What is the best coffee? This is perhaps the question most often asked of our trainers during courses, demonstrations, workshops, or during a chat among friends. The answer is easy, obvious, and trite-it depends! (Did you really think we would solve the mystery so quickly?)
First, remember that good is subjective. For example, for some people meat is good, for others fish; some people like sweet more and others like salty. So to define “good” we need to understand whether we are talking about personal opinion or objective, neutral opinion.
I start right here.
“When objectively is a coffee good?”
Internationally there is a particular protocol, called cupping, which involves:
the analysis of green coffee (counting defects and the presence of bad beans)
and the subsequent tasting by an infusion in water of the same roasted and ground coffee
Through these procedures the variables of different extraction systems are avoided and the characteristics, positive and negative, are evaluated, giving a scale of values. The coffee is evaluated blindly by qualified and calibrated people who assess the real value and goodness, based on many parameters and nuances.
The coffees that best pass these procedures will be called Specialty Coffee (we will talk about it soon in this blog) which, thanks to their aromatic and sensory complexity, can really amaze the palate with hints you would never have connected to our beloved beverage.
When subjectively is a coffee good?
If the answer you seek instead is personal to understand what you like you need to ask yourself a few questions, find out what you are looking for and learn that coffee can have a thousand facets.
What kind of taste do you like? What do you expect from your coffee?
Do you prefer your coffee to be strong, intense, bitter with notes of chocolate and hints of roast?
Or sweeter and rounder, perhaps with fruity notes? Would you prefer a light body and floral notes? (yes, coffee can be that too).
This opens up the possibility of choice and the hunt for the best coffee for you or perhaps the best coffees.
Delving deeper will reveal more information by reading and looking for details on the label (the identity card of our coffee), where the more specifics we find the greater the chance of understanding what sensory profile we will find in our beloved cup.
How to get your bearings
The origin of the coffee will be a factor to consider, in fact terroir (as it happens in wine) gives specific characteristics and sensory profile. We could range from Brazilian coffees with hints of nuts, through the exotic notes of some Central Americans or the citrusy flavors of Ethiopian coffees.
Processing is another important element; natural coffees tend to be sweeter and more full-bodied than washed coffees, which generally taste more acidic and have less body.
Another aspect to evaluate and control concerns roasting, or the cooking of our beans. If it is too pushed, toward dark brown, the intensity of the bitter taste will go up (and remember that coffee does not have to be only bitter as we have written in this article).
What if there is no information on the package?
Commercially, in the coffee world, we have been led to standardize the taste of our beloved beverage so we will hardly find descriptions and information, except very general. In quality coffee, the description will be really exhaustive and rich in details precisely so that we can choose “our” favorite and range with truly unique tastes and sensory profiles.
That said, the search for the best coffee has just begun… Happy hunting!