If you have picked up a bag of speciality coffee lately, you probably would have noticed that it’s full of coffee info. The info goes beyond who roasted the coffee and varies from coffee to coffee. What exactly is it and should you read it?
The information on the bag displays the facts about the coffee farm. It normally displays around 4 to 5 different points, along with some taste notes. Generally the points on the label are…
- Farm Name
Although this may just seem like marketing fluff, it’s actually very relevant to the consumer. The info can give you an idea of how the coffee will taste! The name for all the info normally displayed on the bag as a whole is called terroir.
Terroir (French pronunciation: [tɛʁwaʁ] from terre, “land”) is the set of all environmental factors that affect a crop‘s phenotype, including unique environment contexts, farming practices and a crop’s specific growth habitat. Collectively, these contextual characteristics are said to have a character; terroir also refers to this character.
The country of origin plays a huge part in how the coffee tastes. It is the first thing I look at when I pick up a bag. Each origin tends to have a certain flavour associated with it. Of course not every coffee follows this rule, and we are getting more and more coffees differing the expected taste notes of a certain origin. This is due to better practice at the farms and new processing methods. Here is an example of what to expect from certain origins.
- Brazil – Nutty
- Colombia – Red Currants / Caramel
- Kenya – Blackcurrant
- Ethiopia – Plum / Peach
- Indonesia – Earthy
- D.R Congo – Raspberry / Tomato
Unless you are working in coffee, or you are an extreme coffee nerd/legend the farm will probably mean nothing to you. To be honest I don’t recognise as many as I should. Unless I have roasted, and worked with the coffee for months on end I would rarely ever know anything about the coffee farm. This is also due to my terrible memory. Sure there are quite a few farms around. If you really like a particular coffee you are drinking or a bag you have, you should look up the farm and remember the name so you can look out for their next crop. For example, one coffee I am working with as of the time I am writting this is Aramo – Ethiopia. This coffee is incredible. This is the second year in a row we are working with the coffee and I will also be on the look out for it.
Altitude plays a massive part of the flavour in the coffee. The change in the temperature and air pressure results in a more harsh growing atmosphere for the coffee plant. Although this may seem like a bad thing, it actually means the bean takes longer to grow resulting in more time for flavour development. The higher coffee is grown the more complex it generally is. The lower, the more earthy and spicy it is. Look out for coffee grown over 2000 MASL (metres above sea level).
After the cherry is picked the bean needs to be removed from inside the cherry. This is called coffee processing. There are 3 main methods
- Fully Washed
- Pulped Natural / Honey
The natural method is the oldest method and is still practiced at many farms today. After being picked the cherries are left out in the air/sun to dry until the moisture content reaches around 11%. To ensure the cherries dry evenly they are turned throughout the day. The skin from the fruit falls off naturally. Coffees from this process tend to be high in sweetness with a funky fermented flavour
In the fully washed process the beans are washed straight after being picked to remove the skin and pulp from the bean using a machine called a pulper. The beans are then placed in a fermentation tank where the unripe cherries float to the top and the ripe cherries sink to the bottom. The beans are left in the tank for 24 to 72 hours. The beans are then removed from the tank and washed again, removing the remaining skin and sticky cherry. Next the beans are left out to in the air/sun to dry until they reach 11% moisture. Coffees from this process tend to be high in acidity and clean.
The honey process is a hybrid. The cherry is picked and the outer skin of the pulp is removed but the mucilage is left on during the drying phase. The mucilage looks like honey which is where the name originated. This process tends to leave you with a sweet, well balanced cup. Not too acidic but not too fermenty either.
We have all probably heard of the two main coffee plant species, Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is the superior tasting plant, and by far the most popular in the speciality world. If we dig a little deeper into Arabica plants we will find there is a lot of different variations of the original plant. These are what we refer to when we list the variety.
To be honest, I have not noticed any corrilation between variety and flavour in the cup. I have not done enough research and it is hard to test as the other factors play a more prominant role in the flavour. For now I would reccomend consentrating on the other factors. Although it does not mean ignore this one. See if you can notice any flavour shared by a certain variety.
Finally, we have taste notes. To be honest, I don’t 100% trust taste notes on a bag of coffee. It is generally the roaster themselves to come up with the taste notes on the bag, which of course may be a little bit bias and only put on the positive sounding ones. I have even seen “lemon cheese cake” as a descriptor on a coffee…sure. They are a good place to look to get an idea if the coffee is acidic, sweet or bitter but that’s as far as I would trust a lot of roasters.
I hope you enjoyed this post and you can make an educated guess on how a coffee will taste by reading the information next time you pick up a bag!