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Why Do Coffees From Different Regions Taste Different?

We know that different coffee species – arabica and robusta, for example – have different flavor profiles. But why don’t all arabica bean coffees taste the same? There are a few things that can influence the flavor of coffee beans. Let’s take a look.

Varieties

Within the species of arabica are multiple varieties. Each variety brings its own set of flavor profiles. Varieties include many we’re sure you’ve heard of.

  • Blue Mountain
  • Bourbon
  • Catuai
  • Caturra
  • Ethiopian Harar
  • Ethiopian Sidamo
  • Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
  • Geisha
  • Hawaiian Kona
  • Java
  • Mocha
  • Mundo Novo
  • Santos
  • Sulawesi
  • Sumatra Mandheling
  • Timor

This is not the full list of varieties but does include many of the varieties you can find on the CoffeeAM website.

Terroir

After variety, the next thing that affects the flavor of coffee beans is where they are grown. Climate, elevation, soil, and geography all have great impact on the flavor of coffee beans.

Climate includes:

  • Amount of sunlight
  • Amount of rain
  • Temperature
  • Wind
  • Elevation

How high in the mountains coffee is planted can have an effect on the flavor as well. The higher in elevation the cooler the temperatures are which can counter the heat that the sun imparts. Cool breezes can also keep the plants from getting too hot when soaking up the sun.

Soil

Reading most descriptions of the growing conditions of your favorite coffees, you will probably notice that the soil they are grown in is “volcanic.” Volcanic ash, which comes from the breaking down of cooled magma or lava, is full of nutrients. It also holds water while providing excellent drainage.

Geography

There is a coffee belt that circles the globe close to the equator. Coffee tends to grow best within this belt. Towards the equator is where the temperatures stay fairly warm. Without winds, rainy days, and higher elevations, the coffee beans would suffer and would not produce the tasty coffee beverage you enjoy.

Does Terroir REALLY Have An Effect?
To a certain extent, yes. The growing conditions of the plants do have an effect on flavor but that’s not the only thing that can make a difference.

Processing

How coffee beans are processed adds to the flavor you find from the beans. We’ve discussed processing before, but we’ll recap here. What are the different kinds of processing and how do they affect flavor?

Dry Processing

Considered the oldest method of processing coffee beans, the cherries are picked and laid out to dry in the sun. They are raked through often, usually multiple times a day, to provide even drying and to protect from spoilage. This process takes several weeks. The goal is to get the moisture content of the cherries to 11%.

Wet Processing

This method uses water to remove the skin and pulp of the coffee cherries by a special machine. Once the beans are separated (unripe beans float and are skimmed off) the beans move on to a series of rotating drums to separate further by size. This then brings them to fermentation tanks for up to 48 hours which helps to remove the pulp (mucilage) left on the beans by softening it. Finally, the beans will move through more water channels which causes any stubborn mucilage to be removed.

After being cleaned, the beans are spread out on drying surfaces just like in dry processing. They are raked often for even drying and as a precaution against spoiling. Once the moisture content is reduced to 11% the beans are moved on to the next step.

But Wait, There’s More!

Yet another step in the processing of coffee can make a difference to the overall flavor. Aging! Allowing the coffee beans to age in some way, like monsooning (the most well-known) adds more complex and nuanced flavors to the coffee.

What About Roasting?
We’re so glad you asked! YES! Roasting does also have an effect on the flavor of the coffee. Different levels of roast, from light to dark, can enhance some of the inherent flavors of the beans while potentially masking others. The lighter the roast, the more of the innate bean flavor comes through. The darker the roast, the more flavors are enhanced.

Is That All?

No, that’s not quite all of it. Your brewing can also affect the flavor of the coffee. The grind size, how long the water is in contact with the grounds, the temperature of the water… all of these can subtly change how your coffee tastes.

How Can I Experience These Unique Flavors?

If you want to experience the unique flavors of coffees from different growing regions, we’ve put together our World Tour Sampler for just this occasion. You will receive half-pound bags of six of our gourmet coffees from across the coffee belt. Set up a tasting on your own or with friends. Check out this post or this series and see for yourself the difference terroir can make.

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