Lastly, we’ve got more coffee Q&A to share. Usually when we’re talking about coffee deliciousness, we focus on all the complexities of aroma. But what about other aspects that affect how we enjoy a particular cup, like acidity and balance? Here’s some more from my Q&A with Kelly Brown:
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Q. When people talk about ‘balance’ in a cup of coffee, what are they talking about?
Brian: It depends on if you’re talking about a consumer or coffee-tasting expert, probably. The specific ‘balance’ word in the coffee industry is talking about how the acidity of coffee and the body of coffee relate to one another. If one is really high and one is really low, that coffee is out of balance. To a consumer, I don’t think those things are as important or known about. I think when people talk about balance in coffee they’re talking more about smoothness and drinkability.
Q. Is acidity something I can taste?
Brian: It’s a sensation when you drink coffee. It’s not the same as acidy, as in you say, ‘I can’t drink this coffee because it makes my stomach hurt.’ That comes from acid as well but it’s usually from a different type of coffee, Robusta, which is really low-grown cheap coffee. It’s in diners, cheap grocery-store coffee. Acidity that we are looking for that’s desirable in coffee is a brightness. So one of the main things I noticed when I first started roasting coffee was that I could take a drink of coffee and the coffee would seem to just explode in my mouth. It felt like it was alive. It’s different than when you drink milk and it has no acidity. It’s very flat. Coffee that is really good can have a great acidity and it just feels vibrant.
Q. Sometimes when I’m drinking your Yirgacheffe I taste something that I would identify as lemon sparkles.
Brian: Yeah? (laughs)
Q. What do you think that is?
Brian: I think it’s a combination of aromatics and acidity. All these things work together.
Q. What about ‘body’ in coffee?
People like to talk about body sometimes in coffee. People will come in and say ‘I like a full-bodied coffee.’ Body to me is a tricky thing. If I drink two coffees side-by-side, I can tell you which one has a heavier body. And I’m an experienced enough coffee cupper, which is a taster, that I can tell you what the body of a coffee is by itself. But the general consumer, I think, has a very difficult time discerning whether it’s a heavy-bodied or light-bodied coffee because it’s such a minute detail in the overall cup characteristic. I think they’re confusing body with how strong the coffee is brewed or how dark the coffee is roasted. I think sometimes when people say ‘I want a full-bodied coffee’ they really just want, for lack of better word, ‘strong’ coffee.
Q. Do some people sometimes confuse so-called ‘strong’ coffee with flavor? Like they might say that coffee is too strong meaning they’re getting a lot of flavor?
Brian: I’m not really sure that’s a thing. I think sometimes people are not really used to brewing the coffee correctly. Most restaurants skimp on the amount of coffee that they use when they brew coffee in order to save money or just because they don’t know better. Roasters who sell them coffee will tell them you only need to use half as much of my coffee, so a lot of restaurants will brew really weak over-extracted coffee. It tastes terrible but people have become so accustomed to drinking weak, bad coffee that when they taste coffee that’s actually brewed with the proper ratio it tastes a lot stronger than what they’re used to.
Q. What coffees do you serve at the DoubleShot that you would call full-bodied coffees?
Brian: Like I said, I don’t really talk about that so much for the customer because I don’t think it’s actually what they are looking for in the coffee. But if somebody asked me for a full-body coffee I would probably steer them toward our Sumatra. The reality of the Sumatra is that it is a full-bodied coffee but the thing about it is that it’s extremely aromatic. So if I grind Sumatra, you can smell it from across the room. It has such a punchy aromatic to it that people think it’s big.
Do you have a question about coffee? Let us know. We'll sit down, drink some coffee and have a little Q&A.