‘Tis the season for novelty sugar-filled lattes. Eggnog, peppermint cream, gingerbread - every high street café you walk past is likely pumping these flavours into their coffees as we speak. And we don’t blame them - everyone loves a cup of Christmas!
But we’re not totally sold on these flavoured coffees. Partly because we think it does coffee a disservice (it can be so flavoursome by itself!), but also because it’s not an ‘everyday’ drink - health-wise at least.
How does coffee get flavoured?
It’s a nice image - plaid-aproned Starbucks workers boiling down pumpkin innards, sprinkling over cinnamon, and grating fresh nutmeg into double espressos. Probably not the case though…
To create the increasingly wacky, weirdly specific flavours for their lattes, companies are turning to the lab. Flavour compounds (including solvents like propylene glycol) are made in massive quantities, jam-packed with ‘artificial’ chemicals, before being added to just-roasted beans and tossed around in something like a “cement mixer-type machine”. Erm… yum?
For anyone who likes to know and understand what they’re consuming, it’s an off-putting reality. And that’s not to mention what kind of coffee is being used, too.
Because the actual coffee in ‘flavoured coffee’ is generally pretty awful. Commodity grade beans, riddled with defects, and practically burnt by being so dark-roasted. Which means it’s been bought for pennies from the farmer - so morally bad too!
Take all that and smash in a shocking amount of sugar, whipped cream, and other ‘once in a while’ items, and you’ve got your answer as to why ‘flavoured coffees’ don’t float our boat.
Coffee already has flavour! Here’s how…
In begins at the farm. How high is it, how hot is it, how often does it rain? Is the coffee tree shaded, and what variety of arabica is it? When exactly were the cherries picked - at the perfect level of ripeness, that very specific shade of red?
Next up, how are those cherries turned into green beans? Are they left in the sun for the cherry flesh to slowly rot off? Is the cherry part washed off, and then the remaining beans dried? Or a mix of the two? And how long are the beans dried for? Are they sun-dried, or heated in a machine?
How are the green beans roasted? Light, medium, or dark? Are they roasted very, very quickly or slowly? When does the roaster’s temperature rise and fall? What was the moisture content of the beans just prior to roasting? How long are they left to sit afterwards?
Once you’ve got the finished product, you’ve still got to work out what to do with it. What size will you grind the beans? How much water will you mix it with, and how hot? What brewing method will you use? Will you add milk, cream, sugar, syrups?
Everything above hugely influences the flavours in the coffee. From the minerals in the soil, the sugars in the fermentation, and the caramelisation from the roasting - there’s a whole world of flavour you can find in the world’s coffee.
Our seasonal coffee of choice: El Retiro
One great example of a flavoursome coffee this season is the El Salvadoran El Retiro. Notes of port wine and dark chocolate, a mellow apple acidity, jammy sweetness and round mouthfeel creates a cup crying out for dark winter mornings. It tastes good, is what we’re saying.
In this case, it’s a flavour profile formed by the coffee’s origin of El Salvador, its honey processing, and it’s medium-dark roast level.
Along with the high altitude and the carefully managed roast level, the processing has played a big part here. The honey process is essentially where the skin and pulp of the cherry is removed, leaving a sticky, honey-like layer.
The honey process is a system used mainly in Central America, derived from the pulped natural process often seen in Brazil. Coffee beans must be removed from the coffee cherries in which they grow; in the case of the honey process this means using a pulper to remove the beans (still coated in sticky fruit) from the inside of the cherry before they are put onto patios to dry for around 3 weeks.
The increased moisture from the fruit means that the coffee must be regularly moved around to prevent the buildup of bacteria or the beginning of fermentation - both of which lead to unpleasant flavour characteristics. The extra work and risk to cup quality involved in this process means it is rarely carried out - but in this case the result is excellent!
So take a break from your ‘mince pie and clotted cream’ frapp-u-whatsit, and try El Retiro - in the office (contact your account manager) or at home by buying here.Views: