I love doing tasting parties and talking to people about coffee. Especially when I have the opportunity to talk to people who really are not in the know. I get these fun questions like, “What’s with the different roast levels?” “How about the different blends?” “What is a pour over?” I find it very rewarding to help someone become a more educated consumer. I added some information on coffee and roasts to the coffee page on the Kitty Town Coffee website, but this blog post will go much more in depth for anyone hoping to expand their coffee vocabulary.
Where does coffee come from?
We’ll start with the basics. Many people don’t think about the fact that coffee does not actually come from a gusseted mylar bag or a coffee can. Some don’t ever even encounter coffee in its whole bean form. That’s ok, it’s my job to worry about where your coffee comes from and how it gets to you. But, if you’re curious, continue reading.
Coffee starts out as a fruit.
This is a cross section of a coffee cherry, the bean that you will eventually grind up and drink is actually the pit of the cherry. There are different processes to remove the fruit from the pit, most common is probably drying but it depends on the climate of the place the bean comes from and whether that’s feasible or not. Different processes also result in different flavors in the beans.
Speaking of flavors, coffee from different parts of the world exhibits different flavor profiles. These flavors come from many factors such as height of the coffee tree, amount of sunlight or shade, altitude of the trees, humidity, and as previously mentioned, drying process. Once the green beans are dried, they are shipped off to roasters who roast the coffee beans, which will then be ground up for your enjoyment.
Origins and blends
Since coffee from different parts of the world are all grown differently, they exhibit a unique flavor profile that coffee roasters use to create coffees that will satisfy your palate. Typically coffee is either considered single origin or a blend.
Though not always, some in the coffee community view single origin as superior to a blend. Single origin refers to exactly what it sounds like: the coffee beans came from a single place. In the US we are pretty accustomed to Colombian beans, which of course came from Colombia. Colombian beans are typically not very acidic, somewhat sweet, with a mild nutty flavor. Contrast this with a Kenyan, which is less commonly used in commercial coffees (what you’d find in the grocery store) due to its price and acidity, may have more notes of raspberries, limes, and grapefruits, which is less expected in the typical American coffee palate.
Blends are, as you may suspect, a mixture of two or more origins. Anytime you see a coffee that is described as Breakfast, Donut Shop, or anything similar, you are looking at a blend. A lot of our coffees at KT Coffee are blends. Blends can be designed around a specific flavor (that’s how we designed the South American) or it can be a happy accident (like the Smooth).
Where does Arabica come from?
Despite what you may come to believe from some labels, Arabica coffee is not from a specific origin. Arabica coffee refers to a specific coffee family. There are really two specific types: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is considered higher quality between the two. Don’t let yourself get too hung up on that though, most coffee you get in the store is Arabica, and there are many other factors that dictate a coffee’s quality. Robusta is typically more bitter, but can have a much higher caffeine content.
What’s the deal with different roasts?
The easiest way we’ve come up with to describe roast levels is to think about it like steak. A light roast is like rare, a medium is like medium, and a dark is like well done. It’s all about how long the coffee has been roasted for.
Generally, a very light roast will have beans that are lighter in color, they can be as light as a yellow color. The lighter the roast (closer to yellow), the more likely it is to have a sour or grassy flavor. Most grocery store brands do not roast this light for any coffee, in fact, a lot of “light” roasts in grocery stores are actually darker than our darkest roast. Another name for a light roast is city roast.
In contrast, dark roasts, similar to a well done steak, will be dominated by the flavor of the roasting, not as much by the bean’s natural flavor. It will have a flavor that can be described as roasty, smokey, burnt, pungent, bold, strong, or robust. This is the flavor that “puts hair on your chest”, and also the flavor a lot of people like to mask with cream and sugar. Dark roasts may also be called Italian (typically very dark) or Vienna (a lighter dark) roast.
A medium roast is right in the middle, although there is a fair amount of variance in what can be considered a medium roast. One roaster’s medium is another’s dark and yet another’s light. Another name for a medium roast is full city or Vienna. Typically roasting to a medium is best to allow the bean’s natural flavors to shine through. At KT Coffee we prefer to roast to a medium for most of our coffees.
I could talk about coffee all day, but I’ll save it for future posts. Keep an eye out for tutorials on different brewing methods, coffee pairings, health benefits of coffee, and more business advice!