Finding your perfect cup of coffee can be a challenge, even when faced with only expertly roasted, 100% high-grown, shade-grown arabicas that have been well-tended from seed to cup. Thankfully, once you know how to identify the coffee characteristics most pleasing to you, that coffee you’ve been searching for will be easy to spot. In this post, we throw some sun on those shady spots of coffee-human compatibility and, hopefully, get you one step closer to your perfect coffee.
Problem #1: My coffee lacks flavor and acidity
Aroma is one of the trickiest things to hone in on when presented with a cup of freshly brewed coffee. We all tend to take in a big sniff of our grounds before brewing but once the water hits the grounds, our focus shifts — and not necessarily with our nose. To further muddle our sensory system, a coffee’s aroma changes throughout each stage of its life with unbrewed grounds generally highlighting bright, sweet upper notes and brewed coffee generally highlighting full, deep base notes. If you primarily drink single origin coffees, a shifting aroma is likely not the source of your coffee angst.
However, if you enjoy blends, aroma could be the source of all your coffee angst as the lovely upper notes that are so prominent when your coffee is unbrewed greatly diminish post-brew especially if the blend includes a highly aromatic coffee with strong base notes, and / or if the coffee is dark roasted. Another question we hear often is ‘why does my coffee taste different in a coffee shop than when I brew it at home even though I use the same brew method and ratios?’ At home, you are likely only brewing one coffee while in a coffee shop, espresso and other and highly aromatic coffees tend to permeate the air and trick your olfactory senses into associating the most powerful coffee aroma with the coffee you are drinking.
The Test: Trick your nose. The easiest way to determine if your olfactory sense overpowers your taste buds is to brew a bright, gently aromatic (e.g., notes of flower, berry, or fruit) medium roast coffee such as Costa Rican Doka, sip it, and then open a bag of powerfully aromatic dark roasted coffee, such as a French Roast. Before taking your second sip, smell the dark roast beans / grounds. If the medium roast tastes better when drunk while smelling the dark roast, you’ve found your coffee compatibility pain point.
Problem Solved: Go with your taste buds and if you need a little aroma boost keep a bag of unbrewed grounds, open and close by while you sip your coffee.
Problem #2: I can’t get a strong, flavorful cup
Mouthfeel, coffee strength, and coffee boldness are (brace yourself) like peas, corn, and carrots! Mouthfeel and boldness are bean attributes and strength is a brew attribute. Mouthfeel also referred to as body, describes how a coffee physically feels in your mouth and on your tongue and is often mistaken for a coffee’s strength. Boldness most often refers to high acidity (i.e., a rich, near-tingling sensation on your tongue) and is also often confused with strength.
Strength refers to a brewed coffee’s grounds-to-water ratio. The higher the ratio, the more concentrated the extraction, the lower the ratio, the weaker the extraction. While any coffee can be brewed “strong” or “weak”, mouthfeel and acidity are bean characteristics and cannot be altered by brewing. So, while a coffee may be strong and bold with poor mouthfeel, it could just as easily be weak and bold and with great mouthfeel.
Most common point of confusion: Individuals seeking a strong mouthfeel tend to brew their coffee with a very high grounds-to-water ratio and / or grind their beans to a finer grind than recommended for their brew method. In the former case, the brewed coffee tends to be under-extracted and lacking in flavor. In the latter case, the coffee is often over-extracted and a touch muddy or thick.
Problem Solved: If you seek mouthfeel and a wide array of flavors, try brewing a Colombian coffee using the recommended grind and grounds-to-water ratio for your brew method and then tweak the strength from there. Colombian coffees naturally have phenomenal mouthfeel and balanced acidity, making them a wonderful all-around coffee for those who seek excellent mouthfeel. If you prefer a heavy mouthfeel, try Sumatra.
Problem #3: My dark roast Espresso Blend lacks pizzaz
Espresso is a coffee drink that can be made using any coffee beans roasted to any shade; you do not have to use an Espresso Blend. Most roasters create an Espresso Blend that best fits the espresso profile of their customer demographic and it is fine if you don’t like it! In America, for example, most Espresso Blends are dark roasted and generally include at least one South American bean while in Europe, most espresso blends are medium roasted and dominated by African coffees.
If you enjoy a bold, bright, sparkling espresso, an espresso made with dark roasted beans is unlikely to please you. An espresso made with Kenyan coffee, on the other hand, might be your idea of demitasse heaven.
Problem Solved: Go bright and light! If you enjoy a bright, sweet, crisp espresso try making your next shot with medium roasted Kenya AA. If you prefer a spicier, earthier espresso, try brewing with a full-city roasted Sumatra.
Hope we are able to help you get a little closer to that perfect cup of coffee.