dramatically, the quality needs to be good. That much is instantly obvious. But how do you really identify ‘good’? Take a taste tour of the chain and independent cafés in any given town and order the same style of coffee in each – an Americano, let’s say. It’ll be different in each place – and that’s not just down to the coffee machine. It’s about the bean and the roast.
While it’s believed that all coffee plants come originally from a single source in Ethiopia, there are more than 100 coffee plant species. Don’t panic. There are just two types of coffee bean that make up almost all of the coffee commercially available: Robusta (less commonly known as Canephora) and Arabica.
So what’s the difference?
Robusta, as the name describes, is a hardy plant. It’s easy to grow, is less fussy about where it’s grown, and is resistant to insects.
Arabica is a rather more delicate plant, requiring greater care and giving a smaller harvest. But it accounts for around 80% of the world’s coffee production.
What matters to you, and your customers, is the taste. And here it gets interesting. Almost none of the coffee available to buy for coffee machines will be Robusta – except for espresso coffee. Nip and buy a jar of instant coffee, on the other hand, and the odds are that it’s largely or all Robusta. Which partially explains the marked difference in taste.
Because Robusta coffee has a harsher note; earthier, woodier, more bitter. Arabica beans, on the other hand, offer a sweeter, softer and fruitier flavour. So why does Robusta still find its way into anything but the cheapest coffee? Its higher caffeine content (almost twice as much as in an Arabica bean) packs more of a punch, and it generates a better crema (foamy layer) that’s often seen as essential in an Italian-style coffee or espresso.
In truth, there are Robusta beans that deliver a palatable flavour, just as there are inferior quality Arabica, but what you’ll usually find is a blend that’s either entirely Arabica or has a small quantity of Robusta to add some darkness and depth.
Ultimately, no written guide can tell you which coffee to choose for your business – which one will bring coffee connoisseurs and converts flocking through your door. You’re just going to have to get tasting. But remember that paying more for that premium flavour might just pay off in returning customers and word of mouth. Steer clear of bitter notes and you shouldn’t go far wrong.