Roasting samples

How do you evaluate a coffee’s flavour and quality?

Coffee has become quite a fashionable product lately, which is fantastic as more attention was necessary to the culture and provenance of this product that we drink various times a day, but know absolutely nothing about. Still, as a coffee professional working mostly with other coffee professionals, I think there is little information available to the consumer, at least nothing immediately accessible. You really have to look for it on your own to find out more.

That is why I will be writing various pieces on what it is to be a coffee taster, how coffee is assessed, how it can be extracted, so you can know more easily which coffee to choose and how to best prepare it! So How do you evaluate a coffee’s flavour and quality?

How do you evaluate a coffee's flavour and quality

What is coffee cupping?

This kind of extraction and tasting is used to assess the quality of a coffee and is not used for consumption. But this is a very important step when the coffee has been harvested and processed, before exporting, when importing and when the coffee arrives at the roastery.

This part is a bit like a wine maker tasting the wine during production to assess its quality.

How is it done?

The coffee is roasted very lightly because it’s important to see the quality of the coffee itself rather than the roast. Cupping has to be done with a freshly roasted coffee from 8 to 24 hours after the roast.

How do you evaluate a coffee's flavour and quality
Coffee cupping was started in Brasil in the beginning of the 20th century to evaluate te coffee quality.

As you can see in the photo above, there are 5 cups per sample of each coffee. Why? Because even one grain of coffee can alter the uniformity or give off a defect. It might be an unripe bean that will give a lot of astringency, a moldy bean or a chemical tasting phenol bean (tastes a bit like the dentist’s). This said, the beans will have to be weighed out for each cup individually and ground for each cup individually in order to isolate the one defect, rather than spreading it out on all the cups. This will help us count the defects later on and assess the overall quality of the sample.

The coffee will be brewed in infusion, no filters are used, so it is ground very coarsely in order for it to not extract too much taste and make it bitter. Most good quality coffees shouldn’t really be bitter.

The water is important, it shouldn’t be too bland or too hard, and of course it should be completely odourless without any strange taste to it.

The optimum temperature is fundamental, we don’t want to burn the coffee but neither do we want to under-extract, so it should be around 93 degrees Celsius.

How do you evaluate a coffee's flavour and quality

When the cups are brewed for 3 to 5 min, the upper part with coffee particles called the “crust” will me moved or “broken” with the help of a spoon. This is where all the vapour will come out and it will be the best time to evaluate the fragrance.

How do you evaluate a coffee's flavour and quality

When the coffee arrives to an acceptable temperature to put it in the mouth, the cupper will use a big spoon to slurp it. Yep, SLURP IT. The sound your parents or grandparents told you not to make when eating soup? That’s the one you have to do!

The idea is to get as much oxygen and aromatic molecules up your retronasal pathway as possible, that way you can perfectly evaluate the taste (sour, sweet, bitter, salty, umami), the mouthfeel (creamy, tea-like, light, oily…) and the aroma (fruity, floral, chocolatey…). These three together are defined as flavour.

How do you evaluate a coffee's flavour and quality
Here’s a nice coffee flavour wheel to appreciate the richness of the coffee aroma world!

Coffee and health. The magic of coffee.

Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages in the world, and there are many opinions you can read whether it is healthy or not, but there are some pretty good news based on scientific research for people like us, who really love the magic of coffee.

The latest researches not only state that coffee is not bad for us, on the contrary, it might have some very good influence on our health – it is correlated with improved cardiovascular health, lower incidence of type 2 diabetes and reduced incidence of various oncological problems.

So many consider tea as the health beverage, but if you do a bit of research and look for strong medical evidence, you will find much more correlations to health benefits for coffee than proved benefits of tea consumption. While tea has antioxidants as well, there has been less correlated evidence of those benefits than for coffee.

Coffee and health. The magic of coffee.

THE BIGGEST COFFEE LOVERS

Many might be convinced that the world’s biggest coffee consumers are Italians, for the notoriety of the Italian coffee culture. The biggest consumers actually are the Scandinavian countries, like Finland and Sweden. You can see HERE the list and consumption of the TOP 10.

It might seem Italians and Spaniards drink coffee throughout the day but it is typical to drink shorter beverages, like espresso. One espresso might contain about 7 to 8 grams of ground coffee, whereas Northern Europeans tend to drink filter coffee, so a longer drink which requires more ground coffee, one cup of 200ml would contain 12g of coffee.

Historically there has been a huge incentive in the society of the Scandinavian countries to consume coffee instead of alcohol. Also some religious figures in the past have advised to substitute alcohol for coffee. That is why coffee nowadays is consumed when spending time with friends and colleagues or even when returning home from a long work day. At one point in history the Scandinavians were consuming12 cups of filter coffee per day! That is how the Norther European countries became the world’s biggest coffee consumers.

IS COFFEE HEALTHY?

Coffee is a fantastic and fascinating product, and its greatest benefits and most potent antioxidants are created during the roasting process.

There are some researches pointing out that coffee is the biggest antioxidant source in the people’s diet, contributing a MUCH higher % of antioxidants even compared to fruit and vegetables. You can check this one, for example, quite exciting numbers there – Coffee, maté, açaí and beans are the main contributors to the antioxidant capacity of Brazilian’s diet. There are also a few researches that indicate coffee is the biggest antioxidant in the Scandinavian diet as well.

Coffee has been praised and had its bad reputation throughout its history, but more and more researches are being published on long-year studies giving insight on the excellent properties of caffeine as a mind stimulant, maintaining our mind young for longer, lowering incidence of Alzheimer, Parkinson, improving our mood, but it’s not only about caffeine.

Roasted coffee still contains some chlorogenic acids from the green coffee known for their antioxidative properties, and melanoidins that are created during roasting though the Maillard reaction. It is still not very clear how and which specific substances are the most potent, but coffee consumption has been correlated with lower incidence of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes.

And a very interesting and positive point for coffee is that it has shown to have an anti-depressive effect. We must agree that this is especially important today.

QUALITY AND HOW YOU DRINK IT

Of course everything that we consume has to be of good quality. There is still anti-oxidative potential even in soluble coffee, but why not just start with the best quality product, whole coffee beans freshly ground in the morning to have the best taste and health benefits too, right?

First, remember that arabica and robusta are two very different coffee species. To find out more about their differences, you can read all about it on my Coffee and wine journal post. You can also find out about the quality and terroir of coffee, that is fundamental in the moment of choosing your favourite coffee.

Although, decaffeinated coffee does lack the mind activating and clearing substance of caffeine, it has shown antioxidant properties just like regular coffee. There are some people who genetically tend to digest caffeine much slower than others, that might lead to sleeplessness and nervous jitters, so it is pretty fantastic news to those who can just drink decaf!

Remember though, coffee should be drunk in its natural form – black- without the addition of sugar or milk, or any other substances, to have the best chance of the antioxidants giving us positive effects.

History of coffee

Ever wonder where coffee comes from and how it has become one of the most important beverages we drink every day?

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Coffee and wine

What is so common between coffee and wine? Once you get to know these two beverages more, you will be surprised how very similar they are in so many aspects. It is true however that coffee still doesn’t get enough hype as wine does.

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Are you a tea or a coffee drinker?

Two very much loved beverages, but usually people prefer one or the other. One is supposed to be super healthy, whereas the other one hasn’t had such excellent health fame until just recently.

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