If you’re reading this close to the time we originally posted this (03/24/20), then you know that we’re in uncharted waters with the Coronavirus and what it’s doing to the hospitality industry as a whole. Shops are closing for a time, businesses are changing their practices, and we’re in a new phase of how we need to operate in the coffee industry.
So, as we transition from talking about how to make coffee at home, it seems fitting for us to shift gears and talk about how you can figure out what kind of coffee you want to make. Each coffee has a different taste, which means you can pretty much find whatever flavors you’re looking for when it comes to what you’re drinking.
So what things should you consider when you’re in the market for a new bag of coffee?
In specialty coffee, small businesses fuel the industry. Most cafés also roast their own coffee and will sell what they’re making behind the bar on their retail shelves & online. If you’re fond of the shops you regularly go to, then start your search by looking at their offerings.
If you’re interested in expanding your horizons and enjoying what shops across the country are roasting and serving, checking out sites like Trade Coffee and Mistobox, two coffee subscriptions sites that connect you with a wide variety of roasters, is a great start. You can take a quiz with questions like how you prepare your coffee, how you drink it, and/or what flavors you’re looking for, and the services will connect you with a list of roasters to try. You’ll also be able to arrange which coffees you get and when you get them, or just let the teams at the services do the work for you.
My personal favorite roasters are Onyx Coffee Lab, based in Rogers, Arkansas, and Barista Parlor (my current employer), based in Nashville, Tennessee. Both roasters have a great selection, a wide variety, and a quick turnaround to get your coffee to you ASAP.
Moving further into the details of the coffee itself, one of the biggest indicators of what you can expect in your coffee is the country from which it was exported. As we talk about further in our book, you can learn a lot about what you’re going to taste when you take the first sip by the country of origin.
Central/South American coffees typically have more of a traditional flavor lineup, like citrus, chocolate, and stone fruit (cherry, apricot, peach, etc.), whereas African coffees typically have a fruitier and more non-coffee flavor lineup, like berries, floral notes, and sugars. Asian coffees tend to defy expectations; larger commercial roasters have Asian coffees that are earthy and dark, but I’ve found a Sumatran that tastes like pink Starburst.
How the coffee was prepared for export influences how the coffee will taste when you brew it. In order for coffee to be ready for roasting, farmers and producers have to process the coffee fruit (yes, coffee is actually a fruit!) and remove the outer layers so all that remains is the seed. There are three main processing methods that producers will use: washed, honey, and natural.
As an overview (because we also talk more about this in the book), washed processed coffees can have cleaner flavors that are pretty prominent within each roast and subsequent brew. All the skin and pulp get washed off in the process, leaving just the seed. Honey processed coffees can have brighter and sweeter flavors since they take on the flavor qualities of the coffee fruit, but still experience a washing action before being ready to leave the processing floor. Natural processed coffees typically have funkier and more exotic flavors, since the coffee fruit goes straight to drying from being picked (think coffee raisin) and don’t usually go through any sort of washing along the way.
Probably the most pertinent information about the coffee is the taste notes section. This is where you actually figure out what your coffee will taste like before you brew it. It’s important to remember that taste is purely subjective and these notes should be taken as targets written in pencil, not hard-and-fast rules written in stone.
When you see flavors on the label, think of them as a way to experience the coffee. Sometimes, you’ll see notes like “full-bodied” or “juicy,” or even “light” and “clean.” These are body indicators, telling you what you should experience in the mouthfeel (weird word, I know, but it makes a lot of sense when you experience it). Roasters might even include notes that they experienced as the coffee cooled down, allowing you to know what to expect after you’ve let your coffee sit for a little while.
However roasters list the flavor notes on a coffee label, you can have targets to aim for as you brew and drink your coffee.
While it may seem like a whole process to choose a bag of coffee, I promise you it’s easier than you would think. Each piece of information involved in describing coffee allows you to know what you’re in for as you brew, and helps you to determine what you do or don’t like when you drink coffee.
Currently, these are the coffees I’m really liking:
Geometry Blend – Onyx Coffee Lab
As an everyday coffee, Onyx has killed it with one of their house blends. It’s a year-round staple that hits all the flavor indicators I enjoy. I’ve gotten all the notes listed through different brewing methods, and even as it cools it improves and gets more complex.
This is certainly a great place to start if you’re looking for something that has great balance and sweet fruit notes.
Tropical Weather Blend – Onyx Coffee Lab
With more vibrant notes that you wouldn’t expect in a coffee, Tropical Weather is the perfect blend if you’re missing summertime. It’s a full-bodied, sweet, and juicy coffee that really surprised me the first time I drank it.
Come back next week as we talk more about different brewing methods, including more tutorials and what you can expect as a result!