The simple pleasure of a good cup of coffee in your favourite artisan café can actually be quite a complicated process. For a start, you need to navigate the menu to decide if you want an americano, an espresso, a flat white, a latte… and so on.
Then there’s the question of single origin beans, blends, roasts; what does it all mean? Here’s a quick coffee 101 to help you on your way to becoming a clued up coffee connoisseur.
The basics: where coffee comes from
Everyone knows that coffee is made from beans, but where do they come from? They are sourced from coffee plants, which are botanically classified as shrubs, but may also be referred to as a tree or a bush. They can grow between four to 10 metres tall, but most farmers keep them at a maximum height of five metres.
The plants produce bunches of small round fruits known as cherries, and inside these cherries is a seed, which is what we know as the coffee bean. When the cherries are ripe (usually when they have matured from a green to an orange, crimson, or dark cherry red colour), they are harvested and the beans or seeds are extracted for processing.
Coffee plants thrive in subtropical regions close to the equator, such as Indonesia, Columbia, Brazil, Vietnam and Ethiopia.
Why does coffee have different flavours?
The location, climate, and elevation the plants are grown at influences the flavour of the beans. However, the most influential factor is the variety of coffee plant that the bean was harvested from. There are about 120 varieties of coffee plants, but the varieties most commonly used to produce coffee are Arabica, Robusta, and Liberica.
Arabica beans are particularly prized for their complex flavours, which are generally softer than most other varieties of coffee. You may detect a sweet, fruity, floral, or nutty tone to the taste of Arabica coffee. They are mostly produced in South America and require intensive cultivation.
What is meant by single origin beans?
You might have heard the phrase ‘single origin beans’ floating around your local coffee shop. This is a term that generally refers to beans that are from a specific region, country, or even a single coffee farm, as opposed to blended coffee that is made from a variety of different origin beans.
Single origin beans produce a very distinctive flavour, which is put at a premium by true coffee connoisseurs. They take an interest in the location, climate, and cultivation techniques that led to the production of a particular type of coffee.
What about the preparation of the drinks?
The way the drink is prepared affects the strength, flavour and texture of the coffee as well. This may depend on the coffee to milk ratio, the concentration of the coffee, or the other ingredients, such as chocolate syrup, that are added to the drink. Your local friendly barista will be happy to guide you through the options!
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