Not all who wander are lost, some of us are just looking for coffee

A Beginner’s Guide to Quality Coffee, Part 1

Posted by Thomas Minieri on

If you’re new to the coffee world you might be intimidated, confused and wondering what all of the hype is about. Afterall, the coffee pot in your office’s breakroom never looked that appealing and all of the variations at your local coffee shop sound confusing and over complicated. At Highfalutin Coffee we’re all about quality coffee, from sourcing the finest beans to providing you with a complex beverage that you can thoroughly enjoy.

High quality coffee doesn’t have to be intimidating, though. In this guide we’ll break down everything you need to know to explore the exciting world of coffee. From understanding the different tastes that make up coffee to the characteristics of different types of beans and preparations, this guide will help get you excited for your next cup!

Evaluating Taste: Coffee’s Four Traits

Not all coffee tastes the same, and while your first few cups may be hard to differentiate, understanding the flavor behind coffee can help you better understand what types of coffee you enjoy. There are a variety of factors that influence how a cup of coffee tastes and coffee connoisseurs rely on several of them to evaluate brews. However, for everyday coffee lovers there are four key traits to pay attention to: body, flavor, acidity and aroma.

Body: Also sometimes referred to as “mouthfeel”, the body of a coffee refers to its texture and viscosity. There’s no set way to define or describe a coffee’s body, but generally, coffees are described as being “heavy-bodied” or “light-bodied”. A coffee that is described as heavy-bodied will feel thicker, while a light-bodied coffee will feel less viscous and thinner. The more types of coffee you try the easier it will be to differentiate between heavy and light-bodied coffees. To put it in everyday terms, just think of heavy-bodied as having the mouthfeel of whole milk while light-bodied will have a mouthfeel more similar to skim milk.

Flavor: There’s no need to overthink this one. The flavor of coffee simply describes how it tastes. For beginners it may be harder to discern the different flavor notes in a brew, but if you pay close attention you’ll start to be able to pinpoint the individual flavors in your cup. Does your coffee have a hint of vanilla in it? Or a nutty undertone? There are a wide variety of flavors that can be found in coffee and descriptors can be very specific or more broad, such as “sweet” or “bitter”.

Acidity: The level of acidity found in coffee stems back to the types of beans the coffee was made with and where the beans were grown. There are many different types of acid that influence the acidity level of a given coffee. For example, arabica coffee contains citric acid and Malic acid is what causes some coffees to have a fruit-like flavor. Acidity is often used to describe coffee made with beans grown at higher elevations. However, not all acidity in coffee is from the beans itself. Stale coffee that was brewed or roasted a long time ago can contain increased levels of Quinic acid, which isn’t a sought-after trait.

Aroma: By now you probably feel like you’re at a wine tasting, and the truth is that discerning the different flavors and traits of coffee is in fact a lot like how wine is tasted and described. The aroma of coffee, just like with wine, describes how it smells. Since our sense of smell is so closely related to our sense of taste, the aroma of coffee plays a big factor in how it tastes to us. Deeply inhale the smell of your coffee before you take that first sip and see what you notice. Common coffee aromas can be spicy, nutty, smoky, fruity or caramel. Even though some of the notes of the coffee’s aroma may seem subtle, taking it in will only enhance the flavor when you drink it.

Before the Cup: Coffee Beans

The flavor of your cup of coffee is heavily influenced by the type of beans it was brewed with. Coffee beans come from coffee cherries, which turn bright red when ripe. After being harvested, the beans inside the cherries are separated before being fermented, dried out and milled so they are ready for roasting.

Understanding the different types of beans will eventually make it easier to understand what type of coffee you like. There are three common types of coffee species that we consume: Liberica, Arabian and Robusta.

Liberica coffee makes up a very small portion of the coffee market and is grown in Liberia near the coast. As other coffee strains like Arabica and Robusta become more popular, the demand for Liberica coffee has steadily decreased. This coffee is very rare to find in the US, but has a distinct taste profile that has a nutty, smoky aroma and a full-body.

Arabian coffee comes from the strain Coffea Arabica and makes up the majority of the commercial coffee market. This type of bean comes from the mountains of Yemen and Ethiopia and is grown on steep slopes at a high elevation. Due to the steep elevation, these beans are often picked by hand, which helps ensure quality of the beans and resulting brew. These beans produce coffee with a highly complex aroma and a layered flavor profile.

Robusta coffee comes from the stain Coffea Canephora and makes up roughly a quarter of the consumer coffee market. Though originally from Ethiopia, Vietnam has since become the biggest grower and exporter of Robusta coffee beans. This strain is much easier to grow than Coffea Arabica because it is more resistant to disease, produces a higher crop yield and, since it can be grown at lower elevations, can be harvested using machinery. Since this coffee is easier to grow and cheaper to produce, it is often found in instant coffee mixes. Compared to Arabica coffee, Robusta coffee has double the caffeine and is smooth with distinct chocolate flavor notes.

Overall, the more coffee you try, the better you will be at identifying different flavor notes and understanding what you do and don’t like. Our high quality coffees are a great place to start exploring what types of coffee you enjoy most!

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