How Do Coffee Beans Get Different Flavors

You might find yourself drinking your first cup of coffee in the morning as quick as possible to get that caffeine hit you need. But, have you ever noticed when you drink your coffee more slowly, you can begin to taste subtle hints of different flavors?

Like wine, craft beer, and whiskey, coffee has a variety of flavors.

These flavors are not added or infused (while it is possible using syrups and flavoring oils). These are actually the coffee beans’ natural characteristics heavily influenced by the origin, processing methods, and how it has been roasted.

Without getting technical, coffee beans have approximately a thousand different chemical compounds. These chemical compounds allow you to taste those subtle hints of chocolate, nuts, fruits, and earthy flavors.

In my opinion, origin and roasts play crucial factors in influencing a coffee bean’s flavor, after all, you could grow, harvest, and process a coffee bean that has a strawberry taste only to Italian roast it and leaving you without any flavors of where the coffee bean was grown.

How The Origin of A Coffee Bean Influences Its Flavor

Origin essentially means the area or region in which the coffee bean is grown, encompassing all factors such as soil, climate conditions, and altitude.

While not directly classed as part of the origin for this article, the origin of a bean will also include washed or natural processing, as certain regions only do one.

Countries that experience large amounts of rainfall year-round allow for a steady production of coffee cherries. This is because the fertile soil and optimal ph levels create the ideal conditions for coffee trees to grow. However, just because an area experiences a lot of rainfall does not make it perfect. The area must also have good drainage as too much water retention is harmful.

Soils rich in a mix of minerals like potassium, calcium, nitrogen, zinc, and many others, not only influence the taste of the coffee beans but also helps nurture the coffee trees to grow.

 You might have heard that coffee grows better at higher altitudes, and this is because plants grow slowly in such climates. This allows the tree to create sugars that give the coffee bean a delicious note.

How The Roast Of A Coffee Bean Influences Its Flavor

Many class roasting as an art and science, as roasters can enhance the desired notes while subduing the undesirable characteristics.

A coffee bean could have been grown in perfect conditions, harvested, and processed with the most delicate touch. But, everything could be undone and ruined with poor, careless roasting.

There are 3 main roasts: light, medium and dark, with many other roast types in between and beyond. An example is an Italian roast that goes beyond a Vienna roast.

The darkness of your roast is a matter of personal preference. A general rule is, that the darker the roast, the less you can taste the flavors of its origin but taste more of the roast process. Where lighter roasts are often smoother and allow you to taste the distinct flavors of their origin.

If you want to develop your taste, begin with a light roast. You’ll be able to taste the origin flavors cleaner and clearer without worrying about a darker roast charing away the origins flavors.

Common Flavor Notes Found In Coffee

Containing close to a thousand chemical compounds, you can find plenty of different flavors in different coffees. Some are subtle, while others are more intense.

Common note descriptors are spicey (think spices, not hot), nutty, cocoa, sweet, fruity, and floral, which are only the beginning. When you start to dive deeper into the coffee tasting world, you’ll come across more unique notes of blueberry, cinnamon, hazelnut, honey, and many more.

In fact, there are so many that the World Coffee Research organization had to develop a flavor wheel to help you think your way from one flavor to another. Using the wheel is simple – when drinking your coffee, start with the middle ring and find the word that best describes it, progressively working towards the outer ring.

In the beginning, it is a difficult process, but as you continue to practice, train and refine your palate, coffee tasting will unlock an entirely new love for the beans.

Summary

During the entire lifecycle of a coffee bean, everything plays a crucial role in the coffee’s final flavor notes, from where they are grown, to how they are harvested, processed, and finally roasted. Each individual decision will drastically change the final outcome, because of this, we can have so many different coffee flavors to enjoy.

Now don’t let this article fool you into believing every cup of coffee should be analyzed for its subtle and distinctive notes.

However, sometimes, you should sit back and zone in on your coffee. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by some of the unique notes you previously never noticed. Those notes are what makes the coffee world magical.