Brewing Coffee Manually

Better coffee. One cup at a time.

Tag: tasting coffee

What I Learned About Tasting Coffee From the Book Blink

When I turned thirty in December, I set a goal for myself to read an average of one book a week during my thirtieth year. Inspired by a friend who does not read fiction books at all, I decided that it would be 52 works of nonfiction.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell was book number twelve.

Blink is filled with all sorts of mind blowing insights that can’t help but alter the way a reader perceives the world. It is a book about first impressions and the subconscious. It is about bias’ and how it is nearly impossible to not be swayed by things going on behind the scenes of your brain. I loved it and I recommend it.

What does Gladwell’s book have to do with coffee? More than I ever expected it to when I first picked it up for some mental exercise.

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Understanding and Selecting a Great Roasted Coffee

Once you understand some of the basics of how a coffee’s origin and processing impact a roasted coffee’s flavor, you are ready to explore the final frontiers of purposefully selecting a roasted coffee: understanding the basic roasting process and finding good coffee that you enjoy.

(If you are looking to maximize your understanding of what coffee is and factors affecting it’s flavor, I recommend starting with coffee processing, then reading about origins before proceeding with this article. If you are simply looking to decode roasting terminology a bit and learn strategies for finding great roasted coffee, read on and backfill your knowledge as needed.)

Single Origin and Blends

Before I go any further, I’d like to explain a little bit about single origin and blended coffees.

A single origin coffee is one that comes from a single source. These coffees are often labelled by their country of origin and a subregion, farm or trade name within that country. It is not unusual to find single origin coffees that do not have any indication on the packaging of the degree of roast. You can usually find out an approximate degree of roast in these situations by asking the roaster or inspecting the roasted bean itself (more on visual roast degree cues later).

A blended coffee is exactly what it sounds like, two of more coffees that are mixed together. These coffees can be from different origins, roast levels, crop years. varietals or any combination. Blends will typically say the roast level on the packaging or give an indication in the title. A Breakfast blend, for example, would usually be a medium roast with milder flavors. A French roast blend would be a very dark roast.

When choosing a roasted coffee to sample, don’t overlook blended coffee. Single origin coffees sound more exotic, glamorous and tend to get a lot more attention, but a roaster who is skilled at blending can elevate and enhance coffee in ways single origins can’t always do.

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Coffee Origins- How Geography Relates to Taste

The country and region a coffee originates from is often the most defining characteristic by which a roasted specialty coffee is labeled. Specialty coffees that are not a blend (called single origin) often distinguish themselves by the country they are from and a regional or trade name to specify where in that country the coffee was grown. Most of the time a roaster will put a few flavor descriptors about the coffee profile.

Side Note: If your coffee is solely described as being “Pure Arabica beans,” you can usually translate this to mean “At least we didn’t use robusta.” It may be time to switch it up.

Defining a coffee by an origin country is helpful because you can get a basic sense of what to expect. While there are definitely broad distinctions that can be made by coffee growing regions, there is so much variation and other variables that impact flavor (read about coffee processing). Geographic coffee flavor profiles don’t really fit into neat little boxes. A coffee taster should certainly be able to pick out the distinctive flavors of a Sumatra coffee in a field of Central American coffees, but may not be able to single out a Mexican Chiapas from a field of Guatemalan Huehuetenangos (I certainly could not).

Because altitude, varietal, processing and origin all play an important role in coffee flavor development, you will find many differences in coffees grown in the same section of the world. There can even be some dramatic flavor swings year to year at the same farms. Keeping that in mind, I don’t recommend ever writing off a particular region of the coffee world. You should should always be willing to mix it up and try new coffees. You never know when one might surprise and delight you.

Here are some coffee regions of the world and some general flavor profiles you can expect to find with in them.

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