All coffee is not created equally. Any coffee connoisseur can tell you that. But when talking about great coffee, you may have heard the term gourmet. In fact, in coffee circles, the word is tossed around a lot, but the interesting thing is that it means different things to different people.
Isn’t all coffee the same? You might ask yourself this question when you hear about gourmet coffee for the first time. First, all coffee is not the same. Secondly, the answer to “What is gourmet coffee?” can vary depending on who you ask.
What does the term “gourmet coffee” really mean?
A Definition of Gourmet Coffee
Gourmet coffee, by definition, is hard to say. There is no official definition of the term. In general, what people mean when they say “gourmet coffee” is coffee that was carefully cultivated and that is flavored.
Carefully cultivated might include specialty coffee or “Third Wave” coffees. Gourmet coffee beans can be different from regular coffee beans, and this also lends itself to a different roast.
A good way to try to understand this is to think of coffee beans like wine grapes. Similarly, coffee can taste different based on where it was grown, the quality of the farm, the season, and other factors. All of these things impact the quality of the coffee bean, which ultimately impacts the quality of the coffee flavor, the same as the grapes affect the flavor of the wine.
What is Gourmet Roast?
What does it mean when someone talks about a gourmet roast? Gourmet roast coffee is usually made from 100% Arabica beans. This coffee has a full body, a rich flavor, and a fine aroma. While some coffees labeled as gourmet will use mixed beans, most consider only 100% Arabica to be a true gourmet roast.
If you’ve ever picked up a bag of coffee in the supermarket and felt confused by the terminology on the bag, you’re not alone. Some of the most confusing are the terms gourmet, specialty, and premium. Are they not the same thing? What do they mean?
Gourmet vs. Regular Coffee
How does gourmet coffee compare to regular coffee? While some people find all coffee qualities to be generally the same, a more refined palette will learn the difference between various qualities.
For a coffee to be considered gourmet, at least 70 percent of the quality of the coffee bean is determined by the features of the seed. The other 30 percent is determined by the ecosystem that coffee bean was grown in. The combination of these two things is what leads to extra special coffee we can call gourmet, as compared to regular coffee.
Gourmet vs. Specialty Coffee
How does gourmet coffee compare to specialty coffee? To understand these comparisons, we also need to understand that there is an official coffee bean grading system, and it is used by measuring the green coffee bean on a scale of 1-10.
1 is the highest score a bean can get. Then, the green coffee beans are sorted for primary defects like overly fermented beans and large stones mixed into green coffee. There can also be insect damage and moisture content in the bean.
Once that green coffee bean is sorted, it is roasted and then assessed a second time using the process of cupping. From here, coffees receive a grade between 0-100 from a certified Q-grader. The coffee is graded based on things like:
- Fragrance and aroma
- Flavors/ tasting notes
Specialty coffee is the top tier, highest quality coffee. It is defined by green beans that receive a Grade One and cupping score of 80+.
Gourmet vs. Premium Coffee
How does gourmet coffee compare to premium coffee? Based on the explanation above, premium coffee is just slightly below the best. It’s still a higher tier than regular coffee, but it’s just under specialty coffee. This is coffee that has a Grade Two of the green coffee beans. It usually has a cupping score of 70-79.
At the end of the day, “gourmet” is really just a marketing term. On the official coffee grading scale, there is no measurement for gourmet. It’s just Specialty and Premium. Gourmet is just a fancy term to say coffee that is of a higher quality than regular. While the term gourmet has made its way into all other areas of food and drink, we can understand that when it comes to coffee, it’s not much more than a marketing term.
Choosing a Gourmet Coffee
What is the best way for you to choose a gourmet coffee? First, it’s important to determine how important coffee quality is to you. If you want absolute top tier, it’s going to be important to choose a specialty coffee.
From there, learn about the grading system and the difference in premium and specialty coffees, as well as how you can brew them to get the most of the gourmet flavor. Remember that while anything can technically be “gourmet”, if you want a truly top-grade coffee, the beans should be 100% Arabica.
This is a better yield of beans, which means you’re going to have higher graded coffee. Typically, these beans are grown at a higher altitude (at least 3,000 feet) which gives the best climate and soil conditions for a nice tasting coffee.
Now that you have a clearer definition of what gourmet coffee is, you’re ready to decide if it’s right for you or not. It’s important to understand that “gourmet” is really just a marketing term and if you truly want a higher quality coffee, you want to look for specialty or premium beans.
Once you learn how to read coffee labels, how to understand past the gimmicks and the marketing ploys and identify a true premium or specialty coffee, you’re also ready to try some flavors and see what really appeals to you.
Remember also that the way you store the beans or ground coffee and the way you brew the coffee and anything you add to it (like creamers, sweeteners, etc.) can also impact the flavor and quality of the coffee. With that in mind, you may want to try some gourmet coffee today!