How Colour Can Be Used To Find the Perfect Coffee Beans: An Introduction to Specialty Coffee

If you’ve ever visited a specialty coffee shop, you’ll probably have been amazed by the incredible variety of coffees available. As well as the different types, like espresso, roasts, blends, decaf and more, the breadth of flavours available in specialty coffee shops is often staggering and even overwhelming.

From floral and fruity to dark and chocolaty, where do you begin your search for the perfect bean?

You’re probably already aware that how coffee is prepared influences the flavour of the finished drink. But do you know some of the other factors that affect a coffee’s flavour?

Did you know that professional coffee tasters use colour to describe coffee tastes? In this article, you are going to be let into some industry secrets and learn some of the lingo that’ll help you on your quest to getting your best cup of coffee.

Here are some tips for finding the best specialty coffee to suit your taste.

1.    Appreciate the breadth of flavours available before you begin your search


If you’ve only ever experienced coffee from a standard supermarket brew or generic coffee chain, you’ll probably be amazed by the variety of coffee flavours available.

Now is the time to move into the world of specialty coffee. But beware, you’ll soon see there are many, many options. Therefore, it’s worth taking the time to appreciate what’s out there before you narrow down your choices.

There are incredibly light and fresh coffees out there that taste floral. Then there are deep, dark flavours and every other taste in between.

How is there so much variety?

Lots of factors influence the taste of a coffee.

First is the plant. There are over 80 different varieties of coffee plants, although some dominate the coffee market. You might be familiar with some of their names: arabica and robusta are two of the most common.

Second is the growing conditions of the plant. The amount of sunlight, rainfall, the temperature, and the soil type affect how a plant grows. This means that coffee from the same plant variety but grown in different places can taste quite different.

The third factor that has a major influence on coffee flavour is what happens to the bean during and after the harvest. The picking method (hand or machine) and the drying method can have a large bearing on coffee flavour.

In fact, coffee growers take all the above factors very seriously. They go to great lengths to experiment with different plant types, growing, harvesting, fermentation processes, and drying methods with the aim of improving the flavour of their coffee beans for the best cup of coffee possible. Coffee cultivation and production are a real science and art, similar to how vineyards and wineries produce the finest wines.

2.    Use the coffee colour system


Want to know more about all the possibilities?

The Coffee Tasters Flavour Wheel is a creation produced jointly by the Specialty Coffee Association of America and World Coffee Research. This looks very similar to the standard colour wheel artists and designers use to choose colours for their work.

It’s a tool designed for coffee tasters that helps them categorise and describe coffee flavours.  Since its publication in 1995, it has become an industry standard.

The coffee colour wheel will help you navigate the world of specialty coffee. At the centre of the wheel are the broader descriptions of the flavours that move outwards to more specific tastes. For example, ‘brown’ coffees are nutty and cocoa-flavoured coffees. Brown is then broken down to shades of brown that represent peanuts, hazelnut, dark chocolate, and others.

The coffee colour wheel offers a really great way of seeing just how many flavours there are and how they relate to each other. It’s a good way of branching out and experimenting with flavours too. For example, if you love the flavour of brown roasted coffee, why not take one step around the flavour wheel and try a ‘smoky’ coffee.

Some excellent coffee retailers often sell their coffee by colour. This makes it really easy to browse their site or store to find new coffees you are bound to love. To get some ideas, check out the Coffee Tasters Flavour Wheel and do some online browsing for coffees by colour.

3.    Look for the Cup of Excellence seal


If you need some assurance that you are buying one of the world’s finest coffees, then look out for the Cup of Excellence seal of approval. This award system represents the pinnacle of excellence in the coffee industry and is incredibly prestigious and well-respected.

The awards are held annually. Over a period of three weeks, thousands of coffees are blind-tasted by dozens of judges who are picked from the world’s leading coffee experts. It’s such a rigorous competition that by the time a coffee reaches the top ten, it will have been cupped over 120 times.

The real aim of the Cup of Excellence award is to ensure that coffee producers are fairly rewarded for their special efforts to produce premium quality coffee. The competition raises funds for coffee growers, further motivating them to go to great lengths to produce coffee that tastes out of this world. At the end of the competition, the most elite coffees are auctioned off with most of the proceeds going to the farmer.

You’ll find that the winning coffees represent the whole spectrum of coffee flavours. Past winners include a Rwandan espresso with hints of florals and chamomile and a leopard geisha coffee from Honduras with chocolate and herbaceous notes.

For more information, the Cup of Excellence site lists winners by year and their country of origin. You can learn exactly how each of the winning coffees was produced as well as read a description of the different flavours.

Now you know more about the world of specialty coffee, it’s time to get started.

Remember the tips above and browse online. Or, you could visit a good, knowledgeable retailer who you know will assist you in finding the perfect coffee for you.

Once you start trying all the amazing coffees out there, you’ll never look back. Enjoy!

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