Updated: Dec 13, 2019
There is something extraordinary about a simple beverage called coffee. Roughly a billion people around the world drink coffee daily, meaning that you share part of your morning routine with people in Ethiopia, Indonesia, Guatemala, Honduras, Japan, and more.
Why do people love coffee as much as they do? Is it because of taste? Not always. Some people love coffee because of the great conversations that happen over a cup of coffee, maybe others love the vibe inside a coffee shop when they are trying to study or work. The truth is that people love coffee for a variety of different reasons; although they may not be the same, we are united by a love for coffee.
Many people look at coffee as something simple and mundane. Perhaps because they don’t truly understand the components that make up the process that brings the coffee beans to the cup on your breakfast table.
We at Holey Brewed want to help everyone understand what makes coffee truly extraordinary, so that you too can help others understand that it is far from mundane. There is a lot to learn so we are going to break up Coffee 101 in two parts. We hope you enjoy part 1 of Coffee 101, let’s get started!
What actually is coffee and how is it made?
Many people are surprised when they find out that coffee is actually made from cherries. For those of you who had to re-read that sentence, yes, coffee does not grow in bean form! For the farmers around the world who produce coffee, they are responsible for actually extracting the pit (aka the beans) from the cherries.
The methods in which they extract the bean changes the flavour of the coffee. There are two main ways of extracting the beans from the cherries. The first way is ‘washed’, where farmers will take cherries and wash them with water. This process removes the skin, pulp and fruit, leaving just the beans. Once the beans are washed, they are put back out in the fields for about 30-40 days to dry. This method ensures that the flavour of the bean isn’t influenced by anything in the environment, so that the flavour of the coffee is as pure as possible.
The second method is called ‘natural’ and has little human involvement. Farmers leave the cherries out in the field, allowing the bacteria on the cherries to ferment in the sun for roughly10-30 days. This allows the cherry’s sugar to produce bi-products that influence the flavour of the bean. After the 10-30 days, the farmer will remove the skin, pulp and fruit. This leaves a bean that has similar characteristics to one of the ‘washed’ method BUT influenced by the fermentation process; which can provide a sweetness or creaminess to the bean.
Why is this important to you? If you are someone who is looking for a less bitter, less intense cup of coffee, you should be purchasing coffee that went through the ‘natural’ process.
Why does the region where the coffee is grown matter?
Have you ever been to a coffee shop where the barista seems snobby and he or she is telling you about where their coffee beans are sourced? The truth is that they are actually not being snobby at all. They are trying to help you understand what you could expect from your cup of coffee.
Even though it is the same coffee plant being grown in different regions around the world, the region itself effects the flavour outcome. The biggest driver of influence is the altitude of the region.
Why does the altitude matter? In lower altitude regions, there a higher concentration of oxygen that makes the air denser. The opposite applies for higher altitudes, less oxygen and thinner air. Think about hiking, as you hike up a mountain it gets hard to breathe because the higher you go, there is less oxygen in the air. The same theory applies to coffee plants as they grow cherries. Without oxygen coffee plants can’t go through normal respiration, impairing their ability to generate energy. This means that the plants go through anabolic respiration, where they make energy without oxygen, therefore developing lactic acid.
Although it might sound gross, lactic acid adds wonderful flavours to the coffee beans. It provides creaminess, fruity acidity, and a lightness that balances out the bitterness from the normal coffee bean.
The general rule of thumb when it comes to flavour from altitude is;
· below 2,500 feet (762 meters) will be soft, mild, simple, and bland
· around 3,000 feet (914 meters) will be sweet and smooth
· around 4,000 feet (~1,200 meters) may have citrus, vanilla, chocolate, or nutty notes
· above 5,000 feet (~1,500 meters) might be spicy, floral, or fruity
Examples of high altitude regions: Ethiopia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Java
Example of low altitude regions: Indonesia, Hawaiian Kona
So, what have you learned today? Well the next time you are at your favourite coffee shop looking for a fruity, less intense cup of coffee, you should be purchasing coffee that went through the ‘natural’ process and comes from a high-altitude region like Ethiopia.
Mr. HB | Holey Brewed