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What flavours you can expect in your coffee – and why.

The massive range of flavours you see on a bag of coffee can be a bit overwhelming. Notes of caramel? Floral undertones? Black forest gateaux aftertaste? You’d be forgiven for thinking these coffee companies are making it all up. But the truth is, we’re not.

Coffee is a biologically complex plant species that’s affected by the different mineral components of the environment it’s grown in, as well as the local climate and farming conditions. For these reasons, there’s a lot of variety in how the final product tastes in your cup.

As long as you take a bit of care when making your brew, you too can experience a world of flavourful variety. 

There are a few phrases that are useful to understand. Talking about the ‘body’ of a coffee refers to the viscosity of the drink: ‘medium-bodied’ sits between light / watery at one end of the scale, and full /syrupy at the other. You’ll also read about ’notes’ and ‘undertones’ – these are the tastes that come after the main flavour hit, often after you swallow. And ‘acidity’ is a bit more subjective, but is pretty self-explanatory. Coffee lovers won’t mind a bit of acidity, but the less-experienced might find it a bit off-putting – it’s all down to personal preference.

Arabica vs. Robusta

These names refer to the two most common types of coffee plant, Coffea arabica, and Coffea canephora (also known as Robusta). 

In general, Robusta beans are less acidic and more bitter, with a higher caffeine content. They taste earthy, and a little smokey. They don’t have the rich variety of sweet, fruity notes that Arabica does. This is why they’re not as popular, making up about 25% of global coffee production, and cost quite a bit less too. 

Arabica is the coffee enthusiast’s variety of choice. It’s generally the higher-quality variety, with more acidity and brightness to its flavour, and more subtleties that come out during the brewing process. You’ll find Arabica has a wider range of flavours, with the capacity for some really light, floral, fruity notes alongside deeper ones like caramel and chocolate. Arabica is more expensive to produce (as it’s quite picky about what environmental conditions it’ll grow in) but does make up for the other 75% of global production. Here at Neighbourhood Coffee, we only use Arabica beans. 

Geography plays a huge part in how these flavours come about too, which we’ll look at below.

Coffee flavours from around the world

In the world of coffee, geography is super important. 

Most coffee is produced close to the Equator in warm regions of South America, Africa, and Asia. (We sell coffee beans from Central America, South America and Africa.) There are significant variations in ecosystems and climates between these places which all affect the flavours in the beans.

South America has many coffee farms dotted around mountain slopes in the Andes, where the elevation combines with high humidity to create perfect conditions for growing. We currently get our coffee from three countries: 

  • Brazil: the world’s largest exporter of coffee, this country produces sweet, mild coffee with chocolatey and nutty flavours. 
  • Colombia: a hugely biodiverse part of the world, Colombian coffee is famous for its citrusy, caramelly taste with a smooth and medium body. 
  • Peru: a hotspot for chocolatey coffee with notes of nuts and citrus, Peruvian coffee is also medium-bodied and highly drinkable.

Central American countries are responsible for some excellent varieties, too:

  • El Salvador: coffee is a big part of its economy, with a bright, sweet and citrusy flavour profile 
  • Guatemala: bordering both the Pacific and Caribbean seas, this biodiversity hotspot produces full-bodied coffee with aromas of chocolate and nut. 
  • Costa Rica: in Costa Rica it is actually illegal to produce anything other than Arabica coffee!
  • Nicaragua: mildly acidic with a smooth body and subtly rich flavours.

And then there’s Africa, a continent full of variety in its coffee production: 

  • Ethiopia: the spiritual home of the coffee plant makes for complex, full-bodied variants. 
  • Kenya: this coastal nation makes coffee that’s intense, full-bodied, and chocolatey.
  • Rwanda: a small landlocked country that has a big global impact in the coffee world, making silky, creamy coffees with floral and citrus notes. 
  • Burundi: just south of Rwanda, this heart-shaped country makes bright, clean coffee that you’ll fall in love with.

Asian coffee (which isn’t part of our range) is mostly grown in Vietnam, Indonesia, and India. These coffees tend to be full-bodied with thick earthy flavours, mostly chocolate and nut.

How to get the best flavour out of your coffee

It’s not just the bean that decides how your cup tastes. If you want to taste what it’s really made of, you have to treat that coffee right – here are a few tips.

Buy good coffee

You can’t blame us for this one – we sell coffee and we’d like you to buy some. But it’s an important point to make. You won’t get far in your flavour journey if you go for the cheap bags of filler grind that sit around on shelves for months at a time. So this means buying coffee that’s been sourced from farmers who really know what they’re doing, and how to cultivate healthy coffee plants.

Don’t dilute it with sugar and milk

You’re most welcome to enjoy your coffee however you want, but there’s nothing like a freshly-brewed, unadulterated, black coffee that lets you taste its entire flavour profile.

Fancy equipment isn’t always necessary – just a bit of care in how you brew it (check out our brewing guides for simple advice on making excellent coffee). 

You might still enjoy your brew with a sugar or two, which is fine, but you’d do well to consider a few sips before adding it, to get acquainted with the goodness within.

Grind it fresh

While pre-ground coffee is hugely popular, we can’t stress this enough: freshly-ground coffee is a gift from the heavens. Grinding your beans just before making a cup ensures that the flavours are released from the bean the moment you want them – and it smells amazing. You also have the luxury of deciding the grind size – whether that’s finely done for an espresso, or nice and coarse for a French Press / cafetière.

All that said, when coffee’s packaged properly and treated well throughout its distribution, you shouldn’t find any problems with flavour. It’ll still be delicious.

If you don’t have the chance to grind your own beans, we’ve got you covered, with custom grinds for every brewing type for each of our varieties.

Roast it fresh

Did we say freshly-ground coffee was a joy? Wait ’til you try home roasting.

Roasting your own coffee beans at home takes things to the next level of freshness, with even more flavour unlocked from the bean at the point of brewing. The aromas released during a home roast will even have your neighbours wanting a cup. 

Make sure to check out our guide to home roasting – you don’t need fancy equipment, and it’s a lot easier than you might think.

One Response

  1. Very well written article for a beginner who’s trying to understand what’s all that fuss is about. So much better than jargon laden pieces you can see sprinkled over internet. Thanks for the article, I can point my friends to it.

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