Bright, fruity, winey, floral, delicate, and crisp… Today we are going to breakdown what these terms mean, where beans with these lovely qualities are grown, and why we love drinking these coffees in springtime.
In coffee lingo, bright describes a coffee with high acidity. Acidity in coffee is not something you feel in your stomach or throat, it is a sensation that occurs on your tongue. Higher acidity coffees have a very clean close, light-to-moderate mouthfeel, and lingering, tingling sweetness that may feel dry, sharp, or pleasantly tart in your mouth. This sweetness is similar to what you may experience after eating an orange, drinking a lemon-flavored beverage, or sipping a delicate red wine. It is that clean, full but lifted feeling in your mouth and on your tongue. Some bright coffees may also produce a pleasant citric sweetness, such as lemon or mandarin. Bright coffees may also be described as highly acidic, citric, or vibrant.
In contrast to bright, which primarily describes a sensation, the terms floral, berry, grape, or fruit describe a coffee’s natural flavor tones and notes. Florals create delicate floral notes and soft floral aromatics in a coffee, such as rose, elderflower, eucalyptus, and lavender. Berry notes are often described as a soft sweetness in taste and aroma, such as strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry. Berry notes tend to be very subtle and add just a touch of depth to lighter-bodied coffees but can also be tart with flavors of cranberry or boysenberry. Grape notes possess gentle tannin-like qualities found in red wine and tend to be described as winey. Fruit notes tend to be sweet and add a rich almost juiciness to a coffee. Fruit notes can be a bit tangy like mango or subtly sweet like cantaloupe. To complicate matters, many coffees embody a combination of these flavors notes. To discover the range of a bean’s flavor, it is essential to rely on all your senses. Floral and fruit notes tend to be smooth and clean with just a gentle tingling sensation whereas grape and berry notes tend to produce a bit more depth, sitting slightly further back on the tongue and often give the sensation of being dry.
So, you may be wondering, how do seemingly similar coffee beans develop drastically different flavor notes? They are born with them…mostly, nurture places a role as well. Similar to the way flowers seeded from the same source plant and grown in different soil, like a hydrangea or rose, change color based on the soil content, coffee plants absorb and reflect the flavor notes of their terroir. Now to the good part – where to find these lovely spring-perfect coffees!
Berry and grape notes
For berry-toned beans, look to Africa. The high elevation, fruit and citrus filled forest, and rich soil produces wonderfully bright, crisp berry and grape toned beans. If you enjoy a very crisp, clean, berry-wine coffee, you can only go with right with a Kenyan. For a slightly less intense coffee with a touch of floral, try an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. Moving down the western coast of Africa towards Tanzania and Zimbabwe, the coffees are generally less acidic (though they still have very good acidity) and exhibit subtle berry tones with touches of fruit and / or floral notes. In terms of mouthfeel, fruits and floral notes generally feel slightly heavier in the mouth and display a greater balance between upper citric notes and lower sweet notes. If you prefer something sweeter, look west towards Burundi and Rwanda. Beans from both countries have really nice acidity, good mouthfeel, and possess prominent sweet berry notes.
Floral, fruit, and berry notes
Fruit, floral, and berry-toned beans dominate Central American coffees, which are generally described as balanced, bright, and very clean with fruit and other soft sweet notes, such as honey. The highest acidity Centrals are found in Guatemala and El Salvador. Guatemalan coffee generally has moderate-high acidity and very gentle berry notes with citrus tones. Because of this great balance in flavors and acidity, Guatemalans are often described as producing a very balanced cup. Moving east to El Salvador the beans tend to be slightly more acidic with an amazing array of smooth, subtly sweet citrus notes. This wonderful brightness and harmonic acidity results in a very clean bean. Continuing west to Nicaragua, Nicaraguan beans have moderate acidity and deeper berry and fruit notes. These deeper notes tend to really shine with a slightly darker roast, a trait that continues as you continue moving down to Costa Rica and Panama. Costa Rican and Panamanian coffees tend to have moderate acidity and a slightly heavier mouthfeel than other Centrals and Africans, and both boast an array of beautiful deep berry and mild citrus notes atop stronger base chocolate notes.
While it may not sound like from these descriptions, there are some key differences between Africans and Centrals. Africans are crisp with very pronounced flavor notes, often show winey base notes, and tend to leave a distinct tingling feeling on the tongue. Centrals, on the other hand, tend to be a little smoother and often have a gentle nut undertone. Africans also tend to exhibit a great deal of complexity – meaning they typically display a wider range of flavor notes and tones in each cup while Centrals tend to be more balanced and clean. Both, however, can have their flavor profiles significantly altered during processing and roasting.
Processing, roast, and descriptions
A bean’s natural tones, while always present, can be morphed and muted during processing and roasting so, if you are looking for a very native bean, it is best to look for a wet-processed, light / medium roasted bean. Wet-processing best preserves a bean’s inherent flavors and roast dictates which notes shine. Acidity is burned off during roasting so highly acidic coffees roasted to a dark roast will likely taste flat and flavorless. These beans could also be roasted to a roast shade and take on the shade characteristics, such as a French roast. If you enjoy a truly bright, crisp cup look for a light or medium roast. Alternatively, if you prefer a coffee with a slightly heavier mouthfeel but still want those bright, light base tones, look for a full-city or Vienna.
The very final thing we encourage you to be mindful of when searching for a spring coffee is where and how our spring words are used in a coffee’s description. Very often these words are included in a description to describe upper notes or acidity level and not do not describe the coffee’s dominant flavor notes. For example, an Indonesian or South American coffee may have bright notes or hints of floral but they are just hints — like a pinch of salt on a plate of pasta. Coffees described as creamy, velvety, rich, nutty, and spicy are what we refer to as our cool-weather coffees. They may have hints of a nice floral or citrus finish but they are really like a piece of chocolate cake with lemon drizzle.
To wrap this up, African and Central American coffees are wonderful during the spring and summer months with their light to moderate mouthfeels and refreshingly crisp, delicately fruit, berry, and grape flavor notes. They also naturally pair well with foods naturally available in spring and lovely light pastries. Once you’ve identified your preferred flavor palate and acidity level, it is easy to zone in on a regional preference. From there, we encourage you to explore how different roasts change the texture and flavor profile of these beans. Many people who prefer heavier coffees tend to shy away from Centrals and Africans because they’ve only ever had medium roasted ones. However, if they tried a Vienna roasted Nicaraguan or Costa Rican, with those deep berry notes really dominating the cup – it could be a game-changer!
If you enjoyed this entry, you may also like our podcast, Episode 7, or the following blog entries: