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Choosing coffee

How we choose coffee

First and foremost we choose our coffees because they taste great. Stunning examples of classic flavours, more unusual and surprising selections, or coffees that bring key attributes to a blend. Each one is carefully selected by a series of rigorous “cuppings” (tasting), from the team at Dark Woods. An array of flavours to suit a wide range of styles and tastes - no one coffee suits all!

Many of the coffees come to our attention because of Damian’s extensive travels over the years. Making friends and colleagues along the way, getting to know some of the best farms the coffee world has to offer. Not just for the quality of their beans but the professional ways in which they are managed, care for the environment and the people they work with.

We work with all sorts of farms, some established farms passed down through the generations, to small farmers, to community run co-operatives (like our colleagues in Peru that are part of Café Feminino, where all the operations are managed by women). Most of the time a lifetime of experience, skilled agronomy, and shrewd business brains are behind the top coffee producers; don’t be swayed by simple stereotypes.

But that said, coffee is still a “Cinderella” industry, with pitiful little research and development done to improve the varieties we grow, improve flavours and yields, and protect against devastating diseases like leaf rust. If the same situation existed in the wheat industry we all would have starved by now!
That is why we are part of the World Coffee Research “check off” programme, contributing towards the vital work they do with every kilo of coffee we buy.

Their Multi-location Variety Trial seeks to catalogue for the very first time, the species best suited to a particular location. Suitably resilient to climatic conditions and disease, while still delivering great tasting coffee. Understanding the DNA traits that makes one coffee more successful than another.
We really believe them to be one of the most significant.

Helping you choose coffee

No one type of wine suits everyone, and no type is right or wrong, it’s down to you. Different grape varieties, origins, and processing methods affect the flavour of your final glass and it’s just the same with coffee. There are four main areas where a bit of knowledge will help guide you to the most suitable coffee for you. These are:

Species & Variety

Despite there being over 100 species of coffee, only two are commonly grow: Arabica and Robusta.
In very general terms, Arabica gives a more bright citrus flavour and a lighter body, while Robusta lacks that acidity, and has a more earthy and bitter flavour, with a rich body. Underneath these main headings are numerous different varieties (especially for the Arabicas). Most are close cousins but odd ones like Geisha, offer more unusual floral complexity.

Process

Along with roast, processing is probably the most profound influencer of coffee flavour. This refers to the method used to remove the coffee bean from the cherry and the way it is dried and prepared afterwards.

Natural - Whole fruit picked and dried gradually in the sun before the dried pulp flaked off to remove the seeds (beans) inside. Think of it as turning grapes into raisins. These coffees can be really wild! - fruity, sweet, heavy body, boozy or “funky”

Washed - Whole fruit is pulped and then washed to remove all traces of the sticky fruit residue. The bean can then be more swiftly dried in the sun. These coffees tend to be clean, crisp and balanced - bright, juicy, light-medium body

Honey Process/Pulp Natural - sits in the middle of the other two. The whole fruit is pulped and then the beans are dried with some of the fruit and sticky mucilage, rather than being washed. The flavours sit in between the other two processes.

Origin

This really boils down to a combination of altitude and regional nuances in processing. Though it’s helpful to have an idea of what countries coffees you may have enjoyed in the past, speciality coffee is really more interested in representing coffee from small producers that display unique or very specific examples of style or flavour and it’s sometimes quite hard to make generalisations about a whole region, never mind a whole country!

South America

Flavour notes:

Wheat / Nuts / Caramel

Central America

Flavour notes:

Citrus / Berries / Milk chocolate

Africa

Flavour notes:

Floral / Wild berries / Stone fruit

Asia

Flavour notes:

Chocolate / Spice / Herbal

High Altitude 1400m +

Flavour notes:

Clean & fruity / Lighter body

Low Altitude 900m - 1400m

Flavour notes:

Milk chocolate & wheaty / Heavier body

Roast

The roast profile (degree of heat used over time), is a dominant factor in the flavour of your coffee. We often explain it to people by comparing it to cooking an onion!

Light Roast

Bite into a raw onion and it is sharp and acidic. Left light roast, coffee also retains its natural fruity acidity, may have some of the fruity sweetness, but lack the more bitter flavours (that some people describe as “stronger”).

Mid Roast

Cook that onion on the stove top for a few minutes and that acidity diminishes, making way for a sweeter caramel flavour, like your hot dog onions. This is where mid roast coffees sit. Not as zesty, but sweet and caramelly, with a bit more body.

Dark Roast

Continue cooking your onion and it can get burnt and bitter. This is where a lot of commercial dark roast coffees sit. We prefer not to take our coffee too dark as it destroys much of what makes it special, but carefully done, a fuller roast can give rich body and dark chocolate flavour.

Brewing Guides

No matter how good the coffee is, to get the best from it it needs to be made well. There are many different brewing methods to choose from, most are relatively straight forward but a few tips (backed up with some science), can make all the difference. Just click on your preferred brewing method below.

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