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The Language of Coffee
Describing Coffee: The easiest way to remember basic coffee descriptions is to remember them by region. Coffees from the same region usually share similar characteristics.
Africa: (key word: WINEY) fruity or winey acidity, complex flavor, medium to heavy body, often have "chocolate" or "wild" notes.
Coffees from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Yemen.
Indonesia: (key word: SMOOTH) heavy bodied, light acidity, mellow, take cream well, dessert coffees, smooth and mild.
Coffees from Sumatra, Java and Celebes.
The Americas: (key word: SNAPPY) bright acidity, light to medium bodied, good breakfast coffees, best taken black, straightforward.
Coffees from Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru.
Dark Roasts: Acidity is muted by the roast, full bodied and smooth, roasted flavor, good with milk--flavor comes through well.
These include French and Italian coffees.
Qualities to identify when tasting coffees: The following associations will help you begin to describe coffee.
Acidity: Acidity in coffee is not a measure of its pH level, but rather a way of describing the high thin notes in flavor. You sense acidity around the edges of the tongue and at the back of your palate as a dryness, " a pleasant tartness, snap or twist." Acidy coffees are often perceived as winey or fruity, because their astringency is reminiscent of a good dry wine.
Body: As you swish different coffees around in your mouth some will feel "heavy" and some will feel "light". If you have a hard time distinguishing, add milk: coffees with heavy body come through milk well, while those with thin body are often overwhelmed by it.
Aroma: In general aroma coincides with the qualities such as acidity and flavor (e.g. a rich-tasting coffee will smell rich), but some qualities, particularly floral notes, are best detected by smelling the brew.
Finish: Finish describes the aftertaste lingering on the palate after the coffee is swallowed. this quality is particularly desirable in espresso, which must have both a full body and a strong finish to dominate the milk. Full bodied coffees have lingering finishes.
Flavor: This is another ambiguous term like aroma.
Richness: This term describes an interesting, satisfying fullness.
Complexity: "A harmonious multiplicity of sensation"-- A flavor that seems to possess many distinctive qualities simultaneously, (i.e. full body, wine-like acidity, and a bright finish).
Balance: This term describes a coffee that does not obviously lean to one quality or another.
Blended Coffees: These are coffees that blend a number of different types of coffee beans together to produce a final product that showcases the best qualities of each individual coffee. Blended coffees are exceptional and are usually a showcase roast for most coffee roasting companies.