coffee. We can enjoy a wide range of taste experience drinking our favorite beverage from earthy tones to sweet, fruity flavors and from floral notes to tea-like aromas. But what are the factors that determine the characteristics that we will find in our coffee?
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. The science behind coffee tasting is in its infancy, and recently the first attempts to understand what is happening on a chemical level have begun. Possibly, there are factors that remain unknown and it is not yet certain how much each stage of the coffee production chain affects the final product. However, we do know some of the most basic factors.
Everyone knows that the level of roasting is important and some recognize the importance of where the coffee is produced. Below we will try to emphasize important stages from the beginning and throughout the coffee production process.
Before we even get to the growth of the plant, there is one very important factor that affects the crop – the variety. But it's not as simple as Arabica vs Robusta. The Arabica species includes dozens of known varieties and even more are being discovered or created over time. Just as it happens with wine, so with coffee the variety or combination of varieties greatly affects our taste experience. As an example, we mention the main varieties of the Arabica species: Typica, Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai, Mundo Novo, Maragogype, Pacamara, Pacas, Geisha.
Whether we are talking about wine or coffee, terroir is a term that affects the cultivation of the plant. Coffee from Kenya is known to taste different than coffee from Brazil. We also know that coffees from neighboring regions have common elements.
The elements of a terroir that influence the taste of coffee are numerous and complex. The most important of these are:
Of course, we do not suggest that one knows every element of the terroir for the coffee he enjoys, but knowing some basic characteristics will help us understand our coffee better.
The practices used in the cultivation of the plants - the most important and probably the most difficult factor for us as end consumers to perceive - have a very large effect on the taste of coffee. From the use of chemicals and planting methods to pruning and picking the fruits, each stage separately and all together affect the nature of the crop.
The most important stage is the collection of the fruits. Like most agricultural products, coffee is ideally harvested at optimum maturity. This of course means that the fruits are collected by hand (handpicking) by trained staff who will go through the same tree more than twice picking only the fruit that has ripened.
For large-scale harvesting (commercial quality) picking is done by machinery or by hand where the fruits are not picked and thus exist from unripe to dried. Sorting is usually done after the fruits have been collected.
After the harvest is over, the fruit must be dried to then be sent to the various roasters. There are several methods of drying coffee and each one affects the final quality of the product. Each method is quite complex, so we will briefly mention the three main methods:
The art of roasting also contributes greatly to the taste and quality of coffee. Arguably, a good roaster cannot turn a low-quality bean into a high-quality coffee, but an untrained roaster can very easily ruin a good crop. Now, the art of roasting is considered a science, as the roaster will have to adjust parameters such as: the roasting time, the starting temperature of the process, the rate of temperature increase, the speed of the drum, the air flow, the cooling speed and many others that of course change with each different batch of grains. Perhaps the most important role in the whole process is played by the experience and sensitivity of the roaster's senses.
Mixing different qualities of coffee is another art that affects the taste of coffee. Most coffees on the market are the result of blending. In recent years there has been an increase in single origin and single estate coffees which belong to the category of specialty coffees. The mixing of different qualities ensures the stability of the taste profile over time and creates unique taste pleasures since it combines the special characteristics of different coffees.
Blending is also widely used to reduce the cost of coffee, since by mixing a high-quality coffee with a low-quality one, a blend with very good characteristics and low cost can be obtained.
The last stage that affects the taste of the coffee and is just as important as the rest is the method and process of pouring the coffee. Different grades may need different pouring parameters to deliver the maximum of their quality characteristics. Some important variables are:
At this point, everyone can experiment to enjoy the maximum possible effect from the coffee of their choice.
There are of course many other factors that can affect the taste of coffee. Indicatively, we mention some of them:
The production process of coffee from the field to our cup is much more complex than the summary presented above. People who deal with the world of coffee usually devote themselves entirely to its production and experiment constantly. But by gaining some general but basic knowledge, we might better appreciate our next cup of coffee.