Choosing the right coffee
Date Posted:15 August 2021
Choosing the right coffee
There's one simple, yet profound thing I've learned about working with coffee over 40 years - it's impossible to guess whether someone will like a coffee, even after asking what they prefer and trying our best matching methods.
Despite all the elaborate tasting notes, attributes and clever descriptions, it seems that predicting whether a coffee drinker will enjoy a particular coffee is like a random stranger trying to tell me what I prefer to eat.
With thousands of unique and distinct raw coffee lots arriving into Australia each year, all with their own individual nuances, it's up to the roaster to take their carefully selected green coffees and convert them into products based upon their own style and roasting philosophies they believe best represents or showcases a coffee's true potential.
It's easy to be overwhelmed when choosing a coffee to buy when you don't have the experience or knowledge about what to look for and hopefully this guide might help make it easier for you.
First things first - everyone is on a journey with coffee, even the most experienced, so there's folks at the start just transitioning from instant or pods right through to enthusiasts seeking niche, exotic experiences from specially prepared single origins - we all keep on learning something new about coffee every day.
For those inexperienced coffee drinkers taking their first steps into fresh roasted coffee beans for home, we suggest starting with blends.
Our blends are comprised of the same quality beans as the single origins we sell in our store, e.g. we use the same single origins to create the blends, so please don't assume blends are a step backwards or an inferior offering.
The most important point to remember is that price is never a true indicator of coffee quality. Coffees have variable pricing due to the global tensions between supply and demand and that some origins have higher pricing differentials, e.g. Kenya, Sumatra, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Panama, etc. These origins command larger price premiums in the market.
Blends are designed to provide a broader range of tolerances when brewing or extracting the coffee.
This is quite an important clue to keep in mind as many single origin coffees require highly specific grind and brew settings whereas blends tend to be more forgiving in respect to grind and dose settings making blends somewhat easier to use on espresso machines and grinders.
Blends may also have more complexity in the cup due to the fusion generated when combining ingredients, so if you are not sure what you like in a coffee or you are overwhelmed in making a choice or selection, please consider starting with our Luxe blend as it has been designed for broad, universal appeal. It's also our most popular coffee, we sell many hundreds of kilos of Luxe every day.
To help you compare the different blends, we have provided a basic overview
Luxe - rich, smooth, dominant levels of salted caramel, milk chocolate, nuts and toffee with a long creamy finish. Perfect in milk. Generates a deceptively rich cup. The flavours build towards the finish with balanced acids. As a milk-based espresso beverage, it's absolutely nailed the brief for cappuccino, flat white or latte.
6AM - dark fruits, complex cup of dark chocolate, spices and mixed nuts. Aromatic with a long, coating finish. An interesting coffee we recommend for black drinkers, e.g. no milk. The acidity is more muted and it gives up some amazing fruit and dark chocolate notes that keep the cup interesting and curious for black drinkers.
Supa Crema - super-clean cup with milk chocolate, caramel, toffee and praline. Rich with a long Swiss chocolate finish. Our workhorse blend - refined, lush and decadent with Swiss chocolate notes running rampant. A "toblerone" moment.
TomKat - fruity, spicy, wild flavours of dark chocolate and cocoa. Strong, inky mid palate punch with a long dark chocolate finish. A surprise package with interesting fruit jumping out of the cup, this coffee has some weight behind it's punch. Dark fruit and chocolate notes combine in a perfect symphony of high flavoured success.
What are single origin coffees and why are they so alluring ?.
Our company was part of the original push for single origin coffees back in 2006 when the concept of a single origin coffee was not well known.
Way back then, coffee was all about blends and specialty was in it's primary infancy, a mere shadow of it's presence today.
Preparing single origin, or to be more correct, single estate coffees was seen as a distraction or nuisance by most coffee roasters/companies - they were more concerned about volumes, cost efficiencies and margins.
But we could see a greater potential to differentiate coffee just like wine so we set about building a highly successful business on the back of sourcing higher quality lots roasted individually to enhance the unique characteristics of a bean.
We sold single origin coffees at fair and reasonable prices to encourage coffee drinkers to experiment and trial new experiences.
Single origin by default means it's not blended with coffees from other countries. However, within a single country you can have many thousands of different lots, so the term "single origin" is as you can see way too broad and simplistic. Single estate or single lot would be a more accurate depiction, but we can't change what's already deeply embedded within the industry.
Most large coffee estates or plantations have many (multiple) coffee products available. They mitigate risks by growing different varietal, they grow in different areas of the estate (terrior) and they use different processing methods such as washed, sun dried of pulped natural.
So within a coffee plantation you can have many different lots available. They also grade coffees to the separates the superior lots which command a premium price for better qualities.
As you can see the term "single origin" refers only to the country where the coffee was grown and processed, not specifically to it's type or grade.
20 years ago it was much easier to distinguish between origins but as recent as that last decade coffee farmers have been experimenting with different processing methods and varietals to blur the lines between what was traditionally known as the preconceived attributes from each origins.
Today, it's no longer possible to pigeonhole coffee from a certain origin as modern methods of processing mean a Colombian with long fermentation may taste like a Costa Rican and some naturally processed Brazils may taste like Ethiopians. What we all held as "knowledge" about coffee is dramatically changing.
This raises the issue of bias. What we once thought about Brazil is now different. The nutty is replaced with caramel, toffee or dried apricots, we can no longer rely upon pre-conceived ideas about coffee origins.
This makes the choice and selection of single origins even more difficult and complex. It's a moving target as the flavours and attributes start to overlap.
The best piece of advice we can offer for single origins is to always keep an open mind. We continue to be amazed at how the raw coffees are processed and prepared which change our perceptions.
Nothing will ever be the same over time - all the lots we use for single origins will change every 6 to 8 weeks.
That's the norm for seasonal, high grade specialty coffee - because it's higher quality, the lower the quantity as these are "cherry picked" from farms and estates for the "top" lots.
It's changing frequently as we source multiple lots per origin throughout the year. In the case of Brazil and Colombia, the #1 and #2 arabica origins, we could have between 8 and 10 different lots within a calendar year. For many of our origins, it's at least 3 to 4 changes per year.
What that means for our customers is that the cup profile will change.......it's unavoidable. Subtle, incremental but noticeable change.
What are the Popular Single Origins
Kenya, Colombia, Brazil and Ethiopia are some of the most popular origins in our store, but as you can imagine, this changes daily - sometimes we have a run on Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Guatemala or Sumatra. It's impossible to predict what is going to sell the most but there are certainly trends for Colombia, Kenya and Ethiopian coffees.
You will discover that single origin coffees vary considerably from origin to origin and in the case of Ethiopia, it varies of lot between regions, e.g. Sidamo verus Yirgacheffe.
A low acid Brazil with its soft density, sweet and refined flavors of nuts and caramel will be remarkably different to a hard, dense Kenyan with it's wild notes of berries and black currant, dark chocolate and winey acids.
This means that your grind settings will also be quite different between the soft Brazil natural and a hard, dense washed Kenyan, so being able to adapt your grind and dose techniques is important in order to realize the maximum potential from a single origin coffee.
Why it's like a roller coaster with Single Origins.
The best piece of advice we can offer any new coffee enthusiast keen on exploring single origin coffees is to maintain an open mind. Not all origins will resonate or "float your boat" so it's best to be prepared for both highs and lows.
When you venture in the realm of single origins it's like visiting a candy shop - confronted with a large array of possibilities, you can only try to chose based upon what you might think you like.
Some origins can produce a more complex and rounded flavor and cup profile - in particular coffees from Colombia and Papua New Guinea seem to sit more in the middle of the spectrum and may be more safer choices.
African coffees can be more complex - fruits, berries, acids, etc. may be more enhanced and prominent compared to what you may have been accustomed to drinking with blends.
The key differences you may notice first about single origin coffees is the acidity. Blends may contain coffees of varying acids and hence this may mean a blend has less acidic cup attributes compared to many single origins.
Taming the acids is a skill for the barista as it's possible to adjust the total dissolved solids to produce a balanced cup. Acids are important in coffee as they are the pathways for flavor.
Higher acid coffees tend to match well with milk and create a higher flavoured cup.
Most black coffee drinkers search for lower acid offerings. In this respect we would recommend Brazils and Sumatrans as being more suitable for black-only brews.
For those not using espresso machines and relying upon more simple methods of brewing such as plunger, stovetop or drip/filter, we suggest looking at African coffees with their bolder intensity or Colombia, Guatemala or Papua New Guinea.