A guide to better understand your coffee label
A lot of information is written on the packaging of a specialty coffee bag or the product description online. Do not panic! We thought of preparing a short guide to help you dissect each piece of information in order to help you choose the coffee that will satisfy your tastes.
First of all, you can choose your variety of coffee much like you choose a grape variety for wine. You can choose the origin of the grains as you choose a vineyard region. A specialty coffee has an aromatic complexity, specific growing and harvesting conditions. This is why the micro-roasters pay particular attention to the entire transformation process, thereby providing you with coffee that has very few defects.
Since you are looking for taste and quality, the information specific to each specialty coffee gives you clues about the product and thus allows you to get an idea of their taste properties.
COUNTRIES AND REGIONS FAVORABLE FOR COFFEE PRODUCTION
As mentioned above, specialty coffee is similar to wine; it is recognized by its origin and is 100% traceable. You will then understand that the characteristics of coffee vary according to its origin (country, continent). Like grapes, the taste of coffee is influenced by various factors including temperature (precipitation, exposure to the sun) and soil composition.
We speak of SINGLE ORIGIN coffee if only one country is indicated in the description (a producer name, a single farm, a single plantation) and it’s a BLEND when the roaster mixes various coffee beans with the various origins.
There are around 80 COUNTRIES around the world that have favorable climatic conditions for growing coffee and are known to have the highest quality coffee beans. The top 5 includes Brazil, the world's largest coffee producer, which mainly produces Arabica, and supplies a third of the world production. Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee, mainly Robusta. Colombia ranks third and has two harvests per year; an important one between March and May then a second one between October and December. Colombian coffee, mainly Arabica, grows in the high mountains in optimal climatic conditions and is appreciated throughout the world for the richness of its aromas. Although geographic (proximity to the equator) and environmental factors favor the production of Robusta coffee, Indonesia produces more than 20 varieties of Arabica coffee. Finally, Ethiopia, the birthplace of Arabica, is particularly famous for its varieties of coffee grown there.
The notes and flavors of coffee beans vary depending on a multitude of factors in the production chain. Coffee has unique properties that are linked to the local climate, terroir and local cultivation techniques. That said, the REGION in which coffee is grown greatly influences the acidity, notes and body of the coffee. The altitude is also necessary and will influence the aromatic profile of the grains. The higher the altitude, the more the coffee will gain in complexity, delicacy and acidity.
There are a multitude of VARIETIES, however the terms Arabica and Robusta are the most commonly used. The flavor of Robusta is more full-bodied, more bitter and its flavor is strong but not very aromatic, while Arabica coffee offers a greater number of varieties and tastes. To date, even if the aromatic characteristics of each variety of coffee are not fully known, some varieties have more qualitative specificities than others. Certain varieties belonging to Arabica such as Bourbon, Typica, Caturra, SL-28 and SL-34 (varieties created in laboratories for Kenya) and Catuaï, are often present in specialty coffee.
There are many similarities between coffee and wine. Did you know that coffee has a palette of more than 800 aromas while wine has around 500!
SHOWCASING THE AROMATIC PROFILES OF COFFEE
TREATMENT, which transforms coffee cherries into green beans, is decisive for the aromatic profile of a coffee. To date, there are three main methods: washed, natural and honey; however, new processes, including anaerobic fermentation, will soon emerge to demonstrate once again the innovation and constant evolution of the culture of coffee.
The WASHED process is carried out in three stages. The first involves removing the skin and part of the pulp from the coffee cherries, then the beans ferment in water for 12 to 36 hours. Then, the grains are washed, the remaining pulp is removed using large rakes, and a first sorting is carried out by eliminating the floating grains (low quality). The last step is to place the beans on drying beds and leave them for 1 to 3 weeks. In general, a washed coffee will have a marked acidity.
The NATURAL process (in the open air) consists of resting whole cherries on raised drying beds for 10 to 30 days (depending on the region). This method will accentuate the very pronounced, more wild and earthy fruit notes.
The HONEY process (semi-wet) mixes the natural and washed method. It consists of washing and plumping the coffee cherries, leaving the mucilage (honeyed substance) on the fruit. The grains are then dried in its mucilage (and becomes sticky like honey) and cleaned in the sun. The result brings out sweeter and sweeter tasting notes.
Tastes and preferences are specific to each. TASTING NOTES are a way of communicating the aromatic profile of the product. These are not added aromas, but rather recognized aromatic impressions when tasting this coffee.
The ROASTING DATE is an index of freshness. There is no expiration date for roasted coffee. Ideally, coffee should be consumed between 7 and 30 days from the date of roasting. It is best to keep the coffee for a maximum of 3 months in order to maintain the freshness and aromas of the bean. Of course, we recommend that you buy coffee beans and grind them on request. Keep your bags closed, without exposure to light. Australian roasters are looking at a new concept; freezing their coffee beans in order to preserve and extend the shelf life of coffee. It will be interesting to follow the evolution and the results of this concept!
The CUPPING SCORE is a guarantee of quality. A coffee is considered "specialty" when it is between 80 and 100 (100 being the best score). It is then a question of assessing the quality of the coffee by analyzing the taste of the coffee in a cup. A higher rating means greater complexity but not necessarily better taste, preferences for taste are very personal.
As coffee is a fragile product, roasters pay particular attention to each stage of its processing and this has a direct impact on the quality of the product obtained. The techniques have evolved enormously over the last 20 years and the grains are no longer burned in one way. Today, each roaster receives its green coffee beans with a full identity card. This work ethic necessarily increases the sale price and that is why a bag of coffee from a micro-roaster is more expensive than regular coffee sold in grocery stores. Specialty coffee is not just a mass production, it is a COMPLEX CREATION made with a lot of love, love from the hands of PASSIONATE PEOPLE.