Once you begin to experience the taste and learn to appreciate specialty coffee, you might find yourself questioning the elements that contribute to its richness and flavor. You may wonder how coffee develops its distinct characteristics and what factors influence its taste. For instance, you may be intrigued by the subtle hint of orange fragrance in your coffee or the well-rounded mouthfeel accompanied by tropical fruit notes, prompting you to ponder the unique aspects of coffee. The taste of the coffee you savor is influenced by numerous factors. In this article, we will explore one of the primary factors that impact coffee flavor, encompassing "Environment, Processing, Roasting, and Brewing."
The Impact of Environment on the Flavor of Coffee
Coffee is the result of an agricultural crop cultivated worldwide. The primary factor that initially impacts coffee plants is the "Environment." It is evident that the environmental conditions in which coffee is nurtured tended to, and grown encompass factors such as "Country, Region, Altitude, and Variety."
It may seem evident, but the origin of coffee has a significant impact on the taste of your cup of coffee. Beyond differences in size, geography, or climate, each coffee-growing country and region possesses its own unique infrastructure and long-established traditions when it comes to cultivation techniques, harvesting, and processing.
To better understand this, you can think of apples. We are familiar with various types of apples such as American apples, New Zealand apples, Japanese apples, or Vietnamese apples. Each variety of apple exhibits distinct colors, flavors, and structures. The varying levels of acidity and sweetness contribute to the distinctive taste of each apple type. Some apples have a tangier taste, while others are sweeter, implying that apples, like coffee, "exhibit differences in color and flavor depending on the country and region they originate from." Similarly, coffee follows this pattern. Each country and region contributes to the production of unique flavors for the coffee varieties cultivated there.
The Land is where coffee plants are directly nurtured, cared for, and grown. Therefore, that land needs to meet certain requirements to enable the coffee plants to showcase the flavors they contain, such as:
Soil characteristics: It should have good water drainage and high permeability (Suitable soil types include volcanic soil or red basalt soil).
Land slope: An ideal slope, around 15%, aids in efficient water drainage for coffee plants.
Shade trees: They are planted to shield the coffee plants from direct sunlight. Direct sunlight can cause stress and hinder the normal development of coffee cherries. When coffee plants are exposed to high-light conditions, their nutritional needs increase. Insufficient nutrient supply can weaken the plants and hinder their growth and fruit production. That's why farmers often employ the "shade trees planting model" to reduce sunlight exposure for coffee plants.
Arabica coffee plants prefer a cool climate and can thrive within a temperature range of 5-30°C, with the optimal range being 15-24°C.
Robusta coffee, originating from the lowland forests of Guinea and Congo, requires higher temperatures. The suitable temperature range for Robusta coffee is around 24-30°C.
In Vietnam, there are specific advantageous regions that possess favorable attributes for growing coffee, such as "hilly terrain, soil characteristics, and temperature," and the Central Highlands region stands out as the ideal coffee-growing area that satisfies all these requirements. In the Central Highlands, both Arabica and Robusta coffee species are cultivated, along with Liberica, spanning five provinces: Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Gia Lai, Kon Tum, and Lam Dong.
The elevation is measured in meters above sea level (MASL). Elevation plays a crucial role in the development of coffee in terms of its acidity, flavor, and aroma. A simple way to understand elevation is by considering it as:
Coffee grown at lower elevations (warmer temperatures) typically has lower acidity and a simpler flavor profile compared to coffee grown at higher elevations (cooler temperatures). Higher elevations experience greater temperature differentials between day and night, leading to:
- During the day: The warmer temperatures facilitate the photosynthesis process, contributing to the growth of sugars, acidity, and flavor in coffee plants.
-During the night: With cooler temperatures, the photosynthesis process slows down, providing coffee plants with ample time for photosynthesis and proper rest. This aims to maximize the enhancement of coffee flavor.
In an environment where there is a substantial temperature variation between day and night, it is thought that coffee cherries are able to generate more acidity and complex flavors during the daytime, while this process slows down at night, allowing the cherries to retain these qualities. Additionally, at higher elevations, coffee has the potential to develop a higher sugar content. More sugars result in a sweeter taste, with a propensity for increased acidity and complex flavors.
Coffee Varieties: The term "variety" is often used to identify different species within the coffee plant, such as Robusta, Arabica, and Liberica. These varieties belong to the coffee plant family but possess distinct genetic traits, leading to variations in flavor complexity and their ability to thrive in diverse environmental conditions.
- Seed shape: Round shape, smaller grain size than Arabica, straight grain groove.
- Planting altitude: Below 1000m above sea level.
- Climate: 18 - 30 degrees Celsius
- Pest resistance: High
- Amount of Caffeine: 2.2%
- Characteristic taste: Sweet and rich taste, favoring nuts, and dark chocolate.
- Output: 30% of world coffee production.
- Growing areas in Vietnam: Gia Lai, Kon Tum, Dak Lak...
- Seed shape: Oval shape, large and long seeds, wavy grain grooves.
- Planting altitude: Over 1000m above sea level.
- Climate: 15 - 24 degrees Celsius
- Pest resistance: Low
- Amount of Caffeine: 1.2%
- Characteristic taste: high acidity and complex, sweet aftertaste, favoring tropical fruits and flowers.
- Output: 60% of world coffee production.
- Growing areas in Vietnam: Lam Dong, Quang Tri, Dien Bien, Son La,...
- Seed shape: oval shape
- Planting altitude: 300 đến 1.200 mét so với mực nước biển.
- Climate: 20 - 40 độ C
- Pest resistance: High
- Characteristic taste: fruitiness, citric acidity, and full-bodied richness.
- Amount of Caffeine: 0.8%
- Output: 2-3% of world coffee production.
- Growing areas in Vietnam: Gia Lai, Quảng trị....
To conclude today's blog, there are numerous factors that influence the flavor of coffee. The primary factors include the environment, processing methods, roasting, and extraction.
In our discussion today, we focused on the first factor, which is the "Environment." It encompasses elements such as the country, region, altitude, and coffee species, all of which have a significant impact on coffee cultivation. Each country and region have its own agricultural and processing practices, leading to distinct flavor profiles. The composition of the soil, slope of the land, amount of sunlight, and temperature also play crucial roles in the growth and flavor development of coffee plants. Higher altitudes tend to produce coffee with heightened acidity and intricate flavors. Furthermore, different coffee species like Arabica, Robusta, and Liberica exhibit diverse genetic characteristics and thrive in specific environmental conditions, resulting in a wide range of flavor profiles.
A small tip for you when buying coffee: When purchasing coffee, the information on the label such as country of origin, altitude, variety, processing method, and producer can provide valuable insights about the coffee and help you determine the appropriate brewing method to enjoy the best flavor. This overview will assist you in making more informed choices based on the flavors present in the coffee beans you are experiencing.
If you're unsure where to buy coffee, you can refer to our products at: https://www.iocoffee.vn/vi/product.
P.S.: Enjoy your cup of coffee. And stay tuned for our upcoming blog post to learn more about how the remaining factors influence the flavor of the coffee.