Most people won’t give much thought to their coffee other than the taste of the final product delivered to them at the end of the counter. They just want a good cup to keep them going. It’s just a cup of coffee after all, right? Well, no, actually. I’ve found the more I learn about coffee, the more I appreciate it, and the more I pay attention to the flavor profiles within it.
Did you know there are two different types of coffee beans? There’s robusto, which is used in instant coffee and expresso. It has higher caffeine content (2.7%) and it’s known to have a dark and bitter flavor. Arabica, on the other hand, has less caffeine (1.5%) so it’s known for smoother, more complex characteristics. It’s the bean of choice for craft roasters.
In Arabica beans, there are so many factors that impact the flavor: the altitude in which it’s grown, the soil it’s grown in, the variety of coffee plant, and the amount of sunshine and rainfall in that area. The taste and quality can fluctuate greatly, even in coffees grown in the same region. It doesn’t stop there. There are also three processing methods that contribute to the final taste of the coffee. The coffee becomes less palatable if the coffee growers deviate from quality standards in any step along the process.
- The Dry Method: Coffee cherries (yes, coffee beans come from cherries!) are sorted by size and quality, and then laid out in the sun to dry for about 3 weeks. Then, the coffee beans are separated from the dried cherry pulp in a hulling machine.
- The Wet Method: Coffee cherries are sorted by size and quality, and then placed in a machine to remove the skin and pulp. Coffee beans are then placed in water to ferment for 24-36 hours. After, the beans are washed and sent to dry in the sun.
- Semi Dry Method: In this process, the coffee cherry is removed from the bean using water and a machine. (The excess pulp around the bean may or may not be cleaned off. Leaving the pulp on adds sweet notes to the coffee flavor). Then, the beans are laid in the sun to dry.
Ben works for One Village Coffee, a specialty coffee roaster (go figure) in Souderton PA. A perk of his job (pun intended) is sampling coffees from all around the world and picking up the unique notes from a specific region. African coffees tend to be fruiter in flavor, so they are best done as a light roast. If you roast them too long, you’ll cook away some of the rich notes. Central American coffees are more balanced, not too fruit forward, with more chocolatey and nutty undertones. You are probably familiar with Asian Pacific coffees, such as Sumatra, Java, and Kona. These are heavier bodied and earthy, ideal for a dark roast.
At One Village, it’s the job of the Director of Coffee to develop the coffee blends that will eventually end up on the grocery store shelves. He can decide to let the coffee stand on its own merit as a ‘single origin’, like their Idido from Ethiopia. Or, he can combine coffees from different regions to add additional complexity in a ‘blend’, like the Villager, which combines Ethiopian with Columbian. As Ben and I were marveling at all the intricacies of coffee, I naturally began relating it to people.
Aren’t we all influenced by our environment? Our parents, the region in which we were born, our religion, and our life experiences are what shape us. Isn’t it interesting how two people within the same culture could turn out so differently? Even siblings raised in the same home develop diverse personalities.
If coffee can be so nuanced, how much more so are complicated humans? I wonder if we took the time to understand the origins behind our ‘flavors’, would we appreciate each other’s diversity a little bit more? Just think - how many pleasing ‘blends’ could we create by allowing our differences to work in harmony together? What kinds of things could we accomplish?
Want to know more about coffee?
Photo courtesy of Mark Daynes via Unsplash.