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Field Guide to Flavour

Why does a coffee taste like {insert flavour note here}?

It’s a common question our coffee team is asked all the time. Below is a series of field guides that will help you learn more about our labels and how the information on them can translate into a deeper understanding of why coffees taste the way they do—and make finding the coffees you love that little bit easier. 

Learn more on how we taste these notes? Check out our blog here.

Origin

We list a coffee’s origin both in the main name of the coffee and under origin on all of our labels. It will typically be displayed as a coffee’s country, department or province, and municipality or specific town. Will we always try to get as much specific detail about the origin as possible.

MAIN TAKEAWAYS

  1. Understanding origin is a great foundation for thinking about coffee as a seasonal agricultural product with different growing regions and harvest calendars that will affect a coffee's availability at certain times of the year. Each origin will have a set of environmental factors like micro region, plant type, age, soil type, altitude, and relative humidity, that ultimately come together to create a coffee’s terroir and lead to some common themes within each country’s flavour profiles.

  2. The Restrictions of judging a coffee flavour profile strictly on origin: As we have learned throughout this series, although a coffee’s country is a great introduction to the possible flavour profile, it can only tell you so much. Every country will have multiple regions, sub-regions, microclimates, altitudes, varieties, processing methods, and experimental production techniques that can lead to really distinctive flavour profiles. These profiles can often be extremely different and challenge the perception of what we have come to expect from that origin. Coffee, like everything else, is always changing.

We have put together a list of some of our favourite origins and some of the flavours notes they generally contain:

AFRICA: Complex, wild, fruit forward, and delicate flavour profiles with a lot of exotic and tea-like characteristics.

  • ETHIOPIA – tea-like, delicate, floral, fruity, citrus
  • KENYA – bright, berry-like, fruity, winey, acidic, savoury
  • RWANDA/BURUNDI – earthy, wild, fruity, tea-like, sweet

CENTRAL AMERICA: Approachable flavour profile characterized by familiar tasting notes, balance, and an abundance of sweetness.

  • COSTA RICA – citrus, soft fruit, honey, sugary
  • GUATEMALA – mild fruit, sweet, balanced

SOUTH AMERICA: Diverse continental flavour profiles that can differ significantly based on sub-regionality. Some regions offer more classic profiles that are very comforting with rich, deep, nutty, and chocolatey notes, while others offer big, complex and fruity profiles.

  • COLOMBIA – tropical, stone fruit, vegetal, cola-like
  • BRAZIL – chocolate, nut, subtle fruit

ASIA: Unique, polarizing profiles characterized by earthy, smoky, herbal notes.

  • INDONESIA/SUMATRA – earthy, smoky, tobacco


Altitude

On our labels, you can always find the altitude a coffee is grown in meters above sea level (MASL).

WHERE IS ALTITUDE ON THE LABEL?


MAIN TAKEAWAYS

1. Higher grown coffees see more varied temperatures and sporadic cloud coverage due to cooler nights and hotter days, resulting in a longer period of maturation and a slower ripening process. These conditions create coffees that have a greater complexity of flavour, higher bean density, and a cup profile that is often more refined, elegant, and clean.

2. Lower grown coffees are exposed to more heat and less cloud coverage, which quickens the maturation process or ripens the coffee cherry faster. These conditions lead to less flavour complexity, a lower bean density, and a cup profile that is often more one-noted, muddled, unrefined, and simple.

Processing

We list the coffee’s processing method on all of our labels as either washed, natural, or a type of honey.

MAIN TAKEAWAYS

1. There are three main different types of coffee processing: natural, washed, and honey.

NATURAL PROCESS -
In this method—which is born of tradition in coffee's birthplace of Ethiopia—coffee cherries are allowed to dry in the sun with the seeds intact. The seeds are then removed from the raison-like husk. This is a risky method of drying because the climate has to be just right to ensure the beans dry evenly and quickly while the cherries ferment.

These coffees are typically more wild, funky, and earthy with pronounced fruit notes.

WASHED PROCESS -
In this method, the cherries are machined to remove the skin and pulp from the seed. The seed is still covered with mucilage and is fermented in water for one to two days—or sometimes longer. After fermentation, the mucilage is washed from the coffee bean then dried. This method is focused on accentuating the inherent flavours of the bean itself.

These coffees are typically clean, with structured acidity and pronounced sweetness.

HONEY PROCESS -
In this method—which is common in Costa Rican coffees—the cherries are machined to remove the skin and leave some of the mucilage of the fruit on the bean during drying, even after the skin and pulp are removed through water and fermentation. The amount of mucilage left affects the colour of the bean, with black, red, and yellow indicating a high amount left on the bean and white meaning very little. The mucilage that is left on the seed has the appearance of honey, which gives this method it’s name.

These coffees typically sit in between a natural and a washed flavour profile, meaning the final coffee is usually sweet and juicy with gentle fruit notes and a balanced acidity.

2. Processing is evolving in real time.
In addition to the three more common methods, it’s becoming increasingly common to see producers test experimental processing methods to redefine what is possible and showcase intriguing flavour profiles. Some of these methods include the anaerobic method and exploring the uses of various acids (lactic/malic etc.) in the fermentation stage.

    Variety

    We list the plant variety on all of our coffee labels in order to guide you into picking the right coffee for you and to help everyone in our community love and understand coffee like we do.

    MAIN TAKEAWAYS

    1. Plant variety will greatly affect a coffee beans size, colour, appearance, acidity, and texture. Knowing how variety is reflected in flavour can be a great sub-reference that’ll help you explore coffees from all over the world.

    2. There are two main species of coffee: Robusta and Arabica. Robusta is easier to tend to on the farm, has a higher yield, and it's more bitter than sweet in flavour with a rubbery, burnt character. Arabica on the other hand is the go-to coffee plant, making up 70% of the world’s coffee production. It is, to our and most in the coffee community’s eyes, the best-tasting species of coffee. Because of this, there are thousands of sub varieties of Arabica that are farmed globally.

    To give you a simple way into understanding the flavour profiles of these Arabica sub varieties, we have put together a list of some of our favourite arabica varieties and the flavours notes they generally contain:

    Typica - bright acidity, green apple, citrus, tea-like
    Bourbon - balanced, milk chocolate, sweet
    Catuai - nutty, chocolate, processed sugar, citrus
    Caturra - citrus, berries, balanced, chocolate, nutty
    Heirloom - floral, citrus, tea-like, stone fruit, herbal
    Gesha - floral, perfume, citrus, stone fruit, tea-like, delicate