There’re several factors that determine the quality of coffee. Some of the most important factors include the location it was grown, how it was harvested, and the processing and sorting method used.
Another crucial factor is coffee roasting. If coffee beans are over-roasted, the brewed coffee will have a burnt and bitter taste. In this article, we’ll focus on everything that takes place in the location where coffee originates.
When talking about good coffee, it’s all about specialty-grade coffee. Thus, good coffee isn’t about individual preference but criteria that defines what qualifies to be referred to as top-quality coffee. Regardless, specialty coffee boasts of being extremely delicious.
Producing top-quality coffee requires growing it in the best location. Altitude, soil, and climate contribute significantly to coffee terroir. The unique flavors and characteristics of every coffee variety are based on the environment where it’s grown.
Many coffee producers attempt to reduce costs by mass-producing coffee in areas with low altitude, as it’s less challenging to grow, harvest, and process the coffee under such circumstances. Low altitude coffee growing locations feature flat land, making it cheaper and easier to navigate when compared to high altitude areas such as mountainous locations with rough terrain.
Low altitude locations are not suitable for growing specialty coffee. Altitude matters a lot when it comes to growing coffee. Coffee grown at locations with higher altitudes means that the growing conditions are harsher, thereby taking longer for coffee cherries to mature. As a result, the coffee gains more complexity in terms of flavors and sugars.
Majority of the hundreds of naturally occurring aroma and flavor compounds in coffee can hardly develop at low altitudes. Thus, coffees produced at low altitudes don’t offer a full coffee drinking experience. You can only get the best coffee experience by drinking coffees produced from high altitude locations with specialty-grade coffee beans.
Maturity of Coffee Cherries
Before coffee beans are roasted in readiness for brewing your favorite cup of coffee, the quality of the beans is based on the maturity of the coffee cherries.
Just like other edible fruits, top-quality coffee cherries are those harvested when mature and fully ripe. Also, the harvesting process determines the quality of coffee. The best harvesting process is the one done with hands and is done over 3 to 4 weeks to ensure that all the fruits are ripe when picking them.
However, some coffee-producing companies cut production costs and fasten coffee harvesting by having all the coffee cherries picked within a day, even those that are not fully ripe. As a result, the end product is of low quality.
Upon harvesting, specialty coffee undergoes strict regulations during sorting and the entire processing stage. Thus, unripe beans and defects are more noticeable in specialty coffee when compared to non-specialty coffees. Non-specialty coffees don’t have strict sorting regulations such that defects are almost zero.
Also, sorting the beans and processing them takes more effort, care, and time when dealing with specialty coffees than non-specialty coffees. As a result, coffee farmers dealing with specialty coffees charge a higher amount for their coffee cherries whereas big companies dealing with non-specialty coffees choose cheaper coffees.
Challenges of Finding Coffee Diversity
When going through different coffee brands, you’ll assume that coffee is only produced in few countries. Although about 70 percent of coffee in the world is produced by about 5 countries, there’re at least 50 countries that produce coffee.
Each coffee-producing country has its unique terrior. As such, coffees from different countries taste wildly unique and different, including notes such as chocolate, blueberry, almond, fig, and honey among others.
But what makes it challenging to find coffee from the rest of the coffee-growing countries? One of the main reasons behind this challenge is that coffees from the main 5 coffee-producing countries are relatively cheaper. It’s grown at locations with lower altitudes, making it easy to harvest and transport the cherries. Also, there’s mass coffee production in the big 5 countries.
Diversity in the coffee sector largely comes from coffees grown on smaller farms that sit on high mountain ranges. However, such coffees are planted under rough weather conditions and terrain, making it more expensive to grow the coffee. Also, harvesting is challenging due to the rough terrain. As a result, their coffee is more expensive.
That’s why coffees from coffee-growing countries such as Papua New Guinea, Ecuador, Myanmar, Burundi, and Malawi are challenging to get from local coffee shops and grocery stores. Most big coffee companies avoid paying the premiums needed to produce coffee in underdeveloped regions and tough terrain.