What Makes Coffee Taste So Good?

What makes coffee taste so good?

A gulp of Snark Dark is like sweet smoke, earthy, deep, viscous, with a long lingering aftertaste. A sip of Nicaragua is soothing, silky, layered and complex, capable of stopping you in your tracks as you close your eyes and savour the experience. A mouthful of Panama is nutty, Honduras is soooo chocolatey, Tanzania is deep cocoa, Ethiopia is winey fruit. As coffee lovers, we know we can find a wide range of flavours and aromas in our cups. The spectrum of flavours and aromas is vast (Click here to find a flavour poster https://store.scaa.org/products/the-coffee-tasters-flavor-wheel-poster?variant=18787771718). So, what determines what you’ll taste in your cup? Read more about the most important influencers here.


Icon: Variety


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Let’s use wine to help wrap our heads around coffee varieties. There are two main types of wine, red and white each produced by different types of grapes (compare rioja or shiraz with chardonnay or muscat,).


Most coffee drinkers have heard of Arabica and Robusta. Within each category there is an assortment of varieties, each with their own unique characteristics. Traits such as disease and pest resistance, fruit yield, and flavour are the trifecta influencing what farmers plant.


Historically, roasters would buy coffee lots which come from many farms. By the time of export, no one knew which varieties the contributing producers had grown, only which part of the world it was grown in. This is starting to change as roasters are able to buy micro-lots (from one farmer) or from co-ops (groups of farmers in a small area) with detailed records. Slowly, we are gathering data on the impact variety has on flavour.


Typica, bourbon, mundo novo, caturra, catuai, maragogype, geisha, pacas, villa sarchi, pacamara, kent, are but some varietals.


The Coffee CoMission has a posting of a great periodic table of both coffee varieties and flavour information. Click here to read more https://medium.com/@CoffeeCoMission/infographic-periodic-table-of-coffee-varieties-or-cultivars-57dbce92c788




Whether talking about wine or coffee, terroir is just a fancy word to describe where something is grown. We may know coffees from Brazil taste different than those grown in Honduras, or Kenya. Terroir helps explain why.


Ask any vegetable gardener about their season and they will talk ad nauseam about the weather, pests, soil, their neighbour’s crop, last season, the list goes on. All these variables help explain the bumper crop of kale and why the potatoes have blight.


The specific elements of terroir which impact coffee flavour are complex. Some of the most important ones are:


Altitude: MASA or metres above sea level. Coffee grown at higher elevations tends to be of higher quality than coffee grown at lower elevations. Cooler temperatures slow down plant growth, forcing it to focus more on reproduction. The plant devotes more energy to bean production which in turn produces more of the sugars which create those amazing tasting notes in your coffee.