Serious Eats: Drinks
Coffee by Continent: Flavor Variations Between the Americas, Africa, and Asia
Once a month for the next few months I'm going to cover different aspects of making coffee at home—including where and how to purchase beans, brewing styles, grind differences, and the best way to store beans—but before learning those topics, you'll need to know what it is you're buying. Most wine lovers know what their palate enjoys, whether it be dry, sweet, full bodied, or delicate. They have favorite countries of origin and can already taste the profiled nuances just by reading the label. Coffee enthusiasts are the same, as different beans grown in different regions produce specific flavor profiles. What's the best way to form your coffee palate? Taste, Taste, Taste.
Single Origin Coffees are split into three basic groups: The Americas, Africa, and Asia. American coffees (beans grown in South and Central American soil; the only coffee beans grown in the US are from Hawaii, but geographically that's in Polynesia) share the familiar traits of your morning cup. They are known for their balance and even temperament. Some, depending on country, provide deep berry, chocolate, nut, spice, and fruit notes. These coffees are always well balanced and are the best choice for a first time coffee drinker. I always point someone in this direction if they are purchasing beans for a friend with an unknown preference, or are new to the coffee world—they bestow a very palatable first experience.
The second group is the African bean. These beans provide sparkle, melody, and excitement to our daily lives. Their flavor traits, depending on country, present such flavors as blueberry, tomato, spice, and melon. Some Ethiopian beans smell and taste like fresh blueberry pie, while some Kenyans can taste so juicy they make me feel like I'm drinking a Capri sun. These coffees are a great way to expand your palate and wow your senses.
This leaves the third group growing in Asian soil. Asian coffees are most known for having the most curves. They are full bodied with a syrupy mouth feel. These coffees are smooth, dense, and exotic with dark chocolate, bold nuttiness, and subtle earthy tones. Dipping my nose into a fresh bag of Indian Mysore instantly procures thoughts of a decadent chocolate peanut butter cup, while an earthy Sumatra reminds me of the smells of the Pacific Rainforest just after rainfall.
Offering your palate a variety of beans will expand your awareness of the flavors living in your cup, giving you more information when you get ready to purchase.