All about the perfect cup of coffee?
There are so many elements that you need to consider to create the finest cup of coffee that satisfies your caffeine urge and tantalises your palate. Using the wrong equipment to create your coffee will result in a taste where the full flavour hasn’t been developed. Using low-quality beans will give you, unsurprisingly, a low-quality flavour while stale beans will mean the taste will have diminished.
So, how do you make the perfect of coffee? This guide will explain all you need to know about one critical element – how to select the right coffee beans.
In this coffee bean guide, we will delve into the world of taste, smell, roasting, regions and storage to help you find the right coffee for your taste buds and to help you to have fresh artisan coffee whenever you want.
When drinking coffee, you may know a good cup from a bad one, but how does this relate to its taste? There are many different aspects of taste when it comes to coffee. By learning what you are looking out for, and keeping the below characteristics in mind, you’ll start to build your knowledge of the elements you prefer and ones you’d rather didn’t play a key part.
Use this tasting guide when you are tasting different coffees, and you’ll quickly begin to realise why a particular coffee is your favourite.
The balance of the coffee is used to explain how flavours interact with each other. With a well-balanced character, you’ll have just the right amount of acidity that marries perfectly with its mellowness. For a coffee with a low balance would mean you’d have an overriding flavour or one that is more extreme than the other. When tasting, it is likely the flavour would be shallow with an unsatisfying texture.
For a coffee that is well-balanced, you can expect flavours that complement each other but are also complex that give your taste buds a treat. Overall a balanced coffee will have a perfectly paired aroma and flavour that is ultimately satisfying.
Much like wine, coffee types will have their own body types. It’s true that all are brewed the same way with water, and that should mean the body should be the same. However, coffee is surprisingly complex, some bean types will produce a more substantial body, like a full-bodied red wine. The dense body coffees will have a denser texture in your mouth and may even feel like it is coating your mouth because it feels thicker to the taste.
Medium and light-bodied coffees also exist, which will feel thinner on your palate, perhaps feeling slightly more watery. When choosing body in relation to coffee, there is no right or wrong, and it comes down to personal preference, some people prefer a fuller, weightier texture while others would rather a more refreshing thinner texture.
You may hope that your coffee never has an acidic taste, but actually it is imperative in the balance of the flavour. The acidity can be described as the sharpness or brightness of the coffee, it gives it a kick but doesn’t mean that it’s unpleasant. Without acidity you’ll find your cup of coffee is relatively dull or flat-flavoured with no endearing properties.
Of course, not everyone likes too much acidity, which is why you can find beans that are less acidic and are termed ‘mellow’. These will still have an element of acidity, but it’ll feel much more rounded and smooth rather than sharp on the tip of your tongue.
The finish refers to the aftertaste that is left by the coffee. It is the same principle as wine tasting; the finish should be the last flavour you experience of the coffee after you have swallowed. As well as the actual taste, the finish could refer to the sensation you feel whether it evokes tastes that could be, for example, fruity, nutty, chocolatey or bitter.
It is the finish that makes the most powerful impact when drinking coffee, so you want to find one that you enjoy throughout your tasting experience. The finish could be confident, clean, refreshing or sweet, but it is essential to find the one that suits your tastes and preferences. A lingering aftertaste which is unpleasant will certainly not be your favourite coffee.
The taste of the coffee not only comes from what is happening on your taste buds, but the taste can also come from the aroma. Our sense of smell works overdrive when tasting and can provide your palate with far-reaching flavours that the tongue is incapable of deciphering. While the tongue can determine sweet, salty, sour and bitter, the nose can discover tastes of smokiness, floral notes, earthy tones and freshness.
Coffee carries many different aromas, so start by inhaling the scent to pick out flavours and see if your taste buds are in agreement. It is common with coffee to find dimensions of flavour that remind you of other tastes, such as fruits, nuts or flowers.
The roasting process that coffee beans undergo will not only make a difference to their appearance, but it will also significantly impact the taste of the coffee too. Each coffee provider will have their own unique roasting process that has set roasting timings and temperature. With their different methods, it allows different flavours to come out, making their coffee a distinctive product.
The different types of roast to be aware of are;
Typically, dark roast beans are used for espresso as that have a very mellow taste. Usually, the acidity has been drawn out leaving a smooth, rich, soft taste that is ideal for short drinks. Dark roast beans still have a small amount of bitterness and acidity, but the overriding flavour is one that is mellow.
Regarding appearance, dark roast coffee beans are usually shiny and very dark brown or black.
Medium-dark roast beans have had a slightly reduced roasting time compared to the dark roast beans. The flavour is still rich and mellow but has a more overriding flavour that is bittersweet, particularly in the finish or aftertaste.
The medium-dark roast beans are usually shiny from the coffee oils that appear and have a very dark brown colour.
This is one of the most popular coffee roasts as it has a strong flavour which makes it an ideal choice for supermarket brands where flavour may be lost over time. Another term for the medium roast is ‘American roast’.
The colour of the medium roast beans is medium brown and matte finish with no oily sheen that is typical of medium-dark roast beans.
A light roast is ideal for those who enjoy a milder coffee flavour, instead of a strong powerful punch that is typical of a medium roast, a light roast flavour will be grainier and have a wheat flavour.
Light roast beans are usually light brown in colour with a matte finish and no coffee oils present on the exterior of the beans.
There are two main varieties of coffee bean. One is the robusta bean which is cheaper to purchase and is therefore used frequently commercially. The Robusta beans are less expensive because they are generally easier to grow. They can even be grown all over the world without special elevation or soil types needed. However, the Robusta bean usually has a harsher flavour and contains a higher level of caffeine.
The coffee bean that is used in more artisanal coffee is the Arabica bean. Arabica beans are harder to grow because of the elevation required and with this, they are more expensive to buy. However, in return, you receive a much smoother and balanced taste with the Arabica beans.
Depending on where the coffee has been grown will have a notable impact on the flavour and characteristics of the coffee. Coffee farming takes a great deal of work from using the right soil types, coffee plants, ground elevation and cultivation methods used by the farmers.
Some will choose an organic process to reduce the impact of pesticides infiltrating the plant and therefore flavour. Other farming techniques include shade-grown methods which, again, brings out another character. Fairtrade and whether farmers receive a reasonable payment for their crops will also have a determining factor on how the coffee tastes as they will be more inclined to deliver exceptional quality.
While every region will have a range of different coffee types and it is essential to find out more about the flavour from the coffee roaster or seller, there are some generalisations about particular coffee regions, for example;
Colombia – one of the primary producers of coffee beans for the major coffee brands, the beans produced here are usually well-balanced but with a depth of acidity and fruitiness.
Brazil – Typically used for espresso drinks, Brazilian beans are usually full or medium bodied with a denser texture and a cocoa finish.
Kenya – bold and fruity coffee flavours come from a tropical tasting bean that has a sweet but high acidity level.
Ethiopia – is a region with a greater range of flavours but beans here are typically fruity and sweet with a medium-body texture.
Indonesian – an earthy and slightly bitter taste of coffee with a smoky flavour and a bitter cocoa finish.
Hawaiian – usually sweet and mild flavours, the beans have floral undertones and a sweeter mellowness.
An important thing to note is that certification will not necessarily alter the taste of the coffee beans. There are many certifications coffee farmers and producers can achieve such as;
These will often help you to choose a high-quality product but won’t ordinarily change the flavour of the coffee.
If coffee beans are kept in high-quality storage conditions, with low moisture content, then dried seeds that are not roasted can be safely kept for twelve months in this state. However, if they are held in poor conditions, for example, high moisture that allows bacteria to form or near other products that means that odour can affect the flavour of the coffee, then the coffee will lose flavour and quality.
When choosing aged beans, which give a mellow flavour, make sure to select a high-quality provider that your trust. Ageing beans is an expensive process whereby the beans are stirred and turned regularly, and conditions are controlled. Some producers will claim their beans are aged when they have been sitting untouched in warehouses, but these will have lost their character and taste.