What Affects Coffee Flavor? 7 Most Important Factors

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As coffee lovers, we know that there is a wide variety of tastes to be found in coffee. Coffee has taste variations to suit many tastes. You might taste flavors like earthy tones, sweet fruit, floral or tea-like aromatics. But What determines which characteristic comes through in your coffee? This article will answer the question “what affects coffee flavor?”

See also:

  1. How To Descale An Espresso Machine? Easy Guide
  2. How To Reuse Coffee Bags: Easy and Eco-Friendly Alternatives.
  3. How Many Coffee Beans In A Pound? ( Exact Counting).

What Affects Coffee Flavor

1. The Type of Bean

Different types of coffee beans will affect the taste of brewed coffee.

There are more than 100 coffee species, but the vast majority of coffees consumed globally are derived from two types: Arabica and Robusta. The lesser-used Liberica is a third type that makes up less than 2% of the global coffee production.

Every type of coffee is grown differently and has its own flavor profile. From caffeine content to aroma and price, each one is different.

For the best tasting coffee, you should buy 100% arabica beans because Arabica beans are usually flavor rich. Arabica is more expensive than Robusta beans but Robusta has more caffeine and less flavor. 

Types of coffee bean
Types of coffee bean

2. Terroir

When comparing the flavors of coffee from different countries, you’re really noticing the power of terroir. We know that coffees from Kenya are generally distinctively different to those from Brazil, and that nearby areas can have similarities because of their shared geography. These are the results of the influences of terroir.

The aspects that impact coffee flavors are numerous and complicated. Here are some of the important ones:

  • Altitude
  • Climate
  • Soil type
  • Soil micro-biome
  • Topography

Though you do not need to know every detail about the terroir of every coffee you drink, considering where your coffee comes from and what some of the defining characteristics of that terroir are is helpful in understanding coffee better.

To produce high-quality beans, coffee demands a perfect balance of sunshine, rain and temperature. The climate of a region controls the length of the growing season, which in turn influences when cherries ripen. Small variations in temperature and rainfall can make a big difference in the quality of the crop. The minerals and nutrients found in the soil directly affect the flavor, body and acidity of a coffee plant. In cooler temperatures, cherry trees have a slower ripening process which develops fuller flavor.

The acidity of a coffee is determined by the altitude at which it was grown. Lower elevations produce less acidity, and higher altitudes produce more.

3. Farming Practices

To find the best coffees, look for regions where farmers have implemented practices and techniques that coax out the flavors of beans. Proper fertilization, irrigation, pruning and care encourage the development of high-quality coffee. These practices will greatly impact how your coffee tastes.

Picking coffee cherries is an important farming practice for determining the flavor. As with other agricultural crops, it’s best to harvest coffee cherries at the appropriate ripeness. However, coffee cherries don’t ripen at a uniform rate. That means that for optimal flavor, they must be hand-picked by farmers who are also trained to pay attention to their ripeness levels of the fruits.

Commercial-grade coffee is often pick whole clusters of fruit at once or pick by using machine, which led to the final product is a combination of ripe and unripe fruit.Although it saves money, it does not produce high quality coffee!

4. Processing

Once a coffee cherry is picked, the seed has to be dried before it can be transported and eventually roasted. There are three ways of processing coffee cherries – each with its own effects on the finished coffee.

Dry or natural processing: The coffee cherries are spread out on rooftops or platforms. They are fried in the sun for seven to ten days. It is important to rake and turn the cherries regularly during this drying phase to dry evenly and not form mold, which would contribute “off” flavors.

Once the skin and fruit have become brittle, they are removed from the bean, usually by hand. These coffees tend to have fuller body, thicker mucilage and lesss acidity with an earthy taste. Wild, rich flavors found in natural coffees rarely found in washed beans.

Washed or wet-processed coffees: In washed process or fully washed process,  the coffee beans are removed from the exocarp and soaked and fermented in water for several (~12) hours. This process is advantageous because removing the outer fruity layer reduces risk of spoilage. Wet-processed coffees have a cleaner profile with brighter acidity and light to medium body.

Pulp natural or semi-washed/honey-prep processing: Honey-processed coffees are considered the middle ground between washed and Naturals. First, the seeds are removed from the exocarp, then they are spread out to dry with the sticky, honey-like layer (mucilage) still intact. Instead of removing from the beans, all or part of the fruit pulp or mucilage is allowed to remain on the beans as they dry. 

Coffee often tastes sweet, with flavors such as honey, brown sugar and caramel, and a fruitiness that falls between that of wet- and dry-processed coffees.

three ways of processing coffee cherries
three ways of processing coffee cherries

5. Type of Roast

After the beans are processed, they’re sent to roasters around the world who use heat to transform it into a consumable product. There are three main designations for roast level: light, medium, dark. The same coffee will taste completely different at each roast level even if they are roasted from the same type.

During the roasting process, chemical reactions occur inside the bean. The duration of the roasting process will determine the intensity and complexity of flavors created. The longer you roast a bean, the more flavours and smells it will have. As such, light roasted coffee has less intense flavours than dark roasts.

6. Blending

Single-origin coffee has become more popular. In the past, most coffee was blended from different countries. Now people want the best beans from a certain place. It means they usually don’t want to mix them with coffee beans that come from other places. That is most probably because they allow the drinker to experience the fruits of the coffee farmer’s labour quite literally.

Even so, blending beans can be an intricate craft in its own right. It it basic form, it ensures a more consistent flavor experience throughout the year as the inputs to that blend change with seasonality. A blend can be a special taste experience whose flavour is unique to it and not just a sum of the flavours of its components.

7. Brewing

The brewing process is one of the most important steps in producing an excellent cup of coffee. The best quality coffee that was grown, processed, and roasted specifically to your tastes can be disappointing if it isn’t brewed properly. Some important variables are:

  • Brew ratio (water to coffee)
  • Grind size (and uniformity)
  • Extraction time
  • Water temperature

Grind size and uniformity

Finely ground coffee has a larger surface area than coarsely ground coffee. If you get a cup of coffee that is bland with little flavor, it may be because the bean was ground too coarsely. If the coffee is too bitter, it is likely because of coffee with too-fine grind and high levels of organic acids be extracted.

Water Temperature

Changes in the temperature of coffee strongly influence the amount and speed at which substances are able to dissolve and extract in it.

Read more about how water temperature affects coffee flavor: How Fast Coffee Dissolve In Hot Water? Best Water Temperature.

Extraction Time

The perfect brew of coffee should have maximum caffeine and volatile oils while limiting the bitter organic acids, resulting in a 4-minute brew being best. It’s important to extract coffee beans for the right amount of time in order to get the most optimal flavor, aroma and balance. Extracting them too quickly will result in weak or nonexistent flavor, whereas extracting them for too long can cause an unpleasant bitterness.

Coffee-to-water ratio

This is easily the most subjective test because not enough coffee will leave a weaker taste, and too much coffee will overpower the beverage. The general rule is that for best flavor, use 10g coffee to 200ml of water ratio. Make sure to use clean, fresh water and equipment free of oil leftovers.

Other Factors

Here are some factors that affect the coffee flavor. Other factors can also affect coffee taste include the freshness of a crop, the way coffee is packaged, the age of the roast, and how coffee is stored,…

FAQs

Does cleanliness of brewing equipment affect coffee flavor?

If you don’t keep your coffee maker clean, this will have an effect on the flavor of your brew.The mineral deposits prevent the full-extraction of flavours from the coffee ground.

To ensure your brewing equipment or coffee machine is clean, it’s best to descale it at least once every 3-4 months.

What is the difference between arabica taste and robusta taste?

Arabica beans offer a wider variety of tastes, with flavors ranging from soft to tangy. They have an unroasted smell similar to blueberries and when they’re roasted they give off fruity smells and notes of sugar.
Robustas taste range is neutral to harsh and they are often described as tasting grain-like, oatmeal. Raw-peanutty is how this bean can be described when they’re unroasted. The smell of roasted coffee beans often is compared to burnt rubber.

What makes coffee taste like cardboard?

The most common causes for a cardboard or paper taste in coffee are: a paper filter that has not been rinsed with water or the use of inferior quality coffee beans.

Conclusion

In summary, coffee has many factors that can affect the flavour that a person experiences. Do you need to know everything? Absolutely not! At the same time, there will always be new things you could learn about coffee or ways to improve your experience. Better understanding some of these elements will help you improve the coffee you’re drinking and appreciate it more. This tasting series is just an introduction to specialty coffee that will allow you to go as deep into the information as you desire when you are ready for it. 

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