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Terroir, Varietals and...Coffee?

A whiff of vanilla on its nose. Hints of bittersweet chocolate and cinnamon on the palate. A full, round mouthfeel.

Does this sound like a wine tasting note?

Think again.

As I sipped the “San Agustin” Colombian coffee from Superba Roasters, I realized how different single-origin coffee tastes from a standard blend. These complex coffees are not just tasting-note-worthy; there are also striking parallels between how these coffees and fine wines get to your cup.

1.Fermentation: Not all coffee beans are handled the same way, but for a more flavorful brew, some farmers use a method called “wet processing.” Farmers harvest bright red coffee “cherries” at their peak ripeness like grapes, bursting with sugar and flavor from the hot summer sun. The beans are hand-sorted for the ripest berries, whose flesh is removed to reveal the bean inside. They’re fermented to remove the layer around the bean and then washed and dried. These green beans are now ready to roast, and the result is a fruitier, smoother, brighter coffee.

2.Terroir: Soil, altitude and climate affect coffee bushes as much as they do vines. For example, the three estates where San Agustin is produced are known for volcanic soil, high altitudes over 5,000 feet, and warm yet wet weather. All of this makes for a distinctive regional flavor.

3.Estate coffee: One of the best reasons to buy single origin coffee is that one can trace the coffee back to the farm where it was grown. Farmers at San Agustin’s farms pride themselves on their ability to monitor the delicate green beans as they are grown, harvested and dried in the sun. They’ve even set strict quality standards that are reinforced as they “cup” (taste) and hand-sort the coffee a full four times before it leaves the region. Accountability means more care and better beans.

4.Varietals: You’ve heard of Arabica and Robusta, but coffee beans get more specific than that. Like grape varieties, different beans mean different body, aroma and flavor. There are numerous coffee varieties:

Typica: Though the name might imply that these beans are merely average, this is one of the highest quality Arabica beans, and it’s bushes are very low production. Most of the modern coffee varieties are descendants of this bean.

Bourbon: As you may suspect, this makes a particularly robust brew. Its bushes have higher yields than a standard Typica.

Caturra: A descendant of Bourbon from Brazil, these have lower yields and a bright citrusy quality. Slightly higher in acidity, it’s a zestier bean that balances out bolder beans well.

Coffee’s not only similar to wine, it’s also a great complement — particularly after mornings following lusher evenings!