I have to confess: I enjoy a fresh brewed cup of coffee in the morning almost as much as a glass of wine with my evening meal. Like wine, coffee is a synthesis of history, people and their culture, traditions in growing and processing and the impact of climate, soil and altitude.
While wine production is largely focused on European Vitus vinifera grapes, I was surprised to discover that almost 80 percent of coffee is produced from Coffea arabica, a delicate and flavorful bean species.
Similar to grapes, there are many varieties of coffee with each exhibiting distinct flavors. Rather than names like Chardonnay, Merlot, Norton or Concord, coffee varietals are designated by their location of origin or production. Coffee varietals, like grapes, can be processed in their pure form or as a blend.
Harrar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe, three African varietals named for Ethiopian regions, are among the most desirable arabica beans. Bourbon, Caturra, Maragogype and Tipica are varietals grown in Colombia. Could it be more obvious from where Jamaican Blue Mountain comes?
But what really intrigued me were the taste profiles. To experience that in a meaningful way, I contacted Regina Troyer, owner of The Refinery Coffee Company in Goshen. She’s been roasting coffee beans since 2005 for retail and wholesale clients. She offered to do a “cupping,” which is java-speak for a coffee tasting.
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Coffee cupping is much more structured than I expected. Regina selected four single origin coffees — the majority of The Refinery’s unflavored coffees are roasted as single varietals and come from around the world. Eight grams (about one tablespoon) of fresh, coarsely ground varietal beans were added to five ounce porcelain cups that were one-third to halfway filled with water heated to 200 degrees.
The cups were left to stand and timed for three minutes before we began to evaluate aromas by gently breaking the crust with a spoon and placing our noses close to the mouth of the cup, one after another. Regina provided score sheets on which we recorded our impressions.
We then returned to the first cup and began “slurping” to assess acidity, body, balance, flavor and aftertaste. Each cup was sampled similarly. Then there was an opportunity to re-taste and compare samples.
So, what did I taste and how did I rate each coffee? Fortunately, my experience with wine simplified the transition to coffee appreciation.
- Indian Cherry: The aroma was very earthy without any suggestion of fruit. Although nicely balanced between light body and acidity, there was a mild toasty flavor without any aftertaste. In general, it brought to mind cardboard (Regina uses it for blending).
- Jamaican Blue Mountain: Layers of delicate sweetness and balanced acidity with a moderately rich texture and a velvety, lingering finish. I got distinct hints of herbs/garlic to the nose. This coffee currently sells for $60 per pound.
- Costa Rican Tarrazu: Bright walnut aromas, balanced and complex with medium body and sweet, nutty flavor. The finish was not pronounced, but apparent. This is grown in the volcanic soils of the high mountains.
- Ethiopian Sidamo: Extremely well-balanced with moderate acidity and body. Aromas of smoke, vanilla and milk chocolate were noted with flavors of dark fruit and peanut. Very rich in texture with a long, savory finish. The Sidamo provence is considered the birthplace of coffee.
Is it any wonder that when Regina asked which coffee I preferred, I chose the one that was most like a wine? Hands down, it was the Sidamo, although the Tarrazu gave me cause to deliberate briefly. I now have a greater understanding and appreciation for coffee, thanks to Regina!
- There are potential adverse health effects with excessive ingestion of either beverage. Moderate wine drinking is defined as two 5 oz. glasses per day for men and one 5 oz. glass per day for women. Caffeine intake of 200 to 300 milligrams per day (two to three 8 oz. cups of brewed or drip coffee) is defined as moderate ingestion.
- Dark roast coffees are actually lower in caffeine than those that are medium or light roast. A small amount of caffeine is left in decaffeinated coffee, about 3 percent.
- Wet processed coffees can be thought of like white wines, processed without the skins. Dry processed coffees are like red wines, roasted with the skin intact. The Refinery Coffee Company exclusively does dry roasting.
- A post on Lyndon’s Coffee website states how coffee, unlike wine, should be consumed quickly, ideally no longer than a month after it was roasted.