Gourmet coffee is meant to be a type or blend of coffee with superior flavor characteristics and growing methods. As such, it is often more expensive than regular coffee. Gourmet coffee can be a delicious treat for coffee-lovers, but beware: there is no regulation of the term gourmet, meaning that any company can put the title on its product regardless of any real claim to superlative coffee.
Coffee may be from a variety of regions around the world, such as Africa, Hawaii, Central and South America, and the Middle East. It may also be roasted to light, medium, or dark levels to impart certain flavor characteristics or affect caffeine content. Any roast from any region can be gourmet, depending on the quality of the bean and roasting.
Some terms often come up when describing gourmet coffee that may not be accurately explained. An estate-grown coffee is one where the beans are harvested at one coffee plantation, similar to a single-vineyard wine. Estate-grown coffee is often considered gourmet as it can ensure quality control; the coffee makers are not mixing some good beans with discount, lower quality beans from another source to save money.
Gourmet coffee may also be defined by the difficulty of growing or processing. Jamaican Blue Mountain and Kona coffees, for instance, only grow in very small regions under very specific conditions. Peaberry coffees are a product of a unique mutation in coffee beans that causes only one seed or bean to grow instead of the usual two. One of the most expensive gourmet coffees in the world is Kopi Luwak, or civet coffee, in which the beans have been eaten and excreted by a civet cat, giving them a unique flavor. Kopi Luwak, odd as it may sound, is a true gourmet delight, and may cost hundreds of US dollars per pound.
Another type of gourmet coffee is one in which additional flavors, oils, or syrups have been added during processing. This can result in decadent blends like chocolate-caramel-coconut coffee, or more typically found flavors such as vanilla and hazelnut. Whether flavor additives make a coffee gourmet is a matter of great debate between coffee fans; some feel that it leaves an artificial taste and is used to mask poor beans, others like the range of flavors and new interpretations of coffee in their cup each morning.
For some coffee fans, gourmet coffee is similar to fine wine. Each blend or bean has its own flavor, depth, and even proper food pairings. Some coffee shops offer tasting events to educate customers about the different characteristics of different coffees. Learning about gourmet coffee can be a fun way for foodies to expand their palate and enjoyment of this rich product, and true coffee fanatics will even wax poetic about the time, place, and emotions experienced when they tasted that truly perfect cup of gourmet coffee.