PART 1: What makes a great coffee?
The coffee that we drink and enjoy every day goes through quite a very long process. The different factors that go into the planting, harvesting, processing, and roasting is what affects the end result in coffee flavour. Today we take a look the truly foundational factors that affect the coffee flavour. Let's head all the way back to the farm...
First things first, coffee beans are not actually beans. This is a misconception that I had at first, actually....they are the seeds of cherries from the coffee plant! There are over 60 different species of the coffee plant but on a commercial platform, the world mostly consumes only two types; Arabica and Robusta. Arabica Beans tend to be fragrant and rich in flavour however are more acidic and Robusta beans are earthier and have more caffeine. There are many schools of thought throughout the coffee community, preferences range from a single origins to complex blending. Hausbrandt believes that blending while roasting makes the best espresso.
Coffee grows in tropical and subtropical regions. Coffee loves the rain, coffee also loves the sun, so a perfect balance of temperature, rain and sunlight should be met by an area for it to be conducive to grow coffee.
The altitude of the farm and the soil type also affects the character of the bean. For instance, beans Ethiopian Beans have fruity notes while Costa Rica is nuttier. The higher the altitude, the more acidic the soil will be.
Harvest & Processing
Now that we have discussed how regional coffees develop unique flavours and characteristics, the harvest and green coffee processing is the next step that influences our coffee. Ripe cherries are harvested as they are sweeter and have more character and better developed flavours.
The processing all depends on the region and farm. To avoid mold and bacteria to developing, and to avoid risk of uncontrolled fermentation, mostly, processing happens immediately after harvest. Though there are quite a number of ways to process coffee, commercially the most frequently used methods are the Washed / Wet Process, or the Natural / Dry Process.
Wet processing or popularly known as washed coffee tends is using water to remove the layers surrounding the bean from the pulp from the cherry to the mucilage itself on the seed through washing. The flavors of this type of coffee is mostly inherent from the seed itself. It has a tea-like body, with a wide range of notes from starfruit tartness to deep, dark chocolate. It can also be reminiscent of florals. The coffee from wet processing is cleaner, brighter profile and are best known for their clarity & vibrant notes and valued for its perceived acidity.
Farmers choose the washed process because it reduces the risk of defects and it's more stable way to process coffee. On the downside, it requires more water than other processing methods which makes it a more expensive for production.
Natural coffee or dry processed coffee tend to have more fruity and fermented flavours because the bean has more time to interact with the natural sugars from the cherry as enzymes break down the mucilage around the bean. The dry-process produces coffee that is heavy in body, sweet, fruity, smooth, and complex. This is inherited from the sugars of the cherry pulp and skin.
The dry-process is often used in countries where rainfall is scarce and long periods of sunshine are available to dry the coffee properly. Most coffees from Indonesia, Ethiopia, Brazil, and Yemen are dry-processed. In this process, after picking the coffee cherries, they are spread out in thin layers to dry in the sun prior de pulping.
In part 2, we will continue the discussion with other components that affects coffee flavour from roasting to packaging.