Here are three of the most commonly asked questions that we receive about coffee...
What are the differences in coffees from different origins and regions?
There are an array of factors that play a role when growing high quality coffee, but the main differences between each coffee-producing country include the soil, elevation, and temperature. Fertile soil is essential for producing high-quality coffee. On farms with higher soil fertility, coffee plants can produce larger yields and better defend themselves against disease. A farm’s altitude, in addition to its soil conditions, directly impacts the flavor profile of coffee grown there. This is because altitude affects the temperature in which coffee plants grow, and temperature can boost or hinder a plant’s ability to absorb nutrients from the soil. Moreover, coffee plants growing at higher altitudes and lower temperatures can photosynthesize longer. This allows the plant to metabolize nutrients in the soil and produce bigger, healthier cherries. The end result is a desirable hard coffee bean with a high sugar content. Here's a fun fact for our science fans out there: “In order for a coffee plant to produce 100 pounds of green coffee (1 quintal), it must extract from the soil approximately 1.45 kilograms of nitrogen, 0.28 kilograms of phosphorous, and 1.74 kilograms of potassium.” – Luis Alvarez Welchez, manager and agronomist, ProSuelos Initiative.
What is the difference in the different types of coffee processing?
After the coffee seeds have been harvested, they need to be processed and have the green seeds extracted. There are two common methods of processing coffees, and the first and most common method is the washed coffee processing method. Washed coffees are dried without the cherry and de-pulped, then are usually fermented to promote the separation of any remaining pectin still stuck to the bean and parchment. Lastly, they are washed clean with water prior to drying. Washed coffees are prized for their clarity and vibrant notes. Removing all of the cherry prior to drying allows the intrinsic flavors of the bean to shine without anything holding them back. Fruit notes are still found in washed coffees. However, fermented notes and berry notes are less common.
Another popular processing method is the natural process. Naturally processed coffees are kept in their cherries after being harvested and are set out to dry in the sun. The natural process is a back-to-basics approach that stems from Ethiopia, and although it needs less investment, it still requires certain climatic conditions to ensure the drying of the fruit and seed in time. Common flavor notes for natural processed coffee are blueberry, strawberry, tropical fruits and honey but on the flip side, there can also be wild, fermented flavors and alcohol-like notes.
How do I identify flavor notes in my coffee?
Identifying notes in coffee can be challenging, but well-worth the effort. Much like wine and beer, coffee can have many different inherent flavors based on where it's grown, the processing of the bean, the attention and care in roasting, and, last but not least, the brewing method.
The best way to start tasting notes in coffee is to brew two different coffees side by side, trying to match the brewing methods identically. After brewing, get a spoon (preferably a soup spoon) and slurp coffee from the spoon. This may sound bizarre at first, but when you slurp coffee, it creates a mist that is able to spread across your palette, enabling you to get a profile of the flavors without scalding your tongue on a hot sip of coffee. After sipping one coffee, do the same with the other and compare. Following this method, you'll have fun trying to identify the fruitiness of one coffee, compared to another coffee that may taste like caramelized brown sugar. Tasting coffee notes is never about getting the answer right, but is instead subjective and entirely about the process of finding new ways to enjoy your coffee. While your friend might taste banana notes, you might taste chocolate; like anything involving coffee, the communal nature of the drink makes it special.