You’re standing in a coffee shop in front of a wall of different coffee bags. You know the feeling–it’s the same one you get when you’re trying to buy wine for a gift or fancy chocolate.
How do I pick? Where does the best coffee come from? Does the price matter?
There are a lot of different pieces of information on your coffee bag. Origin, processing, roast level, flavor notes, blend/single origin, varietals… when you look at a bag, you may be thinking, “What do all these things mean?” And more importantly, “How do these things affect the flavor in the cup?”
Great questions! There’s a lot on there, so we wanted to write this series of articles to explain what they mean in simple terms so that you can make an informed decision when you’re picking out a bag.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE: Those awesome, friendly faces behind the bar are likely knowledgeable about coffees! Just like a good sommelier can run you through a wine list or a good server can recommend the perfect entree, a good barista can recommend you the perfect coffee for your needs. Chances are, they’ve made and tasted every coffee that’s being sold, and they can guide you through all the different things on the coffee bag.
At Many Worlds, we don’t have the opportunity to talk to you face-to-face as baristas. However, please feel free to contact us with any coffee questions you might have and we’ll respond as soon as we can!
Origin is one of the most telling pieces of information on a coffee bag. Many of the flavors notes are characteristics that can be tied to origin. The "best" coffee doesn't really come from one specific region--some coffees are rarer or have more work put into them, but at the end of the day the best cup often comes down to preference.
LATIN AMERICA/SOUTH AMERICA
A “classic” coffee that has flavors such as caramel, chocolate, and roast nuts is most likely that way because it comes from Mexico or South America. Common origins include Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Colombia. These coffees are perfect as a comforting, daily drip coffee. If you like cream and sugar, these coffees go perfectly with them!
Ethiopian coffee is commonly known as a “gateway” for many specialty coffee lovers. In fact, it’s usually important that baristas taste Ethiopian coffee to truly understand how different coffees can taste based on origin. These coffees are known for fruit and floral flavors—things like blueberry, sweet citrus, hibiscus, and honeysuckle. It’s common to hear “it doesn’t even smell like coffee!” the first time someone experiences it. It’s not for everyone, and it’s probably not the best coffee to pair with cream. But if you’re looking for a really special and unique beverage, Ethiopian coffee has got to be one of the best choices!
Kenyan coffees have similarities to Ethiopian coffees, but often have a more savory component tied to the flavor. Think raisins, grapefruit zest, sundried tomatoes, and licorice. These coffees also tend to have a lemony acidity—for some this is a prized quality that gives the coffee a really interesting “zing”, and some aren’t too fond of it. A clever way that many coffee shops cut some of that acidity down is to use Kenyan coffee for cold brew. This brew method yields a more mellow cup.
Indonesia is the third largest coffee producer in the world, and the Indonesian island of Sumatra has a really unique flavor. Sumatran coffee is characterized to have an earthy, herbaceous, and brothy flavor. Vegetal flavors such as green pepper and mushroom are often found in these coffees, as well. These flavors are really polarizing—our guests (and staff) are usually big fans or big critics! At the sourcing stage, finding a balanced and sweet Sumatran is very exciting—one that transcends the negative connotation of “vegetables” in coffee to make something special and unique is awesome! You can pick up a bag of our Sumatran here:
LIGHT, MEDIUM, DARK. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Many Worlds is a roasting company, so the roast level is where we get to put its own signature on the coffee supply chain. Roasting coffee is a little like cooking or baking.
If you’ve never seen it before, “raw” coffee is actually green in color, and smells nothing like the coffee you smell at home (it’s kind of hard to describe, but the closest we can think of is underripe bananas). In the roasting process, we take raw, green coffee beans and turn them in this big, barrel-shaped roaster. The roaster has several probes inside to give us temperature data on the coffee. This data gets spit out onto a computer screen, so we can track its changes over time and compare roasts to see how consistent we can make them.
Roasting is required to make coffee drinkable. Essentially, darker roasts are coffees that are cooked longer or hotter.
The roasting process imparts flavors (just like cooking does), especially the browning of sugars in the coffee beans to get caramel and toasted flavors (the “Maillard Reaction”). Roasting too long can cause the coffee to take on burnt, smoky flavors. Roasting too light can cause the coffee to taste vegetal and grassy, because the green coffee beans haven’t been cooked long enough for the flavors to develop.
In general, lightly roasting coffee is favored to highlight more delicate flavor nuances (especially fruitiness and florals found in Ethiopian coffee), while roasting darker is chosen for coffees where that sugar-browning/caramel flavor can most compliment the coffee (South American coffees with chocolate and nutty flavor notes).
The flavor notes on our bags are taken from the notes of the roasting team from their cupping forms. If four of the staff tasted peach in the cup, we want to share that on our bag so that our guests (you!) can know what to expect.
These flavors come from the actual beans themselves—there are no artificial flavors or additives in our coffees. We try to not include “sensational” tasting notes—a hint of apricot in coffee probably shouldn’t say “Grandma’s freshly baked peach cobbler with cinnamon and vanilla ice cream”. If you find that coffee, let us know!
SINGLE ORIGIN VS. BLEND
The difference between a single origin coffee vs. a coffee blend is pretty simple!
Single origin coffees come from one location. Often, this is one farmer’s lot, but we’ll also consider a coffee as single origin if it’s from a cooperative of various farmers within a small geographical area that process their coffee in the same place. These coffees can be special to you for different reasons—you might appreciate tasting the differences between different origins, or you might like that you’ll know exactly where the coffee in your cup is coming from.
Blends, on the other hand, have multiple sources of coffee in one bag. This is done with intention to create a certain flavor profile. Some people perceive blends to be lower quality—like some evil coffee roaster is throwing all the stale coffee in a bucket and roasting that. But our blends (and most specialty coffee roasters’ blends) are curated experiences with an intentional goal in mind. Don’t think of them as worse—some coffees can even be blended to make a flavor that isn’t found in a single origin.
Our four core coffees are all blends, though we are releasing a single-origin coffee soon called Treasured Realm!