Identifying Coffee

By August 20, 2019 Food For Thought

It takes a lot to become a Kaladi Coffee. When we find a coffee that has what it takes, we give credit where credit is due: the farmers who cared, tended, and produced these exquisite flavor sensations. For this reason, as far as possible, we take the appellation approach to identifying the coffees we offer.

Identifying by appellation is well known when it comes to buying wine, but not so when it comes to buying coffee. Most coffee roasters prefer to hide individual varieties behind a sea of blends. Instead of buying coffees based on outstanding flavor characteristics, roasters buying coffee for use in blends encourages the use of mediocre quality beans muddled together. One advantage of this method is consistency: if one coffee becomes unavailable or the price seems high, another coffee can be substituted in the blend and the consumer is largely unaware of a change. Another advantage of this method is branding. Many roasters prefer to create exotic sounding blend names that can be viewed as something exclusive in a competitive market.

We prefer the more difficult task of finding truly unique coffees that are perfect examples by themselves. Like a great wine, great coffee need not be blended. It should stand on its own as a unique flavor profile. Our coffees are identified first by country of origin, then grade (if applicable), region, and finally estate or cooperative. In this manner we recognize that countries don’t grow coffee, people do.

Different countries have different methods of grading coffee. All countries grade coffee according to the amount of defects (broken beans, stones, debris, etc), some countries will grade coffee beans according size, others by altitude or density. While bean size has no effect on flavor quality, uniform large beans have an impressive look and so a few countries have capitalized on this perceived value. By contrast the grading of altitude or density does play an important role in flavor quality since altitude contributes to a harder, denser bean that gives off more aroma after roasting.

While countries can be known for certain general flavor characteristics, the region actually plays a much larger role in particular flavor profiles.The flavor of coffee is derived from a complex relationship of botanical variety, micro-climate, soil composition, and regionally specific farming techniques. Each coffee is a snapshot of the particular region from which it was born. A skilled coffee farmer understands the needs of his crop through years of knowledge handed down by tradition and incorporates new techniques made available by the many agencies that provide ongoing educational assistance.

Sometimes a region identification becomes so recognized that farmers will travel long distances to sell coffee in a more reputable region. A famous example of this is the region of Antigua in Guatemala. So many coffees began to pop up as Antigua coffee that the word “Genuine” was attached to those coffees that could be verified as coming from Antigua. Likewise, unscrupulous exporters have been known to pass off coffees from poor regions as reputable regions to exploit profits. Kona coffee and Jamaica Blue Mountain have suffered from such instances. For this reason, some regions have trademarked their name, and others have created separate trademarks. Since there is little oversight to the labeling of coffee, this practice is sure to continue.

Many consumers looking for quality coffee often associate the country name with quality. Usually it is the same name as the first coffee that introduced us to something other than canned commercial coffee. It is important to remember that the name bears little to no significance to flavor quality but only identifies its place of origin. At Kaladi, we choose the coffees we offer based on flavor quality, not by geo-political designations.

Customers often ask what is our best, or favorite coffee.The answer to this is similar to the question of what is the best wine.Taste is subjective.We try to offer a wide variety of flavor profiles to suit a number of tastes.These coffees are selected from a tiny fraction, about 3%, of the coffee available around the world. In our mind, each one represents the best flavor. Our job, as we see it, is to find these flavor profiles, roast them in a manner best suited to their individual characteristics, then identify them as accurately as possible.