Post by Grant Mouton
In my previous articles (“My coffee is cold” and “This coffee is too expensive”), I touched base on how temperature affects your perception of flavour as well as pointing out that coffee is in fact under–priced. Today I’ll be taking all of you avid coffee drinkers a little bit deeper by answering a simple question: “What constitutes a good cup of coffee?”
Coffee seems to be a simple thing – but I can assure you that there is a whole lot happening behind the scenes that many are unaware of. To try and keep you, the readers, enthralled; I will divide this segment into the following:
• What makes a one coffee bean better than the rest
• What sets baristas apart
• How can I tell if my coffee was good?
What makes one coffee bean better than the rest:
Plants are funny things, temperamental at the best times. Now, I am no botanist, but I have had my fair share of veggie patches as well as a once glorious Bonsai collection in the past.
Let us begin with the anatomy of the coffee tree. The coffee “bean” as we all call it is in fact a seed. This seed is no different to other plants’ seeds in that it is responsible for the plants reproduction. Plants do a wonderful thing when they are stressed due to lack of rainfall or thin air as a result of high altitudes or other stressful situations. Plants, when under certain stressors put extra energy into producing more, stronger seeds. The reason for this is that is the mother plant wants their offspring to be stronger and healthier with a better chance of survival, perhaps for them to even flourish. This touching act that is written into the DNA of the plant ends up benefitting the ever consuming human -it results in a mother plant putting extra energy into its fruits and seeds which results in a better coffee experience for us. This phenomenon is not exclusive to coffee – it has long been observed in grapes. Another thing that helps is biodiversity. As with all plants, the higher the biodiversity, the more effective pollination occurs which also results in better fruits.
So we now know that weather conditions can affect the coffee and that some of the best coffee is grown at high altitudes. There is also a trend in bean flavours that shows the higher the coffee is grown, the fruitier and more floral the taste will be. Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule. Many other factors can contribute to the flavour of coffee, i.e. What sub-varietal is the plant? What was the processing method?
I want to highlight the importance of processing. This is the method whereby the seeds are removed from the cherry and dried. It is crucial to the quality of the bean that utmost care is taken at this step to avoid rot, leaching of flavours and the removal of defects.
So you are looking for a tree grown on the correct slope (sunlight) in a biodiverse area that is high enough above sea level and also processed correctly. Not asking for much, right? If a bean doesn’t tick all the boxes, it won’t taste good.
What sets baristas apart?
A good barista has attention to detail that is borderline OCD. The reason for this is that when you are working with the temperatures and pressures they do, it is easy to ruin a cup of coffee by extracting for 1 second too long or too short. Making sure the coffee grind size is not too coarse or too fine, they need to be consistent with tamping (packing the coffee into the portafilter) and rinsing the machine’s groupheads etc..
There is so much going on that the barista needs to pay careful attention using all of their senses during each step of making the coffee, or you’ll be left quite literally with a bitter taste in your mouth.
They are on the frontline of the early morning assault on tiredness. Getting up before you do to ready the shop – calibrating machines before you’ve even had your first stretch! These champions of coffee use all their senses for each cup to ensure a great end product for you. I am forever grateful for them.
How can I tell if my coffee is good?
This is probably the simplest topic I will discuss. Your coffee is good if you enjoyed it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of taste – and tastes differ. Sometimes you want more, you what to strike a conversation or bask in the ambience of the store. It all boils down to your enjoyment. If you enjoyed it, then it was good!
Post by Grant Mouton
Self–proclaimed coffee guru, coffee education addict, SCAA/SCAE accredited.
Brand manager at % Arabica.