My Take on Coffee
Updated: Aug 31, 2019
It’s a journey. It’s an exploration of taste. But more than anything, it’s a moment of pure and satisfying pleasure. It’s your solitary moment of peace in the morning. Comfort. For as long as I can remember, I have lived for Saturday mornings. That’s when I jump out of bed, make myself a fresh French Press of coffee, then dive straight back under the covers to loll there with a book and a thick, luscious cuppa for the next couple hours. This is luxury. This is what it’s all about. Never mind holidays on the beach or islands in the sun. Give me an outstanding book and a sludgy rich cup of press coffee and I might as well have died and gone to heaven.
But there are so many steps of caring before you get to this point, countless moments at which things can go wrong. With care at each point, the very seeds of comforting deliciousness (and the coffee bean is after all a seed) arrive on our doorstep showing their best.
I hope to honour the work of all those working in mountains far from our own, and to bring out the very best flavour that is locked like a secret in their green beans (raw coffee). Every bean needs to be roasted differently – which is why roasting is a true handicraft. There is no one-size-fits-all…so I don’t believe in profile roasting, or just switching on a program, no matter what the bean type.
Is your bean very fresh crop? Then it might take a heavier roasting hand to bring out all its bright acidity and balance its body.
Is your coffee a softer, lower altitude bean? Then it will beg you to be gentle on the heat, not to kill its sweet caramelly notes.
The bean tells you how to treat it. And a good roaster is like a tennis player who stands on the baseline, prepared, waiting, anticipating the ball that will come his way, ready to adjust to every change in circumstance.
Because no two beans are alike. And I aim to serve you what is delicious in each.
So here’s our promise: we’ll source the finest coffee we can, roast it as it wants to be roasted (remembering that a bean tells us how….a good roaster listens to what the bean says!) and dispatch it to you within 48 hours of roasting. We’re not stockpiling, but roasting to order for you, so you get the freshest. We’ll mark the roast date on the bag.
Your part of the bargain is to drink it all up within a few weeks of that date if you can. Consider coffee as a fresh food product. It loses its freshness and eventually oxidises, and it’s just not as delicious as when fresh. After all, you wouldn’t eat your bread stale, so why not treat your coffee with the same consideration? So we recommend you only order as much as you think you’ll drink in a fortnight and try to stick to that timeline. If you go over a few days, it’s not the end of the world…just remember that freshness is key.
A primer on what happened to those beans before they got to you (deep dive here if you think you’re a coffee geek…)
Coffee can be produced in countless different ways, but in its simplest form, this is what happens:
A coffee tree flowers, fruits grow when the blossoms fall off, and around eight months later fully mature coffee cherries are ready to pick. Now in most parts of the world, coffee grows on mountains whose slopes make mechanical harvesting impossible. And so with the notable exception of Brazil – the world’s largest coffee-producing nation that has huge tracts of flat land that a combine harvester can cover – coffee is entirely hand harvested. And like any fruit, it tastes best when it’s ripe, when all its sugars have developed, when its full complexity has evolved. So the best farmers will pass over their coffee trees multiple times during the harvest season, picking only the ripe cherries, leaving the rest for the next pass.
Ripeness is also important for the next stage of processing, and that is the removal of the two seeds in a cherry – the beans that we ultimately roast. Since these are squeezed out with a simple machine called a “pulper”, the ripest cherries are easier to process. Think of a plum: if it’s green and unripe, it’s hard to remove the stone; whereas if ripe, you can squeeze it out with your fingers. Likewise with the coffee cherry.
More to the point though, an unripe fruit will taste astringent and green…which is not what we want in your cup of coffee. Once the seeds have been removed from their skins they are fermented to loosen the fruit flesh, washed to remove the residue, dried in the sun or mechanically, and lastly milled down to their green (roastable) bean form.
I’m skipping about a thousand other steps in between, not to mention endless variations on the theme, but that’s it in a nutshell. This is called the “washed process” and is more often used for Arabica than Robusta.
There is another, simpler, more ancient method of processing called the unwashed, dry or natural process. It sounds pretty straightforward: pick the cherries, put them in the sun and mill them when they’re dry. But quality is never as easy as that. And the best processors are those who constantly monitor the drying, ensuring it’s done to just the right level.
Some variations are betwixt and between these processes. The pulped natural method was developed In Brazil where the dramatic dry months allow the seed to be removed from its skin, but left to dry with the surrounding fruit intact. The so-called “honey process” in other countries is a spin on this, leaving varying degrees of the “honey” or fruit flesh on the seed so that its sugars infuse the beans for a longer period of time than if it were washed.
Another delicious oddity occurs in Sumatra, where coffee is often “wet-hulled”. Here coffee is pulped and fermented, but instead of being dried before it is milled, farmers hull it still wet, in order to accelerate the final drying in their very rainy climate. The result is a unique and highly distinct flavour profile that an experienced taster will identify as Indonesian.
I’m very clear about not buying into outdated dogma that says Robusta can’t be good. Actually, it can, provided its producers lavish it with as much care as Arabica often gets. Robusta is different. Not better. Not worse. Just different. But I love it in certain blends for the heft and the crema that it adds. And used judiciously, blended cleverly, I believe it brings a lot to your cup. To open, I’ve chosen a natural processed cup with a distinctive chocolate fragrance.
Every step counts towards quality, nothing just happens on its own. And having sourced coffee produced to such meticulous standards, it only stands to reason that at Sweet Bean Coffee, up in our own mountainous canton, we’re going to be as pernickety and attentive to quality ourselves.