I attended a fascinating talk given by a green coffee expert at Dillano's Coffee. (They're a large national wholesale and private label roaster).
He said something amazing: there are 150 different steps between sprouting a coffee plant and when it arrives in your cup. By comparison, wine has only 120 steps.
Each of those steps is a place where things could go wrong. Or where they could impart flavors.
It's elements like:
- How even is the ripeness between the coffee fruits when they were picked?
- Was the soil and microclimate consistent across all the beans in your batch?
- How quickly were the coffees dried?
- Were they wet-processed or dry processed?
- Were they hand sorted or sorted by machine?
- When roasted, were they sorted for size so that they roast evenly?
- How dark were they roasted?
Just to illustrate with one of them, the drying process for the coffee beans greatly impacts their flavor. Very few regular coffee drinkers like you and me know about this. Some farms use wet-processing, some dry. Wet processing is where the coffee fruits float before being dehulled, dry processing is where the coffee is put outdoors to dry. The difference is that wet processing quiclkly removes the fruit from the bean so that the fruit doesn't affect the flavor. But in dry processing, the fruit remains in contact with the beans for potentially days while they dry. This can give an extra fruity flavor and aroma to the coffee, or slight off-flavors from the fruit as it dried.
Apparently with a little experience you can tell the difference between a wet processed and a dry processed coffee.
I recommend reading up about the descriptions in our roaster's coffees. They really care about every batch of coffee they roast. They'll tell you what's unique about the coffee, its origins, and its methods of preparation on the farm.
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