What Influences the Taste of Coffee?

 Whether you like your coffee citrusy and bright or chocolatey and rich, there are as many nuances to coffee as there are mugs to drink it out of. But how can there be that much variance, and what factors affect the taste of your coffee?

Let’s dig into that question and start with the soil.
   

1. Soil and Terroir

Why is it that some of us prefer Colombian coffee whereas others prefer Indian coffee? That is because the taste of coffee differs from origin to origin. Specific climate factors such as soil, altitude, wind, and rainfall play a role in the coffee plant’s health and ability to produce flavours.

Coffee plants produce caffeine which acts as a natural pesticide. This means that at higher altitudes, the beans produce less caffeine. Moreover, the cooler climate allows the bean to mature progressively, giving it a higher density. The resulting brew is sweeter, has more complex flavours, and has higher acidity.

 


2. Variety of Coffee Plant

There are more than 100 coffee species, but more than 98% of the world’s coffee comes from two types, the Arabica and Robusta. The third type, which makes up less than 2% of the global coffee production is Liberica. Each type is grown in different conditions and thus, has its own unique taste profile. 

The Arabica plant produces finer quality coffee beans than the Robusta species. The Robusta plant can be grown at lower elevations and produces more coffee cherries, but they are of lower quality. Arabica beans are grown above 600 meters and are more difficult to cultivate, but the reward is worth it! 

 


3. Farming Practices

This is where our fabulous farmers from around the globe come in. The techniques used for farming affect the end product significantly, including their practices in irrigation, pruning, fertilization, picking and even planting patterns.

 


4. Processing

There are three main ways to process the coffee cherries before they’re stored and shipped. 

Dry, or Natural Processing is a traditional method in which the cherries are laid out in the sun to dry naturally, usually over a week to two weeks. To prevent molding, the cherries must be turned frequently as they dry. This method requires less water usage (good for many parts of the world), but more manual work. Once dried, the skin and outer fruit can be removed from the bean, often by hand, leaving behind a coffee bean that provides a full body and low acidity.

Wet Processing, or Washing, is just that. The cherries are first brought to the wet mill where they are “pulped,” meaning the fruit, or “pulp,” is removed from the cherry and you are left with the seed, or “bean”. At this point, the beans have a sugary coating on them still, so they go into a fermentation tank. Then they’re washed and dried either in large dryers or laid out to dry in the sun. These beans are generally considered to have brighter acidity, more clarity, and a lighter body than dry processed. 

Finally, pulp natural, or semi-washed/honey-prep, is the mix of the first two methods. The cherries are pulped and then set out to dry naturally within the fruit pulp and parchment layer before the bean is extricated. Pulp natural beans are known for their sweetness and fruitiness in the cup.

 


5. Roast Profile

 The difference between dark, medium, and light roasts aren’t only in their colour. Coffee roasting plays a significant role in bringing out the aromas and flavours of a bean.

During the roasting process, chemical reactions occur inside the bean. The longer a bean is roasted, the more flavours and aromas are unlocked. As such, a cup of light roast coffee has more delicate flavours whereas darker roasts reveal smoky undertones and bold flavours.

 


 

6. Blending

 Most of the coffee that the world drank a few decades ago was blended. While that's still probably true across the coffee industry as a whole, in the speciality segment, single origins are becoming increasingly popular. That is most probably because they allow the drinker to experience the fruits of the coffee farmer's labour (quite literally).

Nevertheless, blending can be a masterful craft in its own right. In its basic forms, it can ensure a more consistent flavour experience throughout the year as the inputs to that blend change with the season. At its best, a blend can be a unique taste experience, whose flavour is more than just a sum of those of its component parts.

 


 

7. Brewing 

 

Last but certainly not least, brewing is the final stage in the process from soil to mug, which can also have an important influence on coffee flavour. Any barista will tell you, your brewing variables need to match the coffee you are brewing as well as the brew method. In the case of espresso, they may even need to be tweaked to respond to ambient conditions like heat, humidity and altitude. Even in a simple manual brew method, changes in brewing variables can be the difference between a decent and a delicious cup.

Some important variables are:

  • Brew ratio (water to coffee)
  • Grind size (and uniformity)
  • Extraction time
  • Water temperature

So if you're brewing for yourself (which you should be at least some of the time), we'd encourage you to challenge yourself to bring the best out of every bag of beans you buy. If you're not experimenting and tweaking, you may be missing out on the best your coffee can be.

 


 

Happy Caffeinating! If you need any help with roasting or brewing your perfect cup of coffee, do reach out to us.

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