Coffee is as complex and interesting as wine. It's also 1/10th the cost. And if you're like me, you drink 5-10x more coffee during a typical week than wine.
So it's time to appreciate coffee more!
Properly brewed, coffee has several distinct tastes, including:
Earthiness is a deep mossy coffee taste prevalent in coffee from Sumatra, sometimes Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. It's interesting to note that Sumatran cigar wrappers are also known for their earthy flavor, so it may be the rich volcanic soil.
Citrus, also called acidity, is a very common flavor in Ethiopian, Kenyan, Panamanian, and other Central American growers. It's tyipcal of the Gesha varietal of coffee that is very popular. Sometimes the coffee label says Gesha. Sometimes you can just assume it in the origin character of coffees from the countries above. It's lately very fashionable among coffee cuppings to give awards to very citrusy coffee. It's just a trend. You don't have to follow it. An example of the Hacienda La Esmeralda Gesha from Panama which tastes like lemon cookies.
Berry or a jam-like flavor is very popular in Central American coffeess. It is a combination of citrus and fruit flavors. It is never in the forefront; it is more of a minor coffee taste.
Complexity is desirable in coffees from Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, and other Central and South American countries. It's a cup with all the above flavors, plus some herbiness, wine, molasses, brown sugar, etc. It's often the result of beans from a very rich soil, alternating altitude and microclimates, or from blending coffees from different countries.
Ashiness is my term for the flavor of a French Roast, Italian Roast (it's Darker) or Spanish Roast (it's almost charred). It's a coffee taste indicating the level of roast.
Remember Mocha Java? I remember that as the original gourmet coffee in the 1960s and 1970s. It took two one-dimensional coffees -- Moka from Yemen with a winey coffee taste and an Indonesian Java with its earthy tate -- and bleneded the two into something more complex. That's the benefit of blending coffees. You could try it yourself by mixing a bag of citrusy coffee with one that is earthy.
A great way to learn about coffee flavors is to buy some single origins and brew them side-by-side. Try a Papua New Guinea next to a Colombian, a Sumatran next to an Ethiopian or a Costa Rican. You'll taste the difference - and build up some knowledge of coffees.
(Photo courtesy of sahemcc on Flickr)