We all need a cup of coffee to start our day, but what takes a regular drink to the next level? What sets each coffee bean apart, and how can we train ourselves to notice the differences? With flavour profiles that include caramel, malt, and even smoke, there are ways to narrow down what speaks most to you as an individual. It’s time to take a look at the various tastes of coffee and decipher what goes into your perfect cup.
Coffee beans classification
First thing’s first: coffee beans are often categorised by their provenance. Ethiopia, Colombia, Brazil and Peru are just some of the countries that are known for producing exemplary coffee beans. Each country’s output has a different flavour. Ethiopia, for example, is known for coffee that tastes of floral and fruit notes, slightly perfumed. Peru, on the other hand, is more mellow and chocolatey.
The various flavours are often depicted in a colourful wheel, and this can be a really fun way to become more acquainted with the notes of each coffee bean. Something enjoyable on a rainy day may be to take home three or four bags of beans, brew up batches of each coffee, and have a tasting party with friends or family. Trying to decipher the flavour profile of each option without cheating and looking at the bag is a brilliant way to not only improve your knowledge of coffee, but also to find out what you truly prefer without bias from the coffee company.
Beans are divided into different categories, though, of course, within each category there are always derivations. The most common coffee beans are Robusta and Arabica. The former has a higher caffeine content, and both are to be found in many, if not most, coffee blends around the world.
Another aspect to get to grips with is how you take your coffee. It is tempting to stick to the same old tried-and-true serving, but what could you be missing out on? A latte is a soft, velvet treat, almost like a coffee hug. The steamed milk combines silkily with the just-brewed coffee to create something gentle. An Americano, on the other hand, delivers the flavours of the coffee beans with less adulteration, in a drink long enough to enjoy slowly.
Italy is the home of the espresso machine, and the originator of the types of beverage we can order in coffee shops today. Italians drink cappuccino in the morning only, and then espresso throughout the afternoon. Coffee culture means that Italians don’t even take a seat for their 3pm jolt; an espresso is sugared at the bar and knocked back quickly, so they can get on with their day.
Similarly, a true coffee connoisseur may find that starting their morning with a strong speciality Ethiopian brew, topped with foam and chocolate, may make a weekday a little bit more special. While at the other end of the spectrum, a dark roast espresso with chocolate overtones is more suited to the end of a three course meal in a favoured restaurant.
Different brewing methods are better for different kinds of coffee, too. A classic espresso machine produces a delicious cup, complete with golden crema. Another benefit of this option is that the coffee is prepared by someone knowledgeable, often someone who has taken great pride in gaining their skill. Barista is a recognised occupation, and the best take care with the preparation of each cup.
However, it would be difficult to house a full commercial espresso machine in a typical house! That’s why a coffee connoisseur will turn to the cafetiere (also known as French press), moka pot, or good old filter coffee machine for a hit of caffeine at home. Cold brews are also becoming more common, though this method requires preparation, organisation, and patience. On a hot summer’s day having a pitcher of cold brew coffee in the fridge is paradise, a way to keep cool and stay alert while enjoying the sunshine.
Roasted coffee beans actually have a very short shelf life, between one and three weeks, meaning that bulk buying packets from the supermarket is a fool’s errand. There’s a reason all those options taste the same! Take note of the ‘roasted on’ date on the packaging and use your coffee beans fairly quickly.
Finally, a coffee connoisseur knows that the ultimate way to get taste out of your precious coffee beans is by grinding at home. For a hit of glory, grind right before brewing. This is a simple, effective way to squeeze the flavour out of every bean, and one that should be normal in every home where coffee is consumed.
Once a bean is ground, oxygen hits it. Even in those protective packages. This is a major loss of aroma — which is a major problem! Coffee grinders are available at every price point, so there’s really no excuse for buying pre-ground.
There are so many ways to prepare and drink coffee beans, and there are so many different varieties available. Taking the opportunity to taste and savour all the options available is essential to becoming a coffee connoisseur.