by Jessica Easto
Smooth like chocolate or fruity like a berry, coffee has as many tastes as wine or beer – you just need to know your beans
Need to know
Coffee hasn’t always received the attention it deserves. In many Western countries especially, the beans were low quality. Drinkers didn’t know or care about how coffee was produced, bought or brewed. A lot of coffee was cheap and tasted bitter, and its purpose was practical: medicine or fuel.
But over the past few decades, things have started to change around the world. A global band of intrepid producers, buyers, roasters, baristas and scientists have been elevating coffee to the craft level, like fine wine and beer. You might think that you know what coffee tastes like – roasted, toasty and bitter – but that’s only a sliver of the variety available to you now.
Coffee – what’s called ‘drip’ or ‘filter’ coffee, not espresso – can taste smooth and sweet like chocolate, or provide a zip on your tongue like a bright Champagne, or taste fruity, just like a blueberry. And when I say ‘chocolate’ or ‘blueberry’, I mean the coffee itself literally tastes like those things, without any added syrups or flavourings. The first time you drink coffee that tastes like more than coffee, you’ll never forget it.
This expansion of flavours is partly down to a global trend towards new roasting techniques. All coffee roasters create a roast profile – a manipulation of time and temperature – to achieve flavour in the beans. Historically, coffee has been roasted for relatively long periods of time at relatively high temperatures (think of traditional Italian coffee culture or the giant coffee chains in the United States). This profile tends to emphasise roast character, the flavours imparted by the roasting process – akin to how the process of ageing bourbon in oak barrels imparts a distinct flavour to the spirit. But more recently, distinct coffee cultures – including those of North America, Australia, Britain, Scandinavia and Japan – have been pushing other roasting techniques forward, ones that focus on the qualities of the bean. For example, roasting at relatively low temperatures for a shorter amount of time tends to accentuate what I call coffee character, the unique flavours inherent in the bean itself and where it was grown – or its terroir, to borrow a term from wine.
At the same time, producers all across the ‘Bean Belt’ – the band of coffee-growing countries that fall between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn – are refining their growing and processing techniques, supplying the speciality coffee market with unique, delectable coffee beans. All this has opened the door to a world of possibility for consumers. Coffee has never had more variety or more potential to taste great than it does right now.
Whether you’re a regular coffee drinker or just starting out, the best way to enjoy a cup is by honouring all the craftspeople – the producers, green-coffee buyers, roasters, baristas and more – who made your brew possible. Today’s speciality coffee offers as much range and variety as wine and craft beer, yet it’s mostly still not appreciated and savoured in the same way. Whether you see coffee as an occasional treat or as a daily essential, there is so much more you can learn and enjoy. […]
Continue reading: How to enjoy coffee | Psyche Guides