Caramel, nuts, and dark chocolate are just some of the characteristic flavors found floating in a classic cup of joe. Yet coffee has the potential to pack alternative nuances, embodying acidity and tropical fragrances like mango, citrus, papaya, and pineapple–no syrup necessary.
“Coffee not only has winter notes such as chocolate, toasted cereals, and cocoa,” explains Francesca Bieker, a Trieste-based coffee taster who is an authorized trainer and judge for the Specialty Coffee Association. “It can also have pleasantly acidic and sweet notes, such as those of tropical fruit. These characteristics depend not only on the conditions surrounding the cherry cultivation, but also on local tradition made up from the extraction method, the coffee’s origins, and roasting, and this shapes our taste.”
Now more than ever, these acidic, tropically imbued brews have grown increasingly more popular among coffee lovers.
All wine doesn’t taste just like wine and all coffee doesn’t taste like coffee. The particularities of the terroir, climate, the grape itself, and even the cultivation and winemaking techniques materialize just as prominently in coffee as they do in wine. Considering that coffee cherry is cultivated in tropical climates, it should come as no surprise that roasted and brewed beans inherently bear traces of other fruits that flourish in these conditions.
Bieker mentions that large-scale coffee, which is mainly Brazilian, emits a toasty aroma with hints of chocolate and hazelnut due to adding bitter Robusta beans to the smoother, sweeter Arabica varieties. Coffee consumers have generally become accustomed to this type of brew, rendering it the “benchmark” for how coffee should taste–yet it’s really just one of the myriad flavor possibilities.
The cherry’s pre-roasting processes also impact the final product. The natural method involves drying the whole fruit after picking before removing the bean, prompting the bean to absorb the characteristics of the surrounding fruit. Bieker explains that this unlocks a stronger flavor and enhances the sweetness. Alternatively, the washed method is all about the bean. The approach calls for removing the seeds from the pulp and washing them, a procedure that increases acidity.
Coffee lovers can enjoy this style year-round, but the refreshing tropical flair undoubtedly ups its summer appeal. To sample a superb cup, Bieker suggests seeking single-origin beans from Ethiopia, Kenya, and some Central American countries ,such as Guatemala and Costa Rica. Ethiopian coffee, in particular, is one of the least bitter, with rich acidity and sweet traces of pineapple, ripe fruit, peach, and apricot.
Whether the coffee’s filtered or prepared via an espresso machine, the best way to discern the tropical and other nuances is to taste, not drink, the coffee. Pay attention to the bitterness and acidity, and discern the flavors that materialize on the palate. Neophytes can start by reading up on the beans to identify which flavors to seek in advance. Practice makes perfect–before they know it, they’ll be picking up on more than just coffee.