Have you ever wondered how coffee gets those fruity notes or chocolate tones given in their descriptions?
Well, coffee is made up of more than a thousand flavor compounds!
Let’s start with the basics of where flavor comes from in coffee…
A coffee tree and the beans it produces are affected by the soil’s mineral content, the surrounding plants and trees, the weather, and other environmental factors.
To give you an idea the distinct sharpness of a Kenyan coffee can be traced directly to the amount of phosphorus in the soil.
Different regions have different mineral content in their soil and may have different vegetation growing amongst the coffee trees.
Nutrients are vital for overall coffee quality. To ensure the soil is nutrient-dense some producers, grow a diverse variety of plants, as well as ‘feed the soil’ either by compost or by adding other organic materials directly to the ground.
Not only are organic materials needed but the mineral composition is important as well, hence why coffee grows so well in volcanic soil. Specifically, phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, calcium, zinc, and boron are all contributors to developing flavor.
Weather & Elevation
Weather and elevation are very closely tied together, in that the weather changes as the elevation changes. More rainfall happens and cooler nights occur as you go up a mountain. The higher elevations often lead to climatic conditions that are ideal for specialty coffee with large variation in temperature from hot days to cool nights, forcing a slower maturation of the coffee cherry and increased flavor and sugar development.
Another note in terms of climate is that steep topography is ideal. It helps with drainage (a coffee tree loves water, but its roots do not want to be sitting in it) and increases the sun exposure of each individual tree.
Removing the bean from the cherry
Post-harvest coffee processing seems to be a hot topic in coffee right now. The way coffee is processed can drastically affect the flavor of the resulting coffee. The basic ‘styles of processing’ are Natural, Honey, Washed, and Wet-Hulled.
Even within each of these methods, there are variations that affect the final cup. For instance, in the washed process, how long the cherry stays on the seed for, how long the coffee is fermented for (if it is), and the temperature at which it was fermented, even the chemistry of the water used can affect the flavor of a coffee.
Example of Natural Processed where the bean ferments in the cherry
The main factors are how evenly a coffee dries and the length of time the drying process takes. Coffee can take anywhere from a few days to a month and a half depending on the processing style, the weather, and access to resources like mechanical dryers, solar dryers, or raised beds. Proper drying allows for sugars to be preserved as well as ensuring that the green coffee will stay full of flavor for a prolonged period of time, as opposed to a quick-to-stale coffee.
The roasting process drastically changes coffee’s flavor attributes. Coffee goes from this hay-smelling green bean to a brown bean with a wide variety of aromatic compounds and flavors. Roasting is extremely complex in that hundreds of chemical reactions are happening during the process.
To put it simply these different chemical reactions are what bring out the fruity/floral notes or those chocolate/caramel tones.
This is why at Java Planet we don’t take a coffee and roast it dark for the sake of having a dark roast coffee from a certain region. We take the time to roast the coffee in several ways and see which one brings about the best flavor.
Thank you to Zoey Thorson Contributing Author