Coffee is one of the most chemically complex beverages we consume.
When I say chemically complex I am talking delicious aromatic compounds that translate into unique, tasty flavours on your tongue. “What about a good bottle of plonk?” I hear you cry… 🍾 Well yes, fine wines are renowned for their sheer complexity of flavour, however the amount of molecular compounds that make up their remarkable bouquets rarely top 250. In comparison, roasted coffee can display more than a whopping 800 aromatic compounds resulting in a beverage of incredible richness and refined complexity.
You’ll notice that each of our coffee bags are accompanied by tasting notes which are the result of us cupping every coffee and having a good old chinwag about both our sensory experience and the flavour journey we’ve been taken on once that brew hits our taste buds. You’re probably wondering how the roasted seed of a plant can taste like a whole host of delicious foods ranging from fruits, to nuts, to chocolate and even booze… The answer to this is pretty complex in the fact that there are many things that influence the resulting flavour of a roasted bag of beans.
So let’s start with….𝐒𝐏𝐄𝐂𝐈𝐄𝐒!
The Genus of Coffee is Coffea which includes 4 species; Eugenoides, Canephora, Liberica & Excelsa – it is hypothesised that Arabica is a natural mutation of Eugenoides and Canephora. For commercial purposes, the most commonly grown are Canephora (Robusta) and Arabica making up 40% & 60% of world production respectively. 𝐀𝐫𝐚𝐛𝐢𝐜𝐚 has superior cup quality with increased acidity (character) & sweetness. It has half the caffeine when compared to Robusta making it less bitter in the cup but also more prone to pests & disease – caffeine in coffee is its natural insect repellent so 𝐑𝐨𝐛𝐮𝐬𝐭𝐚 requires hardly any farming inputs to grow successfully & is higher yielding. Arabica needs strict growing conditions of 800-2300 metres altitude with stable temperatures in the range of 15-25 degrees C whereas Robusta grows from sea level in hotter climates with higher humidity.
So which one is for you? If you like coffee with smooth character & discernible flavour it has to be Arabica for sure. Its quality & higher costs involved in producing it make it more expensive than Robusta but it delivers more in the cup. Robusta is well suited to those seeking the heavier, harsher profile of traditional Italian espresso roasted darket to maximise its characteristics.
Still with us? Hopefully that makes sense so far, if you’re well fared in our range you might be wondering what about varietals? How do these fit into species? The varieties we detail all belong to the Arabica species along with thousands of others which have developed over the last 500 years due to spontaneous mutation (e.g. Bourbon) or specific selection (check out the IHCAFE varietal in our newly landed Honduran micro lot). If you’re interested in learning more about some of the varietals we feature regularly, have a look at our guide here.
The impact that the environment can have on how your coffee performs in the cup is staggering and is one of the many reasons we are in love with this mystical crop.
The word ‘terroir’ generally refers to the 𝐬𝐨𝐢𝐥 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐜𝐥𝐢𝐦𝐚𝐭𝐞 that nourish and support the coffee (though it is a term often more associated with wine). Climate encompasses the prevailing weather conditions of the area including temperature, air pressure, humidity, precipitation, sunshine, cloudiness, and winds. When talking about origins such as Colombia or Peru, you might have seen us use the word ‘𝐦𝐢𝐜𝐫𝐨–𝐜𝐥𝐢𝐦𝐚𝐭𝐞‘ to reference the existence of subtle or more evident differences in climate in heavily mountainous regions such as the Andes.
Slight differences in wind and shade can dramatically impact the development of the coffee cherries as can altitude. 𝐇𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐥𝐭𝐢𝐭𝐮𝐝𝐞 𝐠𝐞𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐲 𝐛𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐬 𝐚𝐛𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐬𝐥𝐨𝐰𝐞𝐫 𝐦𝐚𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐟𝐟𝐞𝐞 𝐜𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐰𝐡𝐢𝐜𝐡 𝐢𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐠𝐡𝐭 𝐭𝐨 𝐛𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐚𝐛𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐚𝐧 𝐨𝐩𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐚𝐥 𝐜𝐮𝐩𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐟𝐢𝐥𝐞. Higher grown beans (predominantly used for specialty grade coffee) are denser and can be harder to roast or brew as a result but the sheer amount of flavour packed into those dense beans make it worth it.
You might be thinking that quality in the cup therefore demands a very particular terrain and you wouldn’t be wrong – but the really exciting thing about the specialty industry right now is what impact 𝐏𝐑𝐎𝐂𝐄𝐒𝐒 can have on cup potential too…
Coffee beans are seeds of a coffee cherry & when talking about process, we refer to the many methods of getting the seeds out of the fruit to be exported & roasted. There are 3 main processes used (& a whole load of variances within each process!) & these are; washed, honey & natural. They differ by how much of the fruit is retained when drying the beans – washed coffee has all of it removed before drying, honey has the skin of the cherry removed retaining the sticky mucilage & naturals dry as whole cherries. Visit the processing guides section of our website for more detail but what you need to really know is how they impact taste.
𝘞𝘢𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘥 – higher levels of acidity, medium body, medium sweetness – good filter options.
𝘏𝘰𝘯𝘦𝘺 – exaggerated sweetness & beautiful balance, medium acidity, medium body suited to both filter & espresso.
𝘕𝘢𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘢𝘭 – often fuller bodied with high sweetness & lower acidity, for this reason they can be beautiful as espresso but there are HUGE differences in quality with natural processed coffees depending on WHERE the coffee is from and how attentively it has been picked & sorted.
We have an abundance of different processed coffees currently available, some from the same farm! Check out our newly landed Ethiopian & Costa Rican lots to understand the impact processing has on flavour.
An exciting progression in the specialty industry is how processing can be used to add value to a crop that would have traditionally been fairly ordinary due to not having the perfect terroir for high quality. This is exactly what has happened in the instance of our new Honduran lot from Señora Blanca Rosa – thanks to the involvement of @falconspecialty & Aruco coop, what would have been a more ordinary coffee has transformed into a showstopper that we scored 90.5/100! It has been macerated for 90hrs (anaerobically rested) before being dried naturally – the resulting cup tastes like everything BUT coffee with bold strawberry, mango, banana with a kiwi-like acidity. Processing when used in this manner is improving access to the specialty industry for marginalised producers & we are on board with that!
So, we have posted about the factors (species, terroir and processing) that can impact coffee’s flavour – what happens if these variables align to create the perfect cup 𝐛𝐮𝐭 that coffee is picked or treated inattentively? Conversely, is it possible to produce a great cup if any of the above are not available to the producer?
The power of people in impacting coffee’s resulting performance as a beverage is unbelievable. The care and dedication that goes into this supply chain to strive for quality is overwhelming, as is the realisation of how many things have to go perfectly right to create the ultimate experience in the cup. Regardless of species, terroir or processing a quality coffee demands an agonising effort from the person growing it to make every decision with quality in mind. From what varietal to plant, when to prune, whether to grow with shade trees, when to replant, when to pick each individual cherry, how to sort the ripes and un-ripes, how to process the coffee to maximise its inherent profile, how to dry, how vigilant to be with milling and ultimately when to sell the coffee are decisions that must be made correctly for everything to come together – and that is all before we roast it and you brew it!
It takes a pretty monumental effort to transform a cup o’joe into an outstanding and extraordinary sensory experience. This effort has brought about the specialty industry as it is today. We are so fortunate to work with absolute craftsmen/women who are totally dedicated to their crop. Coffee is not the easiest thing to cultivate, there are many crops requiring far less input and offering more guaranteed return and yet there is something about coffee that gets into the blood. So many of the producers we work with have farmed coffee for generations and the pride they take in this fact is truly heart-warming. Their efforts make you sit up & take notice and they are the reason we do what we do.
Head over to our webshop to see what we are talking about – you can now leave reviews on any of the coffees we have available to share your thoughts and appreciation for these magic beans and of course, if you have questions get in touch!
Learn more about our online introduction to coffee course.