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How to Become a Coffee Connoisseur

How to Become a Coffee Connoisseur

I’ve always loved the rich, complex flavors of quality coffee. As I learned more about the nuances of coffee tasting and brewing, I realized I wanted to become a true coffee connoisseur. Here’s how I went from casual coffee drinker to expert coffee nerd.

Learn About Coffee Varietals and Regions

There are two main species of coffee plants grown for their beans: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is considered higher quality and accounts for about 60% of global coffee production. The most common Arabica varietals are Typica, Bourbon, Caturra, Catuaí, and Mundo Novo. Robusta has a more bitter taste but contains more caffeine. It is mostly used in lower quality coffee blends and instant coffee.

The specific characteristics of a coffee depend heavily on where it was grown. Factors like soil, altitude, rainfall, and sunshine affect the beans’ flavor. Some renowned coffee regions include:

  • Colombia – Known for well-balanced, mild Arabica coffees. Popular regions are Huila, Tolima, and Antioquia.

  • Brazil – Produces over a third of the world’s coffee. Dry-processed Arabica coffees with chocolate and nutty notes.

  • Ethiopia – Birthplace of Arabica coffee. Bright, complex flavors featuring floral and fruity notes.

  • Kenya – Full-bodied coffees with potent fruit and wine flavors like blackcurrant.

  • Indonesia – Mainly produces lower-quality Robusta, but has some good Arabica like Sumatran and Java.

  • Guatemala – Pleasant medium-bodied Arabica coffees with floral, spice, and nutty notes.

Learn to recognize the unique flavor profiles of different coffee-growing regions. This helps you determine your preferences.

Understand Processing Methods

After coffee cherries are harvested, they’re processed to remove the outer skin and pulp before drying and roasting the green coffee beans. Common processing methods include:

  • Wet/Washed – Most common method. Fruit removed then beans fermented in water tanks. Produces clean-tasting beans.

  • Dry/Natural – Beans dried inside the fruit. Gives a fruity, sweet flavor.

  • Pulped Natural – Compromise between wet and dry processing. Fruit skin removed but some pulp left on during drying. Intense flavor.

  • Honey – Variation of pulped natural with more mucilage left on beans to dry. Deep, layered sweetness.

Processing heavily influences a coffee’s final product flavor. I cupped various processed coffees side-by-side to understand their differences. For example, a natural Ethiopian tasted berry-like, while a washed version had jasmine and lemon notes.

Learn to Cup Coffee

“Cupping” is a structured technique for evaluating and comparing coffees. It involves deeply breathing in the aroma of grounds and systematically tasting using specific ratios and protocols.

To hone my cupping skills:

  • I took an introductory cupping course at my local roaster. We cupped 4 coffees using a formal scoring sheet with categories like aroma, flavor, acidity, and more.

  • I joined home coffee tasting clubs and cupped alongside experienced judges and buyers. I absorbed their descriptive language for characteristics like “silky mouthfeel” or “bright, koiney acidity.”

  • I cupped coffees from the same regions processed differently to understand how methods influence flavor.

Cupping various high-quality coffees expanded my vocabulary and flavor recognition abilities tremendously.

Geek Out on Brewing Techniques

Brewing skill is equally important as coffee sourcing for a connoisseur. Each device has advantages and affects taste:

  • Pour over – Manual cone drippers allow precision over variables like water temperature, flow rate, etc. Great for light-roasted single origin coffees.

  • French press – Full immersion brewing preserves coffee oils but less filtration. Good for bolder, thicker mouthfeel.

  • Espresso – Uses pressure and finely ground beans. Develops thick crema and strong concentrated flavor in shots.

  • Cold brew – Long low-temperature steep. Low acidity and smooth drinkable coffees.

I experimented endlessly with factors like grind size, water chemistry, brew ratios, and extraction yield. I also expanded my repertoire to alternative devices like Aeropress, syphon, Chemex, moka pot, etc. Each revealed new nuances.

Join Coffee Communities

Connecting with fellow coffee geeks helped fuel my passion. I joined forums like r/coffee to participate in discussions. I attended meetups to learn from baristas and roasters. When traveling, I visited renowned cafes for their expertise. These communities exposed me to new perspectives and cutting-edge info.

Keep Exploring and Learning

Even after developing extensive knowledge, there’s always more to discover in the world of coffee. New varieties like Gesha make waves at auctions. Roasters invent new processing methods. Innovative brewers and machines emerge. For a true coffee connoisseur, enhancing your expertise never stops. There are always new origins to explore, flavors to understand, and techniques to master.

My coffee journey has been immensely rewarding. What began as a simple love of sipping quality lattes expanded into a deep appreciation of coffee’s complexity. There’s so much to appreciate beyond coffee as mere fuel. Approaching it with open curiosity, patience, and enthusiasm is the key to becoming a coffee connoisseur.

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Behind the Beans
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