How would you describe a cup of coffee? Sweet, bitter, or perhaps…chocolatey? But why does coffee taste the way it does and what makes the difference between a decent cup of coffee and a perfect one?
Read on to find out 9 of the most important factors that influence coffee taste and its quality.
1. Growing Conditions
Why is it that some of us prefer Colombian coffee whereas others prefer Kenyan coffee? That is because the taste of coffee differs from origin to origin. Specific climate factors such as soil, altitude, wind, and rainfall play a role in the coffee plant’s health and ability to produce flavours.
Coffee plants produce caffeine which acts as a natural pesticide. This means that at higher altitudes, the beans produce less caffeine. Moreover, the cooler climate allows the bean to mature progressively, giving it a higher density. The resulting brew is sweeter, has more complex flavours, and higher acidity.
2. The Type of Bean
Just like how various types of grapes will impact the taste of wine, different varieties of coffee bean will affect the taste of brewed coffee.
There are more than 100 coffee species, but more than 98% of the world’s coffee comes from two types, the Arabica and Robusta. The third type, which makes up less than 2% of the global coffee production is Liberica, also known as the rarest type of coffee.
Each type is grown in different conditions and thus, has its own unique taste profile. From caffeine content to aroma and their varying prices, learn more about the three types of beans here.
3. Type of Roast
The difference between dark, medium, and light roasts isn’t only in its colour. Coffee roasting plays a significant role in bringing out the aromas and flavours of a bean.
During the roasting process, chemical reactions occur inside the bean. The longer a bean is roasted, the more flavours and aromas are unlocked. As such, a cup of light roast coffee has more delicate flavours whereas darker roasts reveal smoky undertones and bold flavours.
4. Freshness of the Bean
The moment coffee beans are roasted, it starts to lose freshness almost immediately. Coffee stored in a warehouse or left on a shelf for months will not make the cut. With proper packaging, the life span of whole bean coffee is 4 to 5 weeks.
Without storing beans in a vacuum-sealed or airtight container, the freshness of beans will be compromised as it loses its flavour and aroma profiles. Another rule of thumb is grinding the bean just before brewing to preserve its freshness.
5. Type of Brewing Equipment Used
One misconception that new coffee lovers have is that every brewing equipment will bring out the best in every cup of coffee. From the French Press to Filter Coffee and Espresso Machine, each brewing equipment requires specific techniques and brewing variables.
Factors such as the coffee-to-water ratio and infusion duration will affect the extraction of caffeine and the taste of coffee.
6. Grind Size
The ideal grind size is dependent on the brewing equipment used. Finer grounds means a larger surface area of the bean is infused in water, whereas water will flow in between coarser grounds.
If an incorrect grind size has been used, the resulting brew will either taste too bitter or too diluted. Here’s a guide to find out which grind size you should be using for your brewing equipment.
7. Type of Milk Used
The biggest influence that milk has on the taste and texture of coffee is its fat content. Whole milk is a favourite amongst baristas due to its high-fat content, giving a creamy foam and decadent coffee.
On the other hand, dairy-free alternatives such as plant-based milk have little to no fat content. Nonetheless, there are pros and cons to these alternatives as the resulting brew will take on unique flavour notes from the main ingredient such as almond or soybeans.
8. The Water
Water is not only the principal ingredient in coffee but also acts as a solvent during the brewing process. First things first, the mineral content in water is responsible for extracting flavours from coffee grounds. Never use distilled water for brewing as the absence of these minerals will lead a sharp and bitter-tasting cup of coffee.
Secondly, the temperature of water strongly influences solubility and the rate of extraction. The ideal temperature is slightly below the boiling point at 90-96 degrees. Too cold and flavours will not be fully-extracted. Too hot and you will get a bitter-tasting brew.
9. Cleanliness of Brewing Equipment
As much as water is essential in coffee brewing, it is a menace to brewing equipment. The mineral deposits prevent the full extraction of flavours from the coffee ground and compromise the boiler heating capacity of coffee machines.
To ensure your brewing equipment is clean, it is very important to descale it at least once every 3-4 months. If you can’t remember when was the last time you descaled yours, here’s a step-by-step guide.