If you’re in the grocery store, confused by the array of coffee, which costs from $1 to $12 per pound, I’ve got a trick. It will help you tell if the coffee you’re buying is high quality and roasted.

Just put one tablespoonful of coffee on top of a glass of iced water. If your coffee stays on top of the water, it’s been roasted properly. It should not leach into the water after a few minutes. If it leaches, then it’s either over-roasted or under-roasted.

 Keep reading to find out why this trick works.

*There are many other factors that affect whether your coffee will be good. These include the point of origin, and whether it is single source or multi-source. Also, matching the type of roast with the type of bean matters.  But, this test will help you figure out quickly if your coffee has been roasted properly.

How Does High Quality Coffee Taste?

Good coffee should balance acidity, sweetness, and bitterness in one sip. It should have a smooth flavor and no off-notes.

That’s a complex way to say that good quality coffee should taste good. It shouldn’t taste burnt, charred, or raw.  It should have complex and nuanced flavors. It shouldn’t taste bland. It shouldn’t taste overly sweet, bitter, or acidic.

It should feel smooth on the tongue. It might have fruity, floral, or earthy flavors.  It should leave you wanting another sip, without sugar or milk.

What Is a Good Roast?

Making a high quality cup of coffee has three parts: good coffee beans, good roasting, and a good brewer.

Of these three parts, roasting might be the most important. Bean production is a close second.

The roasting process gives coffee its flavor. It makes the green beans change and expand in flavor, smell, density, and color. This happens through several chemical reactions.

Lighter roasts will let the bean show more of its original flavor. This is the flavor created in the bean by its variety, soil, altitude, and weather. At darker roasts, the roast’s flavor is so dominant. It’s hard to tell the bean’s origin.

The Problem With Under-Roasted or Over-Roasted Coffee

The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction. It occurs between amino acids and natural sugars in foods. It causes browning and makes food taste stronger.  

The Maillard reaction intensifies at around 200 degrees Celsius (392 degrees Fahrenheit). A coffee bean reaches this temperature. It will make a popping sound, called the “first crack.” This marks the start of light roasts.

Under-roasted beans — or beans that are not heated to the first crack — will not caramelize. This means that the coffee bean’s natural fructose will be at a very high level. Uncaramelized fructose is actually sweeter than caramelized fructose.

As the bean is roasted longer and hotter, its amino acids and sugars break down. They also caramelize. However, after about 250 degrees Celsius (482 degrees Fahrenheit), the beans char. The heat breaks the amino acids again, releasing more fructose.

Under-roasted and over-roasted coffee have too much sugar. The sugar will not caramelize.

Does Your Ground Coffee Leach Into Ice Water?

Emmanuel was our guide at Finca Rosa Blanca sustainable coffee plantation. He explained the best way to tell if your coffee has been roasted well. You put a spoonful of ground coffee on a glass of ice water. If your coffee seeps into the ice water in a few minutes, it has been under or over-roasted. The sugars are seeping out of the coffee into the water.  If it doesn’t leach (even after a half hour), you’ve got properly roasted coffee.

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