Understanding Coffee Flavors: What Factors Affect Coffee Bean Quality?
From earthy tones to sweet fruit flavors to floral aromatics — there are plenty of coffee flavors to try!
The flavors of coffee can differ so drastically, but what is it that determines the characteristics found in your carefully-brewed cup?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to the question as there are so many different factors that can affect how coffee tastes. We can, however, teach you what some of these important factors are.
Keen to learn all about coffee flavors? Keep reading to discover the factors that determine coffee flavors and quality.
Even before the coffee plant has begun to grow, there’s an important factor that will influence the taste of your coffee. It’s the variety!
Even within the Arabica species of coffee bean, there are tons of known varieties and more and more are being discovered with time.
Just as the variety of wine grapes will impact the taste of a glass, the variety of coffee beans will have a big influence on your cup.
Terroir refers to the influence of where the coffee is grown.
The country and region coffee is grown in will have a huge impact on the taste and flavor. For example, coffee from Ethiopia will taste different from coffee from Brazil. And we understand that coffees grown from nearby areas will offer many similarities in taste.
The specific qualities of a terroir that are responsible for coffee flavor are numerous and complex but can include altitude, climate, and soil type.
Learning about the source of your coffee and the terrain it’s grown in is helpful if you’re interested in understanding your favorite coffees better. Plus, you can learn which countries and regions you prefer your coffee from, making it easier to choose a blend or single-origin coffee next time you hit the coffee shop.
3. Farming Practices
The practices used on each coffee farm will also affect the flavor of your favorite brew.
Everything from the use of chemicals to patterns of planting and pruning will affect the quality of the coffee crop, and ultimately the taste of your coffee in a cup.
One farming practice that particularly affects quality and flavor is the process of picking. Just like with many other crops, coffee should be picked at optimal ripeness.
However, we all know that coffee cherries don’t all open at the same time, which means they must be picked by hand by workers who are trained to understand when a coffee cherry should be picked.
A lot of commercial-grade coffee is strip picked, meaning pieces of fruit are all picked at one time or are machine picked.
While this results in cheaper labor and an inexpensive final product, it doesn’t offer quality coffee as it’s essentially a combination of ripe and unripe fruit.
There are three popular ways of processing coffee cherries, and each affects the taste and finish of the result in your cup.
Dry processing, also known as natural processing, is the most traditional procedure and is used by smaller farms in rural regions. During the method of drying, coffee cherries are left out to dry on rooftops or other flat surfaces in the sun between seven to ten days. Coffees processed by this method are more likely to taste earthy.
Wet or washed processing is common in areas where fresh water is plentiful. Coffee cherries are left in vats of water overnight to soften them. Then, they’re placed into a machine that removes most of the fruit from the seeds.
These pulped beans ferment in water to make it easier to remove any remaining fruit before they’re dried either naturally or in a mechanical dryer. Wet-processed coffees generally are cleaner with brighter acidity and a light-to-medium body.
Pulp natural processing, otherwise known as honey processing, is a hybrid method between dry processing and wet processing. Coffee cherries go through the first step of the washing process to shed the outer skin. Then, they are left to dry with the fruit pulp left on the parchment layer that covers the bean instead of being thoroughly washed.
Coffees produced by the pulp natural process tend to taste cleaner than dry-processed coffees, yet they feature more body and muted acidity than wet washed coffees.
Coffees from different regions, or even different parts of the world, are frequently blended. This, of course, determines how coffee in a cup will taste.
A masterful craft, coffee blended exquisitely will feature beans from regions and countries that complement each other well.
In recent years, single-origin coffees are becoming more popular as they allow the drinker to experience the taste of one coffee farm explicitly and can learn more about the journey of the coffee they’re sampling.
Lastly, the process of brewing coffee will affect the taste and flavor of the final cup.
Although it’s the last step in the coffee’s journey from plant to cup, even the fashion one brews can be the difference between a delicious cup of coffee and one brewed with carelessness.
After all, a typical cup of coffee contains over a thousand chemicals, which means brewing techniques influencing temperature and pressure of coffee, for example, can have a profound effect in a cup.
What Else Affects Coffee Flavors?
These factors are just a few of the ways coffee flavors are affected. Other qualities that affect the taste and quality of coffee include the freshness of a crop, the way coffee is packaged, the age of the roast, and how coffee is stored — both before roasting and after roasting. Each cup of coffee has its own unique upbringing and story to tell.
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