Where does flavor come from?

I have often heard the question asked concerning the flavor characteristics of a coffee, “what is more important, the terroir, the variatel, or the process?” The question presupposes the concept that one of the factors is more important. Here we have an experiment by one producer, Aida Battle in El Salvador, that involves coffee all from one farm but processed differently. All Bourbon, grown in the same volcanic soil and in the same climate, these coffees each present a truly unique profile each unto their own. The fourth coffee, Grand Reserve, contains coffees from three of her farms blended together.

four amigos

The Finca Mauritania coffee is typically washed and comes across with stone fruit sweetnes, warm brightness, silk on the palate, and impeccably clean aftertaste. The only washed coffee from F. M. in this group is the Peaberry, and is so savory with a mineral brightness that one professional roaster I cupped it with mistook it for something from Kenya.

The Pulp Natural, (the mucilage is dried on the seed instead of soaking in a fermentation tank) has muted brightness, deep sugar development, and a cocoa flavor. This coffee has single origin espresso written all over it.

The Pasa, or raisin, coffee is left to dry in the cherry. This is a risky undertaking in humid places. Everyone I cupped it with was certain that they had easily identified a Harrar or Yergicheffe natural. The acidity was a little less pronounced, however, and is the only give away. Deep cherry and blueberry and strawberry were all over this coffee on the cupping table.

The Grand Reserve has peaberries from three of Aida’s farms, each from carefully selected micro lots, to produce a sweet and savory, subtly bright, layered complexity of fruitiness with nuance and cleanliness.

Justin and Jesse

Obviously process plays a huge role, but we must not discount the meticulously cultivated and harvested crop. The heirloom coffee pedigree has a place in the final product as does the perfectly suited ecosystem in which it grows. The expertise of the roasters, (Tim, John, and Kiran) brings it to a point of readiness. Of course, the Barista is the last person to touch it, and they can make it or break it.

I guess that answers the question. None of these factors if the most important. They must all be in harmony with each other to achieve a great cup of coffee.

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