We often get asked this question down at our roastery or on-line by customers and while we try to provide this in our coffee range, it is a really hard question to answer!
The reason being that what you perceive to be “great coffee” may not be how someone else perceives it. Secondly, making that coffee offers another opportunity for differences in taste profiles to emerge, and finally, where the coffee came from, how it was processed on the coffee plantation, how it was roasted, how well it was blended and the packed, all change the flavour profile.
So let’s recap because that was an ear-full right? Taking personal preference out for the moment, what can make coffee bean blends taste different are:
- Growing region and geography – so coffee grown in highland areas of Peru will taste different to those grown in the lowlands of Costa Rica. Altitude, climate and soil play really important roles in how a coffee bean develops inside the coffee cherry. Don’t forget that age and species of the coffee bush also impact this.
- How the bean was processed – were the coffee beans extracted mechanically or left to emerge after the coffee cherry was sun dried and how were they stored? These factors can also influence how the bean will roast and what flavours it will offer.
- The roasting process can make a radical difference in flavour profiles. Dark roasting will increase the caramelisation process whereas light roasting may leave higher acidity levels. Roasting changes the flavour just as cooking an egg or a steak will change their flavours.
- How the roaster blends different beans together will affect how the flavour comes together. This is an art as much as a science because the consummate roaster is looking for balance, yet also to accentuate the flavours and notes they believe will form pleasurably together on the palate. Citrus overtones in some Ethiopian coffee can balance the earthy flavours of coffee from Mexico, and there are hundreds of combinations a roaster can choose from.
- Packaging is all important. Oxygen is the enemy of great coffee and limiting oxidation is high priority for any roaster worth their salt. Allowing the roasted coffee to de-gas in airtight containers is vital, as are processes to flush out any oxygen using nitrogen. The best roasters invest in great packaging equipment and ensure their packs are well sealed and have a one-way valve that lets the carbon dioxide formed during roasting, to escape the bag without letting air in.
Then we get to making coffee. Here we have a whole new set of things to consider
- The first is method of preparation. A filter coffee and an espresso may be made from the same ground coffee, but they will taste very different. Read our article on the differences between espresso and filter coffee.
- The skill of the barista – do they know how to set their grinder to give the best grind specification for optimal coffee flavour extraction? Do they know just how much water to allow through the ground and tamped coffee?
- The quality of the coffee machine – just as with cars not all giving the same ride quality, not all coffee machines offer the same quality of extraction. Temperature control accuracy, pump pressure and its stability and a whole lot more, determine just what is extracted from the ground coffee. We have been using the Italian branded Wega manual espresso coffee machines for years and know that along the range, which offers very simple to very complex coffee machines, the build quality is consistently great.
- The choice of blend for different coffee drinks – here the barista must determine just what blend fits best with the milkiness of a cappuccino or the robustness of a double espresso. The same blend may show very different qualities on the palate depending on what it is mixed with, and therein lies our dilemma! With coffee consumption levels at all time highs in the USA, baristas are clearly getting this right
What is the best coffee blend? It’s impossible to answer, but we allow our customers to sample various coffee bean blends and we help to ensure that they get the right blend for their usage and a blend that brings them a pleasurable taste when drinking coffee. Don’t forget to also look at the sell-by date on your coffee to ensure you buy fresh coffee!
At the end of the day, you know whether the coffee was good right? So find it, stick with it and keep that barista safe!