Coffee – what’s called ‘drip’ or ‘filter’ coffee, not espresso – can taste smooth and sweet like chocolate, or provide a zip on your tongue like a bright Champagne, or taste fruity, just like a blueberry. And when I say ‘chocolate’ or ‘blueberry’, I mean the coffee itself literally tastes like those things, without any added syrups or flavourings. The first time you drink coffee that tastes like more than coffee, you’ll never forget it.
This expansion of flavours is partly down to a global trend towards new roasting techniques. All coffee roasters create a roast profile – a manipulation of time and temperature – to achieve flavour in the beans. Historically, coffee has been roasted for relatively long periods of time at relatively high temperatures (think of traditional Italian coffee culture or the giant coffee chains in the United States). This profile tends to emphasise roast character, the flavours imparted by the roasting process – akin to how the process of ageing bourbon in oak barrels imparts a distinct flavour to the spirit. But more recently, distinct coffee cultures – including those of North America, Australia, Britain, Scandinavia and Japan – have been pushing other roasting techniques forward, ones that focus on the qualities of the bean. For example, roasting at relatively low temperatures for a shorter amount of time tends to accentuate what I call coffee character, the unique flavours inherent in the bean itself and where it was grown – or its terroir, to borrow a term from wine.