How Does Coffee Processing Affect the Flavor?
Let’s imagine that you walk into a local roaster and see that they are serving an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe which was roasted a few days ago. You order a pour over and are excited to find that you love it! It’s fruity and chocolatey, smooth and full. Just exactly what you love in a cup of coffee.
A week passes and you are another coffee shop. You see that they are serving Ethiopian Yirgacheffe here, so you immediately ask for a pour over. Your expectancy looms as you watch the barista create the liquid that you are sure will bring you joy and satisfaction. You take it to your table and sniff. Well, it’s not exactly the same as last week’s but you’re still excited.
So you take a sip. Hmm…? Then another sip. Hmm again. Not only is it not exactly what you expected, it tastes almost nothing like last week’s version of your Yirgacheffe. How is this possible?
The reality is that the way that even though coffee beans may have the very same origin, the way that they are processed (meaning the way that the bean is removed from the fruit) has a distinct and notable impact on the taste.
What is Processing?
The processing of the coffee is simply a name for the way that the fruit is removed from the bean. Remember that our beloved coffee bean is actually a seed that sits inside of the fruit (cherry) of the coffee. In order to get the beans to a place where they can be roasted and ground and brewed, they have to come out of the fruit. There are a basically two ways (albeit there are variations) that this can be accomplished: wet and dry. Let’s take a look at both:
During the wet processing method, water is the central factor. This means that the outermost layer of the fruit (the skin) is washed away. Then the coffee cherries are placed in a vat of water to allow for quality control. As most of the cherries will sink, those that float on the top are discarded as defective. The washed coffee cherries are then fermented for a short amount of time (just a day or so) and the remaining fruit is finally washed off of the beans. The beans are dried out in the sun using either raised beds made of screens, large flat patios, or a mechanical means of drying.
The wet processing method is often preferred (particularly by large batch roasters) because it allows for a great deal of quality control and consistency in the flavor of the bean as well as the roasting outcome. Also, because of the natural float test, the quality of the beans may be more dependable and there is less room for error. This method is also faster than the dry method, which many farmers prefer.
Wet processing, of course, requires a great deal of water in order for this method to work, so it is obviously used in places that have easy access to significant amounts of water, such as Central America. Countries which value coffee based upon a perceived acidity are more likely to use the wet processing method. However, it does require a great deal of water and may be considered a less “natural” way to remove the fruit from the coffee beans.
Dry (or “Natural”) Processing
This is the original method that was used for processing when the beautiful discovery of coffee beans was made. The primary factor in this method is the time that it takes for the coffee beans to dry. The coffee fruit is picked and then directly dried on raised screen beds or large patios. Throughout the process the cherries are turned and raked in order to allow for even drying and, once dried, the layers of fruit are removed all at once.
Naturally (“dry”) processed coffees tend to have a flavor with more body (a heavier feel in the mouth) as well as lower acidity when compared to wet processed coffees. The flavor profiles of these coffees are typically more intense and exotic. These beans are often well-loved by small batch coffee roasters who are looking for more unique and artful flavors.
On the negative side, coffee beans which are processed in this way are more open to error due to the fact that they are hand-picked. There is more of a chance of defects, tainting, or lack of uniformity in the bean quality.
Other Types of Processing
Although the two processes discussed above are the most common, a few other variations exist on the processing of coffee beans, including a Wet/Dry method that actually combines the benefits of dry processing with the speed of wet.
Wet Hulled/Wet Milled is a process that does not pause for fermentation but instead uses a husking process (by hand) for removal of the fruit. Honey Prep is another process which takes the bean directly from de-pulping to drying patios without allowing the cherry to ferment. These types of processing are still being perfected in a few distinct countries but are not as common and would more likely be found only in unique, specialty coffee shops in a limited edition.
Most people don’t take a moment to consider the way that their coffee beans emerged from the fruit when they are enjoying a cup of Joe. However, this process of removal of fruit from the bean is critical to the quality and flavor of every cup. In addition to the type of plant, area grown, and roasting, the way that coffee is processed makes a huge impact on the ultimate product.
So the next time you’re ordering a cup of coffee or buying a bag of freshly roasted beans, find out how the coffee you’re about to drink was processed. This little bit of information can have a great impact on the way that your coffee tastes.
It may seem that wine and coffee are complete opposites, potentially working as bookend beverages for your day. As it turns out, more similarities exist between coffee and wine than you might originally think. Although some folks may purport that it’s necessary to choose between the two, we think that both of these beverages have their places. While we obviously have an overflowing love for coffee, we see that wine has its merits as well. Let’s talk about why:
Consumption for Pleasure
Although many might argue that they “need” their cup of coffee in the morning to get through the day, or they “need” a glass of wine at the end of difficult day, the reality is that coffee and wine are both consumed for pleasure. This could be because of the fact that they both contain mind-altering drugs. Alcohol in wine and caffeine in coffee are both substances that offer mild adjustments to the brain. Wine typically brings on an effect of relaxation; coffee inspires and energizes. Both have their place in the world of beverages and in both cases they should be consumed in moderation. The good news is that you can’t get pulled over on the highway for having had too many cups of coffee.
Proficiency: Tasting Vs. Cupping
One reason that wine may have historically been preferred over coffee is the sense of refinement that comes along with wine. Until now. For years wine tastings have been considered premier social events. Now the opportunity for cupping has greatly developed and it is quickly turning into an “event” in its own right. Just like wine tasting, cupping is a learned skill which refines the palette and provides a joyful experience throughout the process.
Grades of Quality
Let’s face it, anyone who is comparing Folger’s Crystals with a bottle of Two Buck Chuck is probably going to be disappointed on all fronts. However, both coffee and wine offer varying ranges of quality which, when properly executed, allow for an experience of tasteful satisfaction. While coffee may not get into the high price ranges that wine does, up and coming specialty coffees allow the taste buds to experience something grand and elite.
Similar Agricultural Roots
As agricultural products, wine and coffee both originate from fruit. Both sweet, small, and round fruits, coffee beans and grapes may not have similar tastes, but they do ultimately produce a beverage through various means. The origin and variety of the fruits certainly affect the final product, which is best when it is harvested completely ripe. Coffee growers, however, use the seed and discard the fruit from the outside; while wine makers discard the seed/skin and use the juices from the fruit to make their beverage.
Similar Cultural Roots
Humans are funny. Often we discover and perfect something from nature, such as wine or coffee, and then we begin to wonder if it is really good for us after all. Both coffee and wine have had their moments in history when they have been banned either legally or for religious reasons. Although wine was on the list of no-no’s in the United States during prohibition (which lasted from 1920 until 1933), coffee has never been outlawed in the United States. The most recent ban on coffee (i.e. caffeine) happened in the early 1700s, by King Frederick the Great of Prussia, for political and economic reasons. Both beverages have a rich history of sitting on the bad-guy list, which makes them both much more interesting—in a rebellious, renegade kind of way.
Complexity of Flavors
Growing regions, harvesting, preparation and other factors all influence the way a cup of coffee or glass of wine tastes. And those who drink their coffee without milk and sweetener have access to an even fuller taste profile which can be compared to that of wine. Depending on the quality of the fruit, the way it is processed, the way it is bottled (for wine) or roasted (for coffee), both beverages seek to attain a high quality of complex flavors which delight the senses.
Some words from wine tasting overlap into coffee tasting, which makes a lot of sense which you consider that they both originate from fruits. In fact, the official dictionary for coffee, Le Nez du Café, was developed through the influence of Le Nez du Vin, the reputed wine tasting dictionary.
Words that are used in both coffee cupping and wine tasting include: bold, fruity, acidic, aromatic, bright, buttery, complex, and earthy. Other words that are completely independent and used only for wine, such as: dry, charcoal, dense, and oaked. Words in the coffee dictionary that are not necessarily used for wine include: light, dark, nutty, grassy, and herbal.
The Aroma Experience
We all know that the olfactory system and the sense of taste are inextricably intertwined. In both coffee and wine, the way that the beverage smells carries a critical part of the experience for the one drinking it. Many people who don’t even enjoy drinking coffee admit that they like the aroma of it. During wine tastings and coffee cuppings, the aroma (or bouquet—in wine terms) offers a “warm-up” in preparation for the sampling and may significantly influence the taste.
Good and Good for You
Even after being banned in various regions of the world over the years, both coffee and wine often gain recommendations from doctors as beneficial to human health. Obviously, over-use of either of these beverages may lead to abuse and could be a detriment to the health. However, when consumed in moderation (1 to 2 glasses of wine per day/ 3 to 4 cups of coffee per day), both coffee and wine may provide a potential for lower risk of heart problems and diabetes. Coffee may also lower the risk of some liver cancer and gallstones, while wine may reduce the chance of stroke.
Just as with any analogy, the comparison between coffee and wine will eventually break down to begin revealing some of the differences between the two beverages. And that’s to be expected. In fact, that’s why we love both coffee and wine. Because, although they are similar in many respects, both coffee and wine have their own merits which make them uniquely appreciated and enjoyable aspect of our lives.
You’ve tasted the perfect cup of coffee before. You know the one I’m talking about. Just the right temperature, smooth on your tongue, complex flavor that develops as you drink it slowly. This is more than just cup of coffee or a caffeine. This is an experience.
On one hand, brewing the finest cup of coffee can be complicated. On the other hand, it’s so simple that almost anyone can do it. Seriously.
Partially science and partially art, the best cup of coffee is available to those who are willing to try it. And—just like art—keep trying until it is exactly how you like it.
When you want to brew a great cup of coffee, you obviously need to start with the best possible beans. The quality of coffee beans is affected by a variety of factors including:
- Type of plant
- Growing region
- Processing style
Choosing a coffee bean is often a matter of preference, which means trying many different varieties. You can learn more about the various options when trying them, but really you just need to find a quality roaster to source great specialty beans for you. (Anything you find at a grocery store is going to be old before it hits the shelves.)
Most preferred roasters will indicate the roasting date on the bag—not a “sell by” date. Typically coffee beans stays fresh for one to two weeks from the roast date. After this, all of the gases in the beans have been released, and the coffee begins to go stale. Storing it in an airtight container can be helpful but does not make it last much longer.
What? No buying coffee beans in bulk at a warehouse store?
Only buy the amount of whole bean coffee that you think you can drink in the next week or so. Your friendly local roaster can help you choose a variety to try, and advise you on how much you need to buy at a time. This relationship with a local roaster and coffee shop could turn out to be one of your most adored friendships of all time. They know everything you don’t and they’ll help you learn if you want.
Most importantly, they’ll get you the freshest possible beans for your Joe.
Developing the skill to brew a superb cup of coffee can be quite simple, but it does require some basic equipment. It really doesn’t have to be fancy. But because coffee making has a great deal of science to it, you’ll want to be precise. This means you want a few items to help you along:
- Kitchen scale for weighing beans prior to grinding
- Quality burr coffee grinder
- Water filter
- Stovetop or electric kettle
- Brewing device (this may or may not include filters)
Fresh is a word that has been used to describe good coffee for years. And the key is not only how recently it was made, but how well (and recently) the beans were ground prior to brewing. Owning a quality coffee grinder will yield joy every day for many years, so it’s completely worth the investment.
And seriously, though, go with a burr grinder. While a blade grinder may be a bit better than buying your beans pre-ground, the unevenness of the grind will cause your cuppa to suffer. Over the life of the grinder, the price comparison is not great, so it’s better to save up for a quality burr grinder than get a cheap blade grinder right away. Really, you’ll be glad you did.
Your grind will depend on the brewing method chosen:
Coffee Brewing Grind Chart
Extra Coarse = Cold Brew
Coarse = French Press
Medium Coarse = Chemex
Medium = Drip Makers (Bunn, etc.)
Medium Fine = Pour over, Siphon, Vacuum
Fine = Espresso or Moka pot
Extra Fine = Turkish Ibrik
Water – Quality and Temperature
Any impurities in the water used to make your coffee will affect its flavor. Because of this the water should be as flavorless as possible, without iron or other minerals to create a blur of taste. Using a water filter or bottled water will assure that you are using the cleanest possible “canvas” on which to paint your coffee art.
In almost all brew methods, the temperature of the water is critical to the resulting cup. This is why many inexpensive coffee pots do not perform well because they are not able to get the water temperature hot enough.
Ideal temperature for extracting the coffee flavors from the beans sits between 190 and 200 degrees. But you don’t need a thermometer. This can typically be accomplished by simply waiting 30 seconds after the water is removed from the boil.
Ratio –Coffee to Water
You’ll use your kitchen scale here, to measure out the beans prior to grinding. This factor will depend on the brew method you are using, the grind, and your preference. At Oceana, we prefer to use between 15 and 17 parts water to 1 part coffee. This means that if you are using 8 ounces of water, you would use ½ ounce of coffee. Of course, as an art form, this has to do with your personal preference so feel free to adjust and toy with what you find to be the perfect ratio for your favorite coffee taste.
This portion leaves a lot of room for flexibility based upon many factors. But that does not mean that you can expect to get a stellar cup of coffee with just any brewing method. As mentioned previously, water temperature is critical. This rules out a few of the more traditionally American mass brewing methods including standard drip coffee makers, percolation, and most steeping methods.
Filtration methods, including pour over (V60), Chemex, Clever-drip, have become extremely popular in recent years. These brewing methods result in smooth, clear tones by using the correct water temperature and proper grind, as mentioned above, as well as quality filter paper.
If any of this information intimidates you, don’t let it! Start with something easy like a French Press with coarsely ground freshly roasted beans. Pour in filtered water 30 seconds off boil. Stir. Wait three minutes. And press.
Voila! Your first cup of brilliantly brewed coffee.
See? Wasn’t that easy?
The rest of the exploration and creativity just waits for you!
6 Key Elements for Brewing a Brilliant Cup of Coffee