Coffee Geekery-Part 1

By: Jake Shupe

This new series of blogs entitled, “Coffee Geekery” comes from our very own Jake Shupe, who is also the owner of Barracuda Coffee Company. Take a moment to learn something new about everyone’s favorite hot beverage.

No doubt that one of the best things about living in the Tri-Cities is the world-class wine grapes that are grown in our area. With as fanatical as we all get about the complexities and subtle nuances in wine, it’s easy to forget that coffee is even more complex. Did you know that quality, Arabica coffee beans have at least twice as many identified flavor compounds as wine? We’re not talking about the stuff you can find in a can for under $7 in the grocery store. Most of that is ground up, blended Robusta bean. There’s a big difference between the Robusta bean and specialty Arabica beans. This is the first in a multi-part series about great coffees.

Many of the coffees that you can find in smaller, independent coffee houses like Barracuda Coffee or The Local, are what are called “Single Origin” Arabica Coffees. What this means is that they have one single farm (or origin) from which they come. In other words, they haven’t been blended with coffees from any other farm or area or country. It might say something like Costa Rica Tarrazu Santa Elena Microlot #40. Sometimes it will even tell you exactly what variety of bean was grown. Usually this description indicates that it came from the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica, from the Santa Elena Farm, and from the small portion of the land that the farm identified as section 40. The reason(s) for specifying even exact sections of the farm is that even subtle differences in elevation, soil composition, or methods of production, can greatly impact the quality of the beans, thereby affecting the market price that the Farmer (or, more commonly, Producer) receives. For instance, Microlot #40 might produce a wonderful, sparkling coffee that wows the coffee graders, while Microlot #30 might yield just an average coffee. A difference in score of 5 points can mean thousands of dollars on the market for the producers, so they will often submit their coffees for grading in smaller portions of their farms.

And each of these portions can produce dazzingly different flavor notes from the coffees. While there are more than 25 different Arabica coffee varieties, the terroir will also have a tremendous impact on the final product in your cup. Coffee needs an elevation of about 3000-6000ft in elevation to grow. It thrives best in that 4-5000ft range, where it’s humid, grown in the shade, on steep hills with fertile soil.

We will continue this series with other topics such as: How coffee is produced and how that affects the flavors; How coffee is prepared (how different brewing methods can affect the flavors in your cup); and How to buy, store, and brew coffee for at-home use. If you have any questions at all, message us on Facebook and we’d love to talk more coffee with you! Or, ask the good folks at Barracuda Coffee or The Local – they love to geek out over this stuff.

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