As someon who drinks coffee every day, this clickbait title caught my attention. Graf does not disappoint. He distills several key facts about discerning coffees, making the task of picking a coffee that much easier.
He discusses two methods for extracting the bean from the cherry that comes off the tree: “washed”, and “natural”. “Washed” uses water to blast off the cherry’s outer layers, leaving just the inner bean to be dried. This provides the truest flavor of the bean itself. “Natural” begins the drying process with the cherry’s outer layers still intact, around the bean. Natural yeast consume and ferment the sugars in the cherry, producing byproducts that reduce bitterness & intensity of the coffee, and provide a creaminess not found in coffees dried with the “washed” method.
Graf then compares two origins: Ethiopia and Indonesia. In Indonesia, most coffee is grown at low altitudes. In Ethiopia, most coffee is grown at much higher altitudes. Altitude affects oxygen density in the air, which affects the coffee plants’ abilities to respire. Respiration occurring in low-oxygen areas forces these plants to use anaerobic respiration to generate energy, with a byproduct of lactic acid. This lactic acid adds a creaminess and frutiness or crispness to a coffee.
Roast levels are determined by how much the Maillard Reaction has been able to transform the bean. The darker the roast, the more savory the coffee will be. The lighter the roast, the more true the flavor will be to the coffee, as less of the sugar and amino acid content has been transformed.
Last, Graf describes the way different brewing methods affect the coffee you’ll pour into your cup. Full immersion (like french press) allows all soluble elements of the coffee to infuse the water. Full immersion brewing methods provide a rich, oily, full-bodied cup of coffee. Pour-over coffee, on the other end of the spectrum, only allows the water to sit with the coffee for a few seconds as it passes through the grounds. While it doesn’t have the body of the french press, it provides greater clarity in the cup. This clarity allows the drinker to taste more of the complexities and flavors present in the coffee.
I had never spent much time learning or thinking about coffee. I knew how my favorite cups were made (central american origins, velvety roast, full immersion brewing method!) but now I know so much more about the whole spectrum of coffee.