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Are you confused when you walk down the coffee aisle at the grocery store? Don't feel bad. Most are.

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I sometimes laugh as I go down the grocery aisle and see how every coffee brand labels itself as some sort of catch phrase.  What does it all mean?  Gourmet, high quality coffee.  100% Arabica.  Fair Trade.  Free trade!  Direct Trade.  Organic.  Kosher.  So many catch words, so much confusion.  Deception?  Some are honest, others may be just putting on a facade.  It is up to you to separate the real from the posers.  I'm going to give you some help in sorting it all out.

100% Arabica.  This means that 100% of the coffee used is grown at a high altitude, where the best quality coffee comes from.  It means that there are no Robusta coffee beans (coffee from lower altitudes with a very specific taste that is unpleasant) in the product.  I will tell you that I've tasted coffee advertised under this context that had robusta coffee in it.  Most coffee professionals can tell you by taste if robusta is present in the coffee.  The taste is similar to the last cup of Folger's I tasted, or Maxwell House for that matter.  Lower grade, value coffees have a tendency to have this flavor present in a big way.  I make no accusations here.  I'm just telling you what I taste.

Fair Trade.  This coffee is certified by an agency called FairTrade USA.  The idea here is that the organization hopes to ensure a sufficient price is paid directly to the coffee farmer so that they and their families can live above the poverty level.  So many coffee farmers do live in poverty because they just don't get very much of the money that you pay at the retail level.  There are arguments whether or not FairTrade USA is being successful in their efforts or not, as while some hands in the profits pot are removed, others are added.  It seems to me that the general idea is a positive idea.  I'd like to see our coffee farmers do much better than they do for all of their hard work.

Direct Trade.  Some that don't think FairTrade USA is doing the best job they could at helping the farmers have created their own alliance that is similar in idea.  End result here is that farmers are being paid higher dollars for their product, hopefully improving their living conditions.

Free Trade.  Believe it or not, I've seen coffee labeled as Free Trade in order to confuse the consumer into thinking they were buying Fair Trade coffee.  I don't think this is around any longer, but its just an example of how deceptive marketing can be.

Organic.  Coffee certified by the USDA as organic means that in the entire supply chain from farm to the grocery shelf a governing agency has monitored the growing, processing and packaging to ensure that no chemicals have touched your coffee.  This includes pesticides and anything that may give negative exposure to your coffee in any way.  Everyone in the supply chain must be registered with the governing agency and be subject to regular inspections and audits.

Kosher.  Coffee is kosher when its on the plant.  By its nature its already Kosher.  However, to be certified Kosher, it means that the packaging machines and packaging used in the production of the coffee have never come into contact with non-kosher materials or processes, according to Jewish law.


Bottom line here is that you can try to cover all of your bases by buying Organic, Fair Trade coffee, and still end up with a lousy cup of joe.  If you're buying at the grocery store, you really have to monitor freshness.  None of these labels we've discussed above have anything to do with freshness.  Even the "fancy stuff" in those clear self dispensing containers may not be up to par with freshness.  I've dispensed coffee from those that smells like its a year old and completely stale.  Coffee that is stale starts to taste a lot like robusta coffee, even if it isn't :).  Make sure you're buying fresh product.  That is the #1 rule in my book, or you're just wasting your hard earned money to pay for the fancy packaging that your coffee came in.

Whole Bean vs. Ground.  I STRONGLY encourage you to buy whole bean.  Your coffee will stay fresh longer.  Your coffee will taste better.  It takes you all of an extra 15 seconds and a $15.00 Wal-mart spice grinder to make a ton of difference in the flavor of your coffee.  If you don't believe me, buy a bag of each, same coffee, and do an experiment.  You'll believe me after you taste the results.

Coffee storage.  Lots of opinions here, but here is what works.  Store you coffee in a tupperware container that doesn't let in light, or store it in a dark place like a cubbard.  Make sure its always airtight, and in whole bean form while being stored.  Keys here are limited exposure to air and light.  Only if you plan to store coffee longer than a month would I ever recommend putting your coffee in the freezer.  I would advise you to purchase no more than you can use in a month at a time, and just order fresh coffee more regularly.

OK.  You're educated with enough coffee knowledge to be dangerous, so shop away! 

If you're not up to doing all of this homework on your own, we're happy to help you out here at Blue Jazz.  Any coffee you buy from us came out of our roasters that week, so rest assured its fresh.  We challenge you to taste the difference (in whole bean form please :)).

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