Coffee Characteristics – A quick guide
Coffee Characteristics – A quick guide
At Kata we like to keep things simple. Everything we do is geared towards those who want to enjoy great tasting speciality coffee without feeling like they have to pass an exam to do so. With that in mind, we've put together a simple guide to some the main things to look out for, which may help you when choosing your coffee. But remember trust your palate - if you like it then it's a good coffee!
Origins – a rough guide
Coffee is only grown in certain areas of the world, generally referred to as the coffee belt. This area has the right weather and terrain for the coffee plants to flourish.
There are two main types of coffee bean. Arabica & Robusta
As the name suggests, this is a more robust and stronger tasting bean. It grows lower down, can be harvested by machine and in order to ward off pests it has developed a higher caffeine content than the plants that grow on the higher ground.
Robusta is generally used in blends as it can add richness and body to the coffee and with the extra caffeine can add a little kick. On its own it can be pretty harsh and sometimes gives an almost rubbery flavour.
At Kata we have chosen not to use Robusta in any of our coffee. But although Robusta is generally cheaper than Arabica this does not mean it is bad (though some may disagree). It can bring depth, flavour and rich crema, if roasted and blended well, especially if you like an Italian style roast.
Arabica is the other main variety, this is grown higher up and as there are less pests it has a lower caffeine content. This variety needs to be hand harvested, which adds to the costs but allows only the best beans to be picked at the correct time. Arabica is a higher qulaity bean will generally have a more distinct and less bitter flavour than Robusta but each origin and roast will have its own distinct flavour. At Kata we only use Arabica beans in all of our coffee.
How can I tell which origin of bean I prefer?
Tasting coffee is a very personal thing and, much like a sommelier, at the highest level it is a skill that takes years to master. The best coffee tasters in the world can identify countries of origin, regions and roasts from a single sip! However, there are some general indicators that can help you chose which coffees will be best for you.
African countries generally have a more fruity flavour to them, especially if roasted quite light. Yep fruity coffee sounds strange but it’s actually true. Kenyan Coffee is often likened to blackberry (think Ribena coffee) and Ethiopian can be very citrusy. So in very basic terms for African, think fruity!
These coffees are generally known for their balance - smooth and sweet with some acidity. They are often used in blends to give balance and depth of flavour. Honduras and Guatemala are the largest producers in this region.
South American coffee can generally be thought of as more chocolatey and even nutty. Brazil is the largest producer of coffee in the world and this chocolatey, nutty taste is what most people traditionally wanted from their coffee. In recent years there has been a trend toward the more fruity ones, especially when brewing for filter.
Roast profile basically means how long and how hot we roast (cook) the beans. The roasting process is actually quite short, typically anything from 9-15 minutes dependent on the blend, type of roaster and what you want to get from the finished product.
Dark roast can mask some of the natural and individual flavour of the beans. Think of getting the best cut of steak and then cooking it very well done. You will lose a lot of the flavour and the dominant taste will be from the cooking - the crispy edges, the burnt bits etc. But if that’s how you like it, then all good! It’s the same for coffee, very dark roasts will give a roasty, toasty flavour. This is a traditional Italian style and is still very popular. It’s worth pointing out that the darker the roast the less caffeine, so although it will taste ‘strong’ it will actually have less caffeine as this dissolves during the roasting process. This type of roast works best for espresso especially if adding milk.
Medium as you might guess is slightly lighter than a dark roast, so it may have been roasted at a lower temperature or for less time or both. This roast will retain more of the individual flavours from the beans whilst still giving some of the roasty flavours that many people love. This coffee is a great all rounder, but probably works best with Espresso-based drinks especially when adding milk and also in cafetieres.
Light-roasted coffees have become increasingly popular in recent years. This is most commonly used in single origin or single estate coffees, where you want all of the natural flavours of the beans to be retained and they generally have very little of that roasty flavour. These coffees can sometimes be quite acidic and bright in flavour. Light roast works best for drip filters and can also work well in a cafetiere.
Coffee labels can be confusing, with some very unusual descriptive notes that often don't sound anything like you would imagine coffee to to taste. However, they can help point you in the direction of the style of coffee.
Bright, citrusy, zingy etc - these all tell you that this coffee will be more acidic than say a dark roasted Brazilian. Saying a coffee is acidic doesn't sound too appealing, so words like bright, zingy and citrus fruits are often used. In addition, with many good quality single origins if roasted well you really can get hints of fruits and other elements coming through. But in simple terms, if citrusy type descriptions are given then this will be a brighter coffee, probably lighter roasted and if single origin probably best suited to a drip filter.
Chocolate, caramel, nutty - these are very commonly used descriptions especially when describing South American Coffees. These flavours are what many people look for in a traditional-style espresso. These descriptions will hint at a less acidic coffee, which should work better as an espresso than some of the brighter ones. This style of coffee can also work well with milk and really enhance the chocolate and nut flavours.
So don't be put off by some of the outlandish tasting notes on some coffee packaging, they can really help point you in the direction of the style of coffee - even if you may not be able to taste the walloping great whiffs of sundried lychee berries that they may claim!
And if you still need any help in finding the right match for your tastes, just get in the touch and we'll be happy to give you a steer.