How Brewing Affects Flavor

When making a cup of coffee, there’s really only two ingredients: Coffee grounds and water. Simple as that may seem, how those two ingredients are put together can be a complex process that is capable of creating a whole host of different final products. It’s very similar to cooking. Sure, you’re just applying heat to a chicken breast, but how are you applying that heat? Is the chicken grilled? Baked? Boiled?

The decisions about how to apply the water to coffee to create the best possible flavor belong to the barista, and their decisions are often informed by, and work hand in hand with, the earlier decisions made by the roaster. As mentioned in our previous post, the roaster has a lot of sway over how the final coffee product will taste, highlighting more body, acidity, or complexity, and once those roasted beans make it to the barista, they have the responsibility of turning the chemical compounds created by the roaster into flavors that the coffee drinker will notice (and hopefully enjoy) in their cup.

The reason the roaster’s and brewer’s decisions are often connected is because of the way coffee is brewed will have a direct effect on which aspects of a coffee’s flavor are highlighted and accentuated, and it’s the work of the roaster that has set a coffee up to have a certain flavor profile. For example, if a coffee is roasted in such a way that the beans maintain the high acidity that they acquired during their growth and processing, a barista might brew that coffee using a method that has a paper filter and that has fresh water constantly running through the grounds (like a pour-over), because that’s going to highlight the sweet acidity of that coffee. If that same coffee was used for cold brew, however, it would run directly counter to the profile the roaster created, because cold brew doesn’t extract the high volume of acids that other brew methods do, so that acidic sweetness is almost completely lost. A French press, however, often accentuates a coffee’s heavy body, so a delicate and acidic coffee might have its sweetness buried by the bolder flavors that that brew method highlights.

So, since different brew methods bring out different characteristics of a coffee’s flavor, it’s in the barista’s best interest to be well informed on the flavor profile the roaster is seeking to create during the roasting process, and it’s in the roaster’s best interest to be well informed on all aspects of a coffee’s origin, so they know what ingredients they have to work with, and what flavors do and don’t exist in that particular coffee.

Thus are all three facets of a coffee’s journey, from the origin, to roasting, to brewing, intimately connected and related, all working to preserve a coffee’s flavor as it travels down the funnel, finally making its way into the warm cup you get to hold between your hands.