You probably know this, but coffee is one of the most consumed beverages in the world,  placed somewhere after second placed tea (second of course to No.1 water) and on a par with soda and beer.

However, it is the second most traded commodity after oil. So I guess when our oil runs out and we cease to be an oil based economy we can all look forward to the prospects of a world based on a coffee economy. Interesting thought.

So what makes a great cup of coffee or what characteristics define a great coffee bean? In many respects this question in not that different from that asked of wine or even beer. In essence it comes down to you and personal taste. Baristas just as sommeliers, will rattle on about seemingly undetectable essences and nuances in flavor and smell, hints of this and that, but it’s your palette that counts. Like wine, if you just don’t like it, what’s the point.

As a novice to coffee, where do you start? Why not take a leaf out of a wine lovers book, start with some basics:


Even if you are to a coffee drinker, the aroma gets you and can by itself make you a coffee drinker. What attracted you to coffee in the first place, was it a rich earthy smell, more of a fresh ‘zingy’ note or maybe a floral component hit you first. Either way, if your nose liked it, maybe you should follow it’s instinct and check out beans with those qualities.


Swill the coffee around you mouth and notice how it triggers the various receptors in your mouth and on your tongue. You will pick up more subtle tastes after a while – there maybe a spiciness to it or hat floral note you detected may become more apparent.


Get to know the coffee before you turn it into a latte or some other concoction. Do you prefer a rich ‘heavy’ body to the brew or maybe a more watery ‘Americano’ style that stretches out the hit from an expresso. Maybe the time of day dictates what your preference is.


The acidity of coffee is not quite the same as adding lemon or lime juice to a drink to ‘brighten’ it. The acidity in coffee is more complex and is what determines how ‘bold’ a coffee is. Coffee can be very mellow or extremely robust. The roasting process has a lot to do this as indeed does the way a bean is ground. Without acidity, coffee would be dull, flat brew.


Roasting a coffee bean develops that characteristic and inviting coffee aroma. The darker the roast, the richer the flavour. However, what is not so obvious is that as the roast gets darker, so caffeine levels drop. You’d perhaps intuitively expect a dark coffee to be loaded with caffeine, but it’s actually the lighter roasts that can have more. Typically though, the darker the roast, the smoother the flavour and also, more oils are released.

Other factors affecting coffee's impact on your senses

Growing conditions, region, roasting, grinding, brewing and presentation all impact how these four factors ultimately arouse your senses. Not that different from wine then!

Just like wine, coffee has had it’s fair share of proponents advocating its benefits and those detractors stating that it’s a health disaster. The good news today is that the benefits appear to significantly outweigh any issues, at least in most people.

Coffee, it turns out, is loaded with antioxidants, two in particular; Methylpyridinium and Glutathione. Also, coffee is still relatively undiscovered country where chemistry is concerned. Many of the reported benefits of coffee cannot be traced to specific compounds, as yet. What is known is that the oils in coffee contain many of the compound of interest and the various roasting and brewing methods determine how much of these oils end up in the final cup. So, if you are interested in the health benefits we highlight on, carefully consider your options.