Several things influence the flavor, aroma and body of the coffee in your cup. First of all, the species of coffee we are talking about is Arabica. All gourmet coffee starts its life as a seed of Arabica. There is a second species of commercially produced coffee called Robusta, which you will generally find heavily marketed in the U.S. and sold in supermarkets in three-pound tins. That’s all you need to know about Robusta.
So, if all gourmet coffee is from Arabica beans, why does coffee from Brazil taste different than coffee from Ethiopia? The answer is terroir. The idea is that the soil composition, sunshine, rainfall, daytime temperature, nighttime temperature and other environmental factors influence the flavor of wine grapes, and that is one reason why a Chardonnay from Burgundy in France tastes different from a Napa Valley Chardonnay. It’s the same with coffee.
You will find upon comparison a vast difference between Arabica coffees from the Indonesian islands, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas. As it turns out, these are the four major growing regions, and each has its unique characteristics. Within each region, you can further differentiate between regions. An Indonesian coffee from Sumatra is quite different from a New Guinea, and Ethiopian and Kenyan are different. Where the coffee comes from makes a huge difference.
How the coffee is graded, processed and handled at the point of origin also makes a big difference. This is too long a topic to get into here; suffice it to say that knowing how to choose from which farmers and farm co-ops to buy beans is part of the art of coffee roasting.
How one goes about roasting the unique coffees of the world is important. Assuming that one has chosen green (un-roasted) beans of quality, then one must choose the roasting profile that best brings out the favorable characteristics of those beans. Now, some would argue that the best thing to do is turn burn the heck out of them, call it the ‘West Coast’ style of roasting, and have done with it. We do not favor this philosophy.
Don’t get me wrong; there are legitimate dark roasts, such as the Vienna Roast (dark) and French Roast (darker) which work just fine on the right beans. I tend to favor the darker roasts as after dinner coffees since the full-bodied, rich flavor stands up well to whatever I’ve been eating and drinking.
However, to put a dark roast on ALL coffees obscures their individual characteristics. I would further argue that proponents of universally dark roasting are also attempting to mask the undesirable characteristics of perhaps less than the best beans. In any case, the goal of the roaster is to bring out the best in the beans while preserving the terroir.
Which brings me to why we chose Vail Mountain Coffee and Tea. It is my studied opinion (and I cupped a lot of coffee) that VMCT does an exceptional job of selecting premium beans from all regions and roasting them in such a way that a thoughtful coffee drinker can taste and appreciate the wonderful variety of coffees from around the world.