When it comes to coffee, a lot of the time I hear people say or ask "which is the best coffee?" or "Coffee is coffee, it all tastes the same!". But that is not quite true. So, what difference does the bean make?".
Well, as in wine, on in any fruit juice, the beans mean in everything! Granny Smiths apples will certainly not have the same taste when pressed as a Jonagold or a Pink Lady apple.
Same thing for wine, sauvignon and merlot grapes will render a different taste in the cup.
So, that being said, what are the main differences between beans?
There are 2 main varieties of coffee beans, for which then exist multiple sub variants. You will have heard of Arabica and Robusta. The first one will have a more refined taste, where you will be able to taste various tastes linked to the terroir where the beans have grown, or linked to the variety of Arabica grown. Expect notes of fruits (citrus, raspberry. etc) or more chocolaty and nutty aromas. Robusta coffee tends to have a stronger, more bitter taste.
In both cases, the beans will tend to adopt the attributes of the area where they are cultivated. A volcanic soil from Guatemala might give beans a distinctive peppery smell when roasted, the high and cool altitude of Yemen will make coffee cherries ripen much slowly and give them taste of tangerine, while the protected shade of the Cuban forest will give beans a sweet tobacco aroma because of the proximity of the tobacco plantations.
But it is not just the terroir that will have an impact on your beans. The coffee farmer, with the care that he or she puts into growing his crop, will certainly also have a great impact. By choosing only the riper beans, taking away defective beans, sorting through the biggest beans has a massive impact on the cup final taste.
And then of course the process that the farmer chooses to wash and dry his beans will be paramount.
From that point of view, there are 3 types of coffee processing:
Natural or dry process, by which the coffee cherries, are quickly washed but sit for many hours with their pulp on, and are laid to dry in the sun. The effect is that the pulp (which contains the sugar) left on the bean gives coffee a sweet, caramel taste.
The washed process by which the beans are depulped and left to soak in water tanks, where some fermentation occurs which makes the skin easier to remove. Once fermentation is complete, the coffee is washed to remove leftover skin, and coffee is then laid on drying tables to dry. As in the natural process, coffee is regularly turned in order to ensure it dries out properly and doesn’t rot.
The Honey process is somewhat of an in-between of Natural and the Washed process, since beans are dried naturally with some of the flesh of the coffee cherry remaining on the beans. This adds sugar to the beans, which translates into a more developed flavor profile with fruits or caramel. The beans are washed but with less water than in the wet or washed process. The term "honey" process refers to the fact that when washed, the beans and the pulp look gooey with a yellow color and feel that resembles that of honey. This process is used in a number of central American countries, such as Costa Rica, El Salvador. The more pulp is left on the bean, the darker the resulting honey and the sweeter it will be. Yellow honey will hence be less sweet than red or black honey. Our Colombia Nariño Aponte is a yellow honey coffee, with notes of grapefruit, guava, carame
So now you know all about the process, you're more likely to know which beans taste best to you: maybe you like refined and acidic and washed Arabica or a fuller natural bitter Robusta or a sweet and balanced natural processed arabica.
Coffee is about trying and not being afraid of trying! Because you can always get a nice surprise when you discover something that you first knew nothing about :-)
Now you know about beans and process, you will need to figure out which roast type is best for you, but that will be the topic of another blog post!