Let’s talk about coffee characteristics and flavor profiles
This is the overview of what we’ll look at today.
- Coffee is like wine
- Every coffee has unique characteristics
- These characteristics affect the flavor profiles
- Where you get your coffee affects the flavor profiles
- The where can be perceived as country, region, farm, microclimate or terroir
- The more specific you get, the better you start to understand coffee characteristics and flavor profiles
- The more you taste and compare, the more you understand these differences which gets interesting
So, let’s begin shall we?
Coffee is like wine
What? Now way.
Coffee is now seriously starting to gain recognition as a high end commodity. A luxury of beverages so to say. Sounds similar to wine right?
In Japan, there are several roaster cafes that provide quality coffee beans in wine bottles or bottles that look awfully similar to wine. If you think I’m joking, check this page out by a coffee company called micafeto. From what I’ve read and heard, they really wanted to showcase coffee and tell people that coffee is not this lifeless commodity that’s just there to give you a buzz in the morning. It’s more than that, it’s something that deserves to be treated like wine. With care, and in a quality glass bottle.
Every coffee has unique characteristics
Just like us humans, or our pet dogs/cats and other little critters that crawl this earth, coffee has a set of characteristics that makes it unique.
Okay, so let’s get a bit more specific. What characteristics are we talking about here?
- Origins (Kenya, El Salvador, Sumatra, Esmeralda Farm, El Milador Farm)
- Variety ( Bourbon, Typica, Caturra, Javanica)
- Processing Methods (Wet mill, Natural, Honey)
These three are probably what really makes the characteristics of the coffee.
Origins. This can be as specific as the farm/microclimate they grow up in, or as vague as the country where they are originally imported from. At any given roaster cafe, the Kenya you taste will be different compared to the Ethiopia. Coffee from a certain region like Harar of Ethiopia tastes different from Sidamo in Ethiopia. Every place has its own air, temperature, water, soil and climate.This means that the coffee yielded is going to be different, and as a result taste different.
Variety. Every variety has it’s own unique characters. That could be the flavor profiles they tend to accentuate. Or it could be the body they tend to have. It could even be the mouthfeel they tend to produce. One thing for sure, there are so many varieties of coffee. Some originate from accidental mutations while some are created to better survive the harsh elements and diseases.
Processing Methods. The three main processes are washed, honey and natural. I’ll explain more about this in my future posts, but what’s important to understand is that these different processing methods affect the coffee and give it a certain quality, a certain character.
Characteristics Affect The Flavor Profiles
The characteristics which coffee possesses affects the flavors. This is very similar to any other crop or agricultural product. For example, a MacIntosh variety apple tastes different from a Ginger gold variety apple. Perhaps it may be the acidity, tartiness, fragrance and other various aspects.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America produces what’s called a flavor wheel. Here, you can find the many flavor profiles which come from coffee.
Coffee has flavor, and sometimes that can be intense, to the point that you can recognize it being similar to something as close as a lemon to something more vague as acidic.
One may point out and say that they don’t taste exactly the same. And that’s very true. But in order to describe how coffee tastes, the easiest way is to compare and point out the similar qualities and flavors to other well-known consumer products.
Where you get the coffee affects the flavor profiles.
One of the major aspects we like to focus on is where the coffee comes from, its origins. And that’s because of the abundant factors affecting the growth of coffee depending on the origin of coffee at hand.
The origins can be perceived as country, region, farm, microclimate or terroir
Yes, and that’s why we have coffee that’s labelled ‘Kenya’ or ‘Guatemala’. Sometimes you can find something more specific like ‘Sidamo’ or ‘El Milador’. So why should we care about where the coffee comes from?
There are many factors affecting the coffee like soil, climate, irrigation, sunlight, humidity, temperature and so much more. And these factors affect the characteristics of coffee, and their flavor profiles.
This is where everything gets interesting because of the similarity to wine.
I’m no wine expert, but you can find all sorts of wine and most wines are labeled under a vineyard of a certain location. And yes, the year which I’ll talk about below. This means that you can expect a certain quality or flavor profile from the wine produced there.
Tasting and Comparing is one sure way to understand the differences of coffee and start appreciating it
Wine tasting is something you may have come across. But coffee?
You may find the many coffee cupping sessions at your local roaster cafe which provides you with the opportunity to taste and compare coffee. You can also do it home with the coffee you make.
The reason why comparing works so much better is that you have one coffee for reference and can always come back to it to see the difference. But if you often have coffee in a day, your palate can improve so much so that you can taste the subtle differences if there are any.
If you’re interested, you should buy two different beans and then make a cup of coffee for each bean. This is for sure the fastest way for one to understand and realize the unique differences between the coffee.
Aspects such as the fragrance, body, mouthfeel, darkness, acidity and flavor are all different and understanding these differences can make your coffee journey so much more enjoyable.
It can also get you interested in what goes on behind the counters of your local cafes/roaster cafes. Most people who work there taste, taste and taste everyday to provide the coffee they believe in. They also try to form their succinct explanation of the coffee towards customers looking to understand a bit more than just dark and light coffee.
Processing Methods are also a major factor in affecting the way coffee tastes
One characteristic that’s starting to gain a lot of importance is the processing method. And that’s because the same coffee can produce a very different flavor profile depending on the way its processed. Pretty cool right?
What’s said is the wet mill or washed process produces a clean cup with clear and easy to distinguish flavor profiles. The natural or dry process, on the other hand gives you a sweeter and more complex flavor while the honey or pulped-natural process produces attributes of both sides. And also it tastes like honey, hence the name of the process.
Of course, this all supplements the other characteristics and gives each coffee its unique taste.
The Year of Coffee
Back to the year of wine. It’s quite true that the year bottled can mean a different wine altogether. The same can apply for coffee.
Even though we may talk of the same coffee farm, every harvest season can be different. Every season brings with it a change in temperature, humidity, rainfall and other variables.
This is something that doesn’t get mentioned a lot for us customers, but it’s something that can really change the taste of coffee and prevent it from being consistent with its flavor profiles every year.
Have you ever noticed the differences between coffee? If so, what was it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.