Coffee is incredibly complex and interesting. There’s so many things that affect the final flavour of a coffee. The most basic and noteworthy aspect is where the coffee comes from. Climate, soil, traditions and agriculture can mean the difference between a soft, nutty comfort and a bright zesty adventure – it’s super important to know where a coffee is from to know what it will taste like.
You may have noticed some coffee roasters denoting coffees as “Singles” or “Blends”. Singles can mean a variety of things. “Single Origin”, “Single Estate” and “Microlot” are all identifiers of where a coffee came from. Single Origins can come from anywhere within one country. Single Estate coffees come from a single farm or plantation, and Microlots are a small selection from that single farm. One is not inherently better than the others – each of them have the potential to be incredibly delicious. The advantages of Single Estate and Microlot coffees is the traceability and transparency that comes with buying from one producer.
Blends can be any combination of the above. Blending is very personal and varies drastically from roaster to roaster. A few roasters refuse to blend their coffees. Some people stick to blends of 2 to 3 coffees to preserve the voice of each individual bean. Others blend more than 20 coffees together for a more homogeneous and generic flavour. If you’re looking to explore the full variety and depth that coffee has to offer, I’d stick to Singles. If you want a creature comfort that consistent, go for a blend.
Coffee is grown around the equator at altitudes from 700 meters above sea level up to 2000. This limits its production to certain equatorial countries with mountain ranges in Africa, Asia, Central and South America. Each continent is drastically different to the others, and sometimes individual countries can brazenly stick out on their own.
Africa, the birthplace of coffee, is well known for its vibrant, citric, juicy and wild flavours. Ethiopians can have wonderful aromas and finesse; think lemongrass, bergamot and jasmine. Kenyans are world famous for their intense blackcurrant and grapefruit flavours, regularly paired with rosehip and raspberry-like fragrances. Along with these playful attributes comes a lighter body and mouthfeel.
Central America is a wonderfully diverse region with each country displaying very unique characteristics. Costa Rica is always a crowd favourite with sugary sweetness and heavy ripe fruits. El Salvador is the king of sweetness; their coffees are regularly ripe, sweet and full of sugar. Honduras is a lesser known but still magnificent producer; look out for flavours of intensely aromatic tropical fruits. Central Americans can be anywhere from light to heavy in terms of mouthfeel. It’s up to the Producer, Roaster and Barista to determine how they present it.
South America is home to two of the biggest coffee producing nations and their coffees couldn’t be any more different. Australians and their milk addiction love Brazilian coffees more than any other. They’re soft, chocolaty and nutty and perfect as a milky drink. They’re the base of almost every espresso blend in the world. Colombians on the other hand are intensely fruity. Think reduced, jammy, Christmas cake fruit and you’re on the right track. They’re a great match in a blend with Brazilians, each filling in the gaps the other lacks.
With this basic knowledge of coffee regions under your belt, you’ll be able to pick up a bag and know what it tastes like right away. I always recommend hearty experimentation and exploration – there’s so many more coffees out there than you’ll ever be able to try!