Smith Island Beans sources its beans from importers that engage in ethical business practices including not only paying a fair price to the farmers who harvest the fruit, but also encouraging and supporting ecological farming practices to preserve and stimulate the environment where the coffee shrubs are grown.
Coffee shrubs are grown in unique micro-climates with just the right combination of elevation, sunlight, soil, and temperature gradient. Most of the best coffees are grown close to the equator, in mountainous areas. Higher grown coffee shrubs produce harder and denser beans which, after roasting, translates into a sweeter cup of joe. Specialty beans such as ours all originate from the high elevation coffee growing regions. “High-grown” coffee is considered by the industry to be 4000 feet (1200 meters) and above.
To get a general idea of the relationship between elevation and flavor, here are some numbers to consider:
3000 ft (914 meters) Sweet and smooth.
4000 ft (1200 meters) Citrus, vanilla, chocolate, nutty.
5000 ft (1500 meters) Spicy, floral and fruity.
Some flavors are unique to certain areas---for instance, many of the Ethiopian coffees have a fruity, chocolaty flavor, and a light body, while those from Sumatra and some of the other Indonesian islands, are heavy-bodied, earthy and syrupy.
There are a few processing methods used to prepare the coffee fruit to its green “bean” state. These different methods allow the subtle flavors of a particular bean to be expressed.
Wet Process: Wet-processing or “washed” coffee produces a fruitier, chocolatier and cleaner taste than other processing methods. After harvesting, the fruit is washed, soaked and fermented, and sun-dried. Beans are then packed for shipping.
Dry Process: This process is the oldest method of processing, and produces coffee with a heavy body, and syrupy sweetness. The entire coffee fruit (cherry) is cleaned after harvesting, and then sun-dried without soaking or fermenting.
Pulped Natural: Also known as “wet-hulled,” “semi-washed,” “semi-dry,” this process is said to reduce acidity and increase body. The outer skin of the fruit is removed, the fruit is stored for up to 24 hours, then the mucilage still remaining is washed off, and the coffee is sun-dried.
Smith Island Beans roasts with a San Franciscan Roaster—an SF-6, capable of roasting up to six pounds per batch. The process takes from 11-16 minutes to develop, and different techniques are used to bring out the unique flavor of each coffee.
There are quite a few different methods of brewing for your beans, and many resources out there to help you find the best one for you. Here, I will talk about two of those methods.
First, the factors that influence how your cup will turn out include: Quality of the bean, size of the coffee ground, water temperature, coffee-to-water ratio, and contact time.
Quality of the bean: Starting with a quality bean is your first step in making a good cup of coffee. The best beans come from high elevations, close to the equator, with micro-climates that have consistent minimal rainfall patterns of 50 inches of rain per year. Temperature for thehigh-quality Arabica shrubs is ideal (59F low and 77F high) when closer to the equator. Robusta beans, found in most commercially produced and non-specialty coffee are grown in the lower elevations, and in warmer temperatures.
Here at Smith Island Beans, we indicate elevation and varietal of the beans we sell. “High-grown” is a specialty coffee term indicating a growing elevation exceeding 1200 meters (4000 feet). The higher the elevation, the denser the bean—more flavor in your cup!
Coffee particle size: When examining the factors involved in creating a great cup of coffee, grind size relates to the type of brewing method you are using. For instance, using a relatively fine grind would be the proper method to use for a coffee-maker, or pour-over cup. You would use a coarser grind for a French Press or press-pot. The larger the grind, the faster the water will pass through the coffee, which is what you want for a French press, but not what you want for a pour-over or coffee-maker. Extraction of the essential flavors is what you are trying to achieve, and too much extraction---from a too finely ground coffee, or too long a brewing time, results in a bitter cup, so it is important to use the proper grind size for whatever method you are using.
Water Temperature: The ideal brewing temperature is between 195-205F. Just below boiling. Boiling water will scald the grounds and will result in a bitter cup. One reason why percolators are a poor choice of brewing methods, even though many of us grew up with one of these in our kitchens.
Since coffee, at different roast levels has a different weight, measuring coffee by volume is not as accurate as measuring by weight. We at Smith Island Beans recommend using a gram scale, available in our store, to precisely get the right amount of coffee for your brewing method.
Generally, a standard coffee measure is 2 level tablespoons, which is 8-9 grams dark roast, or 10-11 grams lighter roast.
Coffee-makers and drip brewing:
If using a coffee-maker, please measure your “cup” of water and make sure it is 8 ounces, not, as many coffee-makers measure of 6 ounces water for their machines.
For every 24 ounces of water, use 42 grams of coffee.
(A coffee-maker normally holds 48 ounces of water)
For a 16 ounce French press, use 28 grams of coffee.
For a 32 ounce French Press use 56 grams of coffee.
For a 48 ounce French Press use 84 grams of coffee.
Coffee-to-water ratio: It is important to understand the relationship between the amount of coffee to water. Not using enough coffee, or using too much water will negatively impact the flavor and body of your cup. We recommend weighing your beans using a gram scale. The recommended ratios depend on your brewing method, and a chart can be found HERE along with the recommended contact time. As an aside, when using a coffee-maker, measure your water using a regular measuring cup. We have found that many coffee-makers are measuring “one cup” as 6 ounces.
Use a burr grinder. Blade grinders tend to macerate the bean, with little control of the process, and resulting inconsistent and uneven grind size. Burr grinders grind uniformly, and are easily adjusted to preferred brewing method grind size.
Grind your beans right before brewing. Coffee beans have quite a few volatile oils that begin to dissapate after roasting, and quickly after grinding. Flavor is lost if you pre-grind your beans and allow them to “age” before using.
Don't pour boiling water on your beans! Scalding destroys the subtle flavors unique to each varietal.