What impacts the quality and flavor of coffee?
From a simple cup of black coffee to a complex, multi-adjective Starbucks order, each coffee drinker has their own favorite way of indulging in this caffeinated wonder-drink. The variety of the plant, the chemistry of the soil, the weather, the amount of rainfall and sunshine, and even the precise altitude at which the coffee grows can affect the taste of the final product.
The key variables, combined with the way the cherries are processed after being picked, contribute to the distinctions between coffees from countries, growing regions and plantations worldwide.
Coffee Bean Varieties
There are two main species of coffee beans in the world, Coffee Arabica, and Coffee Robusta. More than three-quarters of the beans that are sold in the world today are Coffea Arabica, the majority of the remaining bulk are Coffea Robusta also known as Coffea Canephora.
These beans are of a lower grade than Arabica, and are typically grown at lower elevations. They are easier to grow and maintain, and produce a higher yield. Robusta beans have more of an astringent flavor and contain a higher amount of caffeine.
These are the higher quality beans and are referred to as gourmet coffee. They have half the amount of caffeine as Robusta and have more pleasing flavors and aromatic properties.
Variants in origin
Two coffee varieties, from different countries of origin or grown in different environments, are likely to taste quite different even when roasted to the same level (especially at light to medium roast levels). The age of the coffee, the processing method, the grind, and the brewing method will also affect the taste. Lets us explore the coffee taste from countries across the globe.
Though coffee farms are found throughout the Hawaiian islands, it is Kona coffee, from the large island of Hawaii, that is best known and always in high demand. Kona coffee is carefully processed to create a deliciously rich, aromatic cup of medium body.
With over 100,000 coffee farmers, Mexico ranks as one of the largest coffee producing countries in the world. A cup of Mexican coffee generally offers a wonderful aroma and depth of flavor, often with a pronounced sharpness.
There are two major growing regions on the Caribbean island: Grand Lares in the south central region, and Yauco Selecto in the southwest. Both regions are noted for their beans’ balanced body and acidity, as well as a fruity aroma.
Guatemala’s coffee has a distinctive taste quality favored by many for its rich flavor. There are three main growing regions Antigua, Coban and Huehuetanango each with a breathtakingly rugged landscape and rich volcanic soil. This medium-to-full bodied coffee has a depth and complexity of taste that is almost spicy or chocolatey.
Costa Rica produces only wet-processed Arabicas. With its medium body and sharp acidity, it’s often described as having perfect balance.
Colombia is probably the world’s best-known coffee producer and ranks second worldwide in yearly production. A high standard of excellence is maintained with great pride and careful growing on thousands of small family farms across the country. Colombian Supremo, the highest grade, has a delicate, aromatic sweetness while Excelso Grade is softer and slightly more acidic.
Brazil is the biggest coffee producing country in the world. Both Arabica and Robusta are grown, and the climate, soil quality and altitude determine which variety will grow best in which region. A fine cup of Brazilian is clear, sweet, medium-bodied, and low-acid.
Coffee legend tells of the discovery of the first coffee trees in Ethiopia. In the cup, an Ethiopian coffee tends to offer a remarkable and bold statement: full flavored, a bit down-to-earth and full bodied.
Kenyan coffee beans produce a sharp, fruity acidity, combined with full body and rich fragrance. Kenya has its own unique grading system. Kenyan AA is the largest bean in a 10-size grading system, and AA+ means that it was estate grown.
The Ivory Coast is one of the world’s largest producers of Robusta coffee, which is strongly aromatic with a light body and acidity. This variety is ideally suited for a darker roast, so they’re often used in espresso blends.
Yemeni coffee has a distinctive taste that is deep, rich and like no other. When coffee was shipped from the famous Yemeni port of Mocha to destinations all over the world, the word Mocha became synonymous with Arabian coffee. The Dutch combined Arabian coffee with coffee grown on the island of Java to make the first coffee blend and one that is still well-known today as Mocha Java.
Indonesia is also known for its fine aged coffees, which were held over a period of time by farmers who wanted to sell them at higher prices. Warehousing gently ages the coffee in Indonesia’s warm, damp climate and results in a coffee prized for even deeper body and less acidity.
Coffee industry is rapidly growing in Vietnam as it is becoming one of the world’s largest producers. With light acidity and mild body with good balance, Vietnamese coffee is frequently used for blending.
Varieties of Roasting
The degree to which coffee beans are roasted is one of the most important factors that determine the taste of the coffee in the cup. Before roasting, green coffee beans are soft, with a fresh “grassy” smell and little or no taste. The coffee roasting process transforms these raw beans into the distinctively aromatic, flavorful, crunchy beans that we recognize as coffee.
Light roasts are light brown in color, with a light body and no oil on the surface of the beans. Light roasts have a toasted grain taste and pronounced acidity. The origin flavors of the bean are retained to a greater extent than in darker roasted coffees. Light roasts also retain most of the caffeine from the coffee bean.
Medium roasted coffees are medium brown in color with more body than light roasts. Like the lighter roasts, they have no oil on the bean surfaces. However, medium roasts lack the grainy taste of the light roasts, exhibiting more balanced flavor, aroma, and acidity. Caffeine is somewhat decreased.
Dark roasted coffees are dark brown in color, like chocolate, or sometimes almost black. They have a sheen of oil on the surface, which is usually evident in the cup when the dark roast coffee is brewed. The coffee’s origin flavors are eclipsed by the flavors of the roasting process. The coffee will generally have a bitter and smoky or even burnt taste. The amount of caffeine is substantially decreased.