When I started drinking coffee, it basically came in two varieties: hot and iced. I cared not a whit about how the coffee tasted, because it was going to be drowned in milk and sugar anyway! I always liked the smell of coffee, but thought it was too bitter on its own to be consumed black. How times change…
Age 7(ish): Taster’s Choice instant made with heated milk and plenty of sugar (no water).
High school: I discover Starbucks frappuccinos and vanilla lattes.
College/Grad school/More Grad school: For some reason, I don’t really remember drinking coffee in college. I certainly didn’t have a coffee machine in my apartment. Most of my coffee experience at this time was limited to occasionally going out for Starbucks, Peet’s, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, or Biggby Coffee.
2006: Shutterbug and I received an automatic drip machine as a wedding present, and I start making coffee at home with Peet’s beans from the grocery store and a blade grinder.
2007ish: I get a french press and a Capresso Infinity grinder.
2013ish: I get an Aeropress from my cousin as a Christmas present and discover I really like the cleaner flavors (vs. the french press). I start drinking coffee black.
2014: I get a Baratza Virtuoso grinder and start acquiring more pourover methods and accessories, in addition to my first espresso machine (Gaggia Classic Coffee).
2015: See the “Geek corner” page for a rundown of my current state of coffee insanity.
There are a lot of things I learned along the way re: how to get the most out of your coffee experience, but the most confusing is probably the flavor profiles of blends (which is what you’ll typically get at coffee shops – House Blend) vs. single-origins (coffee all from one country, often from one particular farm). Once I learned that coffee is grown in various places around the globe and that it tastes different depending on where it is grown (among other factors), I wanted to know what I could expect. I was (and am) trying to figure out, “What do African coffees taste like? What do Central American coffees taste like?” I feel now that I might be asking the wrong questions.
To get a handle on the general differences between coffee regions, I’m going to borrow Alton Brown’s coffee classifications:
Hawaii/Central America: Bright, snappy. Pop music!
East Africa/Yemen: Brooding, but still catchy. Beethoven on a good day.
Sumatra/Indonesia: Just plain funk. No way around it.
These summaries are a good place to start, but as I’m tasting more varietals and roasters, I’m discovering so many more subtleties. It’s not as simple as just saying all African coffees taste a certain way, any more than I could say that Herman’s Hermits and Led Zeppelin sound the same because they’re both from Britain.
I used to think I didn’t like Central American coffees. I thought they were too much like orange juice, too sour, too “bright.” I leaned toward Sumatran/Indonesian coffees back in the french press days, but after exploring those fairly thoroughly I decided I was bored and wanted a change. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with liking coffees from a certain region, but I think personally I was too quick to dismiss an entire AMAZING region of the world because I had one or two coffees that weren’t to my taste. Even coffees from the same country, sourced from different areas, can taste very different, as I am discovering.
What have I learned from all this? While there might be similarities, don’t expect all coffees from one country (or region) to taste the same. Be open to new flavors. Realize that your tastes may evolve and don’t be surprised if you find yourself changing your mind. There is so much variety out there waiting to be discovered, and we shouldn’t deprive ourselves of joy because of preconceived notions.
And we don’t have to limit this exploration to just coffee… 🙂