Mmmm, it’s not so easy put it that way. There are a dozen factors to look at first…
Growing conditions and other environmental factors vary greatly across the planet and so it’s no surprise that coffee grown in one country will be different from the next. Coffee prefers to grow in the warmer latitudes between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. This band of latitudes is often referred to as the ‘coffee belt’. Within this band a vast array of variables exist including altitude, rainfall, soil conditions and sunlight, all of which will alter the outcome of how your coffee will taste.
So how does our head of roasting Simon, narrow this huge offering down to what he might like best?
“It all depends on what flavours I’m trying to achieve with the coffee! If I am seeking fruit driven flavours and floral aromas, I usually start with African coffees. Many coffee drinkers love the idea of excitedly opening up a bag of Ethiopian beans to deeply inhale the complex berry and wine like aromas whilst coffees from Kenya can deliver juicy stone fruit.
South and Central American coffee are typically clean coffees exhibiting delicate sugar browning sweetness, like chocolate or buttery pastry, accompanied with a softer fruit character. Brazil is well known for producing coffees with a heavier body and nutty character. While further north in Colombia these flavours are mellowed and typically present more so as caramels and toffees.
Sometimes I need a coffee to be heavier bodied and earthy, selecting from the India and Indonesian region can offer these coffees. Often exhibiting a luscious and syrupy body combined with herbal and savoury flavours, these tend to be the most dividing in personal preference and definitely sit in the ‘Love or Hate’ bracket.
Since coffee is a fruit, apples are always one of the best examples to give as to why varietal plays a part in terms of preference. Most people like apples, but preferences are wildly different when selecting the varietal of apple, for example between ‘Golden Delicious’ & ‘Pink Lady’.
Common coffee varietals are Bourbon, Typica and Caturra. While many countries will tend to favour growing a particular varietal, it’s not uncommon to see some varietals transplanted into different growing regions. The Geisha varietal is one of the most sought after on the planet. It’s saturated sweetness, clarity and vibrant flavours can range anywhere from dark berries to mangos or even peaches. Most of the coffees I select are of similar varieties. When looking at coffees for continuity and consistency, varietals play an important role.
Finally when selecting a coffee you will note that we communicate the processing method. This will usually be via a simple ‘washed’ or ‘natural’ (unwashed) on the coffee bag. This is worth noting as you will get a distinctively different coffee experience because of these factors, even when it’s the same coffee!
A washed coffee, or ‘wet processed’, has had the outer pulp of the cherry removed, then placed in fermentation tanks before being washed and placed out to dry. The result is often a coffee with a great clarity of flavour while exhibiting a bright complex acidity to match. A very popular method with producers as the fermentation process is controlled and leads to less defects.
A natural processed coffee is a coffee that has been dried with the cherry still remaining on the bean and parchment throughout the drying process allowing the fruit flesh and sugars to impart upon the seed. The result is often a ‘fruit bomb’ with a spectacular aroma and wine like characters, sometimes described as ‘funky’. These are the two more common methods available but many others exist, such as Honey Processed (somewhere between Washed and Natural) and Wet Hulled.
All of these factors are taken into account when sourcing the coffees. But it’s important we start with an idea of what we want to achieve in the cup, either with milk or as a black coffee, espresso or filter.”