Coffee is a universal language, whether it’s a caramel macchiato with almond milk and whip or a tiny espresso shot more relatable to tar. There is care and precision that goes into transforming a humble plant into a delicious beverage. It may greet us every morning before anyone else, but do we really know anything about it? Let’s take a look at the behind-the-scenes world of our morning — and sometimes late-night — best friend.
Coffee beans are the seed of a coffee cherry. Each cherry contains two seeds that farmers separate from the fruit. Coffee cherries are processed with three major techniques: the natural, washed or honey processes.
Natural coffees can be full of fruit flavors such as blueberry and strawberry and can have a thick, syrupy texture, or “body.” Washed coffees tend to taste clean, with citrus-like brightness and an overall lighter body. Honey-processed coffees have a high sugar content around their seeds, which contributes to a brown sugar or honey-like sweetness. Coffees from African countries often have fruity flavors with floral aromas, while South American coffees are intrinsically nutty with hints of milk chocolate flavors.
With all the hard work farmers place into tending their crops, it is up to a roaster to bring out the full flavor nuances in a coffee. Like searing a steak, roasting coffee involves the Maillard reaction, otherwise known as the browning reaction. The distinct browned flavor arises from the chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars. The more a coffee is roasted, the more water content is lost and the mass of the coffee decreases. While it’s true that light-roasted coffees have more caffeine than dark-roasted due to the slightly higher mass, the difference is almost negligible. What is different, however, is the flavor. Light roasts preserve the characteristics of each coffee, allowing sweetness, fruitiness and floral elements to dominate. Dark roasts are bold and smoky, but cover up the delicate flavors unique to the coffee.
Read more about your favorite morning (or late-night) companion in the May issue of Contour.
~Ryan Mui, Pacific ’19, Infection Control Committee Representative