The Coffee bean is not really a bean. It's a fruit! And the coffee fruit (we'll call it a bean hereafter) is very delicate. Every factor you can think of can affect the flavor when you brew your cup of coffee. Below is a list of the major factors that you must consider when picking the best cup of coffee.
There are 3 main varieties of beans that you must be aware of when choosing your perfect cup of coffee. Arabica, the oldest and original cultivated coffee plant is know for the best flavor. Robusta and Liberica are the other plants primarily used as commodity coffee found in most coffee blends.
Please visit our article on Coffee Plants & Botanical Classifications to learn more about these types of species.
Geography / Terrain / Location
Every country in the world produces a different flavor coffee with its own set of characteristics. Different soils produce different tasting coffee. Jamaican Blue Mountain with its rich volcanic soil produces some of the worlds most sought after coffee. Costa Rica also produces very high quality coffee but its beans are know for their high acidity and full body. All this comes from the numerous topographical and ecological factors. Coffee grown in higher elevations generally produce the worlds most sought after coffees.
Rainfall, sunlight, temperature, and other climate factors affect how coffee beans grow and taste. This can vary from how Cloudy skies and rich rain forest protect beans from harsh sunlight to seasonal factors affecting coffee plants times and growth rate. Generally slower growing coffee plants and beans produce stronger, more flavorful coffees.
Farming techniques affect the growing cycle while also determine if the beans are going to develop to their potential. A number of farming techniques such as soil fertilization, watering, pruning, and plant care affect the quality of the coffee crop this year, and into the future. Coffee must be picked at its most ripeness to achieve the best coffee. Arabica plants, for example, are picked 3 times a year to ensure the ripest coffee crop. Lastly, coffee plants must be replanted after a few seasons to ensure the best crop.
Making coffee requires that seeds must remove from the trees. Fresh coffee looks like cherries and with skins removed divulge a green (not brown) bean. There are two main ways to process coffee: dry and wet. Dry processing is the traditional method of practice by many of the worlds largest coffee regions. The dry process entails laying the beans on a flat surface – much like making dried fruit such as sun-dried tomatoes – causing the skin and fruit to brittle for easy removal. In this process the beans must be turned regularly to ensure even dryness and prevent over-cooking and scorching. Peeling of the bean must be done gently or you risk the bean lose a layer of protection resulting in staleness or mold. Dry Processing is done by hand and is the primary method used in developing countries.
Wet Processing results in the coffee cherries softening large containers of water. The seeds are then mechanically removed resulting in the peeled fruit sinking to the bottom with skins floating to the top for disposal. The seeds are next treated naturally or through an oven.
Both wet and dry processing affects the coffees flavor profile. Generally speaking, when you process beans with the traditional dry method, you are creating the purest coffee bean flavor. Dry processing creates a coffee with more body, depth, lowered acidity, and more earthy flavors.
Wet processing produces a bean with a brighter acid and cleaner taste. While both dry and wet processing bring risk of mold growth, the introduction of water in the wet process noticeably higher probability.
Storage and Shipping
One of the most overlooked factors in coffee flavor is how it's stored and shipped. The coffee bean, like a fine wine, will pick up flavors from its containers. The coffee bean can pick up bad tasting flavors and odors if they are exposed to any during the storage and shipping phase. If you store the beans in a high humidity environment you risk the bean fermenting, rotting, or growing bacteria and mold. Traditionally coffee is shipped in breathable burlap sacks to do low costs. Long sea voyages in vessels not hermetically sealed can result in of tasting coffee.
Roasts are how a bean is cooked as well as the length of heat exposure. Different roasts can result in identical beans tasting completely different.