We're used to carefully selecting cheese, wines, teas, breads, and even chocolates. Why should coffee be any different? Here's what to look for as a sophisticated coffee consumer.
I’ll be honest, when I first dove into the specialty coffee world, I had no idea what I was getting into. Don't get me wrong, I knew the difference between freshly roasted coffee and coffee that had been kept inside my grandma's freezer for over a year. However, the deeper that I dove into this industry the more I became enamored with the complexity and diversity that is available in each origin and in every coffee bean.
There are many factors that can have a large affect on our coffee. We won’t be able to go into the depths of all of these nuisances as there are whole books on these topics. We will however highlight some of these variables: elevation, cultivar, and roasting.
A coffee's elevation refers to the number of meters (typically how it is calculated) above sea level where the coffee is grown. Typically the higher the elevation of the coffee the more complex the coffee bean. This has a lot to do with the density of the coffee bean. As Z Daggett states in an article on Perfect Daily Grind, “When well-cared for, high elevation coffee will produce the more acidic, aromatic and flavorful cup of coffee that we love, while lower elevation coffee tends to have a lower acidity with little character in the cup” (Daggett, 2015) An example of this is Africa, which boasts some of the highest elevations in the specialty world with coffee beans harvested at 1,800-2,200 MASL. Often times these coffees are more dense because the growth takes place more slowly compared to coffees grown at lower altitudes.
While cultivars may seem like a confusing topic, they're really in reference to the breed of the coffee tree. Just like there are many types of tomato plants or apple varieties, there are also many coffee varieties or cultivars. Each cultivar has its own advantages and disadvantages based upon the country where it's planted. Some grow and thrive better in higher elevations, some in lower. Some do better with resistance to certain types of bugs and insects, and others do better with pesticides and fertilizers (A Botanists Guide to Specialty Coffee).
Some of the most sought after cultivars are Bourbon, Typica, and Geisha (typically fetching the highest prices in the market). Ultimately, varieties are unique to themselves, having certain characteristics that can allow them to stand out from one another. This is why you may see these varieties noted on the bags of coffee that are on the store shelves.
Finally we come to the roasting of the coffee
This is one of the final steps that coffee beans will go through before they end up in your cup. Once coffee beans have been harvested and processed (more on that here) and shipped to the United States, it's up to the roaster to bring the coffee bean to life. Most roasters approach the coffee with the perspective that they want to bring the flavors forward so that you taste all of the hard work that has been put into the coffee bean. Roasters can use a variety of different profiles in order to bring out the natural flavors of the coffee bean. This can include light which has more fruity notes, medium with some nutty notes, or dark with the bold and deep flavor.
It's an exciting process, and each roaster has their own approach. While roasting a simple process on paper, in reality it's extremely complex. See a roast curve below and you’ll get the simple essence.
Time and temperature are the two biggest factors during the roasting process.
Ultimately the best coffee is the one that you like the most. Do you love light and bright coffees or dark and bold? The choice is yours and one that you should feel confident in. Maybe you like to mix and match those a bit?
In conclusion, I hope that this has been an eye opening blog and one that you feel has added to your coffee knowledge. At the very least, you now have some great talking points at your next social dinner. We love coffee and I know you do too. its fun to be able to dive a little deeper and share with you the passion that runs this company.
Next time you pick up a bag of coffee check out these three things and make your decision based on your taste buds. Go for that high elevation coffee to knock the socks off of your friends or the dark bold roast to add some richness to you life.
Whichever you choose, choose coffee that provides clean water!
Daggett, Z. (2015). How Does Altitude Affect Coffee and its Taste in the Cup? Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2015/06/how-does-elevation-affect-coffee-and-its-taste-in-the-cup/
Woodley, G. (2018). Why Do Ikawa Roasts Look Different? Retrieved from https://www.ikawacoffee.com/at-home/blog/why-do-ikawa-roasts-look-different/
A Botanists Guide to Specialty Coffee. Retrieved from http://scaa.org/index.php?goto=&page=resources&d=a-botanists-guide-to-specialty-coffee