From where the coffee originates to how the beans are roasted, there are several different factors that impact how your favorite coffee drink will taste. Knowing the different factors that have an effect on the flavor of your coffee will help you identify the different coffee beans and roasts that you are likely to enjoy the most. When it comes to finding the right flavors that you are looking for, the good news is that you don’t need to be a trained coffee taster.
Does the Region Affect the Taste of the Coffee?
The region that the coffee beans are grown in can absolutely have an effect on the taste of the coffee. While there are different variations of the coffee plant that will have different flavor profiles, where the plant is grown is just as, if not even more important to the final taste. The soil composition and elevation of the area are two of the most important factors when it comes to what affects coffee flavor. Higher elevations tend to lead to cooler climates which, ultimately, causes the coffee plant to grow slower. This leads to the beans taking longer to mature, resulting in the plants containing more complex sugars and ultimately having a more complex flavor.
High altitude coffees which are grown at 1,200m or higher, are known for their high density, also known as ‘hard bean’ coffees. On the other hand, low-grown coffee tends to have a blander and flatter flavor profile. While it’s still drinkable, it’s not as exciting as high-altitude coffees. However, there are some exceptions, including coffee beans that are grown on the northern and southern fringes of the Coffee Belt. For example, Hawaiian Kona is a low-altitude coffee that is well-regarded for having a complex flavor profile, since the island’s distance from the equator means that these coffee beans have a longer growing cycle compared to other low-grown coffee beans.
The soil composition can be tricky to explain, but it will certainly play a major role in why coffee from different regions tastes unique. Volcanic soil, for example, is an ideal choice for high-quality coffee since it holds a lot of moisture and is rich in nutrients. In general, the beans will have more acidity come through when there are more minerals in the soil.
Taste of Coffee from Different Regions
Africa is known for being the birthplace of coffee, with wild-growing coffee plants found in some parts of Ethiopia. Most African coffee beans are bright, acidic and fruity, with berry, floral or wine notes depending on the region, often with a thinner body.
In South America, Brazil and Colombia are the main producers of coffee, although it is also grown in Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela. South American coffees will generally have a heavier body and a taste that lingers in the mouth for longer, with rich, smooth flavors. They commonly have chocolatey, nutty, or buttery notes.
North and Central America
Central American coffees tend to have a more consistent base flavor and produce a well-balanced beverage with moderate sweetness, body, and acidity. You can usually expect a smooth cup with chocolate or caramel notes and a fruity acidity which can vary based on the exact region.
Most of Asia is outside of the Coffee Belt, despite it being a large continent. Coffee is grown in Vietnam, the Philippines, India, and Laos, although it is unlikely to be on the shelf as a single-origin coffee. Robusta makes up around 80% of the coffee that is grown in Vietnam; this coffee is caffeine-rich but tends to be less aromatic and more bitter compared to other coffee types.
Coffee Roasts Compared
Along with the different flavor profiles that are a result of the coffee bean growing environment and other factors, how the coffee beans are roasted will also have a big impact on coffee flavors. Roasting is a process that results in chemical changes inside the coffee beans. When roasted, the oils will rise to the surface and the sugars in the beans caramelize. As the moisture evaporates from the beans, they will also lose density and carbon dioxide will be trapped inside them, helping to release various aromatic compounds once the beans have been ground. The four common roast levels for coffee beans include:
- Light: Also known as a cinnamon roast, light roasts have the most acidity and the highest caffeine content. When making coffee with a light roast, you will get a thinner body in your resulting cup and be able to taste more of the fruity or floral notes in the coffee.
- Medium: Medium roasts are the most balanced option. They offer more sweetness and aroma along with a little acidity. Since they are the most common roast available in the US, they are often referred to as the American roast.
- Medium-Dark: Sometimes referred to as the city roast, medium-dark roasts have a bittersweet aftertaste that lots of people associate with drinking strong coffee. They have almost no acidity, a high sweetness and aroma, and there may be some visible oil on the beans’ surface.
- Dark: Sometimes referred to as an Italian roast or French roast, dark roasted beans are very oily and black, and you’re likely to taste more of the roast than the bean when drinking your cup of coffee. They tend to be very bitter, offering a full-bodied taste and an aftertaste that lingers. They have the least acid and caffeine of all the roast options.
Finally, how the coffee is prepared can also have an impact on how it will eventually taste. How you decide to brew your coffee will affect the potential flavors in the beans and how they come through, and which are left behind. For example, the espresso flavor profile is more condensed with a heavier body. Espresso is brewed quickly and under high pressure using finely ground beans. Since it brews quickly, it produces more front-end sweetness and acidity with less bitterness since these are the last compounds that will be released from the coffee beans.
On the other hand, drip coffee will lead to a more balanced, thinner cup with less acidity compared to espresso. This type of coffee is brewed more slowly using a courser grind of coffee beans. With a longer ground contact time, drip coffee tends to lead to more back-end bitter tastes that are not usually present with espresso.
Type of Coffee Drink
The type of drink that you make with coffee, including anything that is added to the coffee, can also impact the flavor profile and taste. Some popular types of coffee drinks today include:
- Americano: This is a simple drink that involves mixing espresso with hot water. It results in a beverage that has a similar consistency and strength to drip coffee.
- Latte: This drink is made by combining espresso with steamed milk. This can often also include a small amount of milk foam on the top. Some lattes are also made with flavored syrups such as hazelnut or vanilla, while plain lattes simply rely on the sweetness of the milk.
- Cappuccino: This beverage is made with equal parts espresso, milk foam, and steamed milk. It can be made ‘wet’ by adding more milk than foam, or ‘dry’ by adding more foam than milk.
- Flat White: This drink is similar to a latte. It is essentially a latte, but made with a smoother microfoam and without any milk foam on top. It can also be made with an espresso shot that is brewed more quickly to avoid bitterness, and is a popular drink in Australia.
- Mocha: This is a sweet drink that combines a latte with chocolate milk or with cocoa powder that is streamed into the milk. It’s basically a hot chocolate, but made with a shot or double shot of espresso.
- Cortado: Cortado means ‘cut’ in Italian and is a drink made with equal parts espresso and streamed milk. It is basically a latte that is shorter and more concentrated.
- Latte Macchiato: This drink includes steamed milk that is marked with espresso. It is quite similar to a latte, but is often made with a higher ratio of milk to espresso in comparison, and the espresso is added to the milk at the end rather than the milk being added to the coffee at the beginning.
- Espresso Macchiato: This drink is mostly espresso, finished with a small amount of steamed milk and topped with milk foam. It’s usually served in an espresso cup as a shot.
- Ristretto: Translating to ‘short’ in Italian, this drink is a shot that is brewed more quickly than espresso, leading to a less bitter and a brighter resulting taste. It is commonly used for flat whites.
- Lungo: Lungo means ‘long’ in Italian. This drink refers to a shot that is allowed to brew with more water than usual. Typically, you’ll use 2-3oz per shot rather than the standard 1-1.5oz. Due to the longer extraction, more of the back-end bitter flavors are added to the shot.
Where your coffee comes from, how it’s roasted, how it’s brewed, and the type of drink you make with it can all have a massive impact on the final flavor and taste of your beverage.