Should you find out what you are drinking? Will this information benefit you as the consumer? Can this help you down the street when trying to find a good cup?
A resounding ‘yes’ to all three I’d wager…
Find out what you are drinking – what is the exact variety and origin of your beans? Why is this important?… By finding out this information, it will achieve a number of things – it will allow you to research the bean to find out if it was fair trade, rainforest alliance certified, etc – if that’s your drive (this will do stuff all to improve your cup taste – it just might make you feel better when you drink it…).
A side point here – I have been asked previously relative to fair trade beans and my supply of them by a café. The green bean farming industry is definitely changing with more and more producers getting on board to satisfy a demand from the gradual global movement in favour of sustainability (both in the workforce and the forests). Eventually, this will see a much greater selection of green beans from right around the world than that which currently exists. As a result of this somewhat limited selection (there are still a reasonable number though), to find a staple bean that has classic flavours that people will return to a café time and time again for is difficult to find with fair trade / rainforest alliance credentials – and at the same time, this bean/s price must fall within a price range that a café can justifiably afford. There are beans out there that meet half the criteria – but what café is going to pay over $40 per kg?… By no means have I roasted all beans within the market place (not by a long shot) – but, even with the very best of intentions, a café will always revert to its bottom line – or suffer financially.
Right-o, back to it…
It (the green bean’s origin) will also reveal information about the beans flavour profile – as all beans that you can purchase as a consumer have been ‘cupped’ and profiled by professionals – giving you an understanding and an expectation of what should be present in your cup once you have extracted your shot perfectly (that assumes you can interpret the terms used by some professionals to describe the flavours they detected – as they can get carried away at times…..).
Take a look below by double clicking on the image to better view this chart that professionals use to describe what they can taste in the cup –
The first 2 levels are reasonable enough – and quite often the third level comes into play for even the common punter’s palate. Give it a crack – sit down with your favourite brew (or better yet, a new variety), taste and interpret. It will give you a new appreciation for what you may have been overlooking previously. Although, in relation to some of the terms on the outer segment, I do still think someone needed to extend their employment contract in writing this chart up to be honest….
Remember though that flavour is the direct result of smell AND taste – if you block your nose and taste something, you’ll discern sweet, sour, salt, bitterness, heat (spice) and umami. But, when you add your sense of smell into the mix, a world of flavours opens up to you – it’s pretty amazing – give it a try.
Back to the story – this can be of great benefit – as once you have determined which described flavours within a bean (from the cupping notes) translate to what appeals to your taste in a cup of coffee, you can get your choice right first time in future hopefully (remember, what tastes amazing to you may not so much to someone else – as everyone likes different things – also, a great bean poorly roasted will taste like absolute toilet).
I currently roast only single origin coffees (i.e. one single bean type at a time). The reason for this is to showcase the highlights of a particular bean’s flavour profile through satisfying that bean’s specific roasting needs. There is so much flavour on offer from any one bean – and thankfully, each bean’s flavour is distinctly different.
Where this is of great benefit to you (the customer) is that whilst you’ll find a bean that you rate as the best you’ve tasted – this does not mean that it is the best you’ll ever taste. It is comforting to have a ‘go-to’ bean that you can rely on and truly enjoy – but, it’s a bit like eating a particular chocolate from a box over and over again – eventually, the flavour will roll across your tongue unnoticed – failing to dominate your topic of conversation whilst drinking it. Unlike a marriage, it is ok (and in fact important) to refresh your palate every so often. This is specifically for 2 reasons – firstly to make you appreciate your ‘go-to’ bean a whole lot more each time you get it – and secondly, the alternate bean you taste may be as good as or even better than your current ‘go-to’ bean. It provides you with an opportunity to gradually travel the world of coffee – right from your own home. Who wouldn’t want to give that a go (assuming your roaster can do their job to a high standard for each variety of bean that is….).
Another opportunity for you here is that if you rate your ‘go-to’ bean as a full flavoured base – why not dabble in a bit of blending. Get two different varieties of beans and play around with percentages to see what you can highlight and mute within the flavours of the blend. Do this is tandem with brew temperature control to bring aspects of the bean’s flavours to the fore. You can become quite skilled in this art and it creates a great deal more interest in your coffee making process.
Most roasters offer a blend straight up as one of their products for sale. This is very much a personal choice. There are 2 main ways in which a roaster will create a blend. One way is to put several different bean origins in to a single roast, to be cooked all together to create a blend. Is this truly right or wrong? Well, taste is subjective. This will give a different result that may appeal to people. Will it give the best result possible? In my opinion, no – but, if you drank such a blend and loved it, then you would disagree with me. Keep in mind that people are prepared (and pay a good deal for it) to drink coffee extracted from beans that have been hand picked out of the poo of a wild ‘cat like’ animal in Indonesia – I think this proves that you can put just about anything in a cup, give it some fancy point of origin and someone will drink and rave about it. Not for me though….
The reason for this is that each bean has different timings, temperatures and durations within a roast to bring out what I believe (again, subjective) are the best flavours from said bean. These roasting adjustments between each bean can vary quite significantly. The result from such an ‘all at once’ roast cannot achieve the same quality and consistency of roast level within each bean origin within the roast than what could be achieved by roasting each bean individually. But…. again, taste is very subjective. Under roasted beans combined with over roasted beans and a few in the middle may be perceived as a ‘complete’ tasting cup by some consumers. If a roaster does perform in this way and the blend that he or she retails from this is selling well – that is proof alone that what they are doing has appeal in the market place.
I guess I just don’t see things that way – nor will I ever. I’m not sure if this makes me more of a purist or a troubled control freak with ocd tendencies….
Another little trick by roasters that market blends with greater than three beans in them is that this affords the roaster an opportunity to make moderate changes within the blend throughout the year based on bean availability without greatly affecting the blend’s flavour profile – giving consumers roughly the same taste in each cup they have over the year or years (a great thing if you don’t like change and really enjoy the taste of that blend – clever work by the roaster too).
One draw back to this method is that a roaster may only identify the origins of their beans within a blend, but rarely the specific beans. Even if they did, for the most part – anything beyond 3 beans in a blend will completely swallow up any highlights from a single bean’s flavour profile (even 3 will stretch it for most palates) – depending on the percentage makeup of a blend of course. To be fair, there are draw backs and benefits to both single origin and roasted blend offerings. It is up to you – the consumer – to decide what works best on your palate.
Whilst I ensure I hold enough stock between seasons for the staple beans that I offer, I am prepared to chop and change things between seasons relative to bean availability to present the freshest and most current stock to the marketplace and allow consumers to experience the diversity of coffees from around the world. I do seek one caveat to these stand points. Our roasting business is in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia. The weather here is very cold in winter (not snowing cold – but in the 3 to 7 degree range) and can have a bit of bite in summer – but – the relative humidity is just about perfect for storing beans. My green stocks are enclosed in a fully double insulated brick building that stays at between 20 and 21 on 40 plus degree days (Celsius scale that is). They are off the ground and kept in the dark. I am currently trialling an aging process with a batch. Through a reasonable degree of research, I have come to appreciate that this may reveal further flavour complexities within the beans once roasted – but this is a bit of a project and the perhaps the subject of a future article.….
With my ever so slight ‘fussy’ tendencies, I do take some time to roll out a new bean into the market place. I like to test every aspect of the bean if possible because I need to make sure it represents our brand in the best possible way. Some punters will only give you one go – it’ll be hit or miss – and I like to hit every time if I can….
Long story short, the more information you have about what you are buying (and basing that on your previous tastings), the more likely it is that you will be pleased with your purchase – knowledge is power.
(Just for info – if you include any sort of link back to your website without seeking approval, your comment will end up in the spam folder. I’m chasing constructive comments please. Cheers).