We find it quite normal that wine from the same grape from the same vineyard tasted different last year than this year. We find it just as normal that the grapes on the top of the hill taste different than a few hundred meters away, where the soil is less calcareous. One chardonnay is not another – we don’t have to explain that to each other. But do you know which coffee is in the vending machine at the office? Or what is the difference between the green and purple cups? Strange really, because the same applies to coffee as to grapes: where it grew and how it was processed largely determines the taste of the end product.
At the same time, it is not surprising, because major coffee brands do everything they can to blend out those differences. The Aroma Red is guaranteed to taste exactly the same every year: just like coffee. Or, as Kees Kraakman says: to carbon juice. Because supermarket coffees are categorically roasted too heavily for his taste: “Then there is nothing left of the fine coffee taste, just a uniform ashtray.”
The high-end coffee scene has changed a lot over the past decade. Coffee snobs no longer drink espresso, but slowly dripped ‘slack’ filter trays in search of fruitiness. Burners such as Kraakman try the unique flavor profiles of single estate to accentuate coffees. That is, from a single plantation.
Kraakman – better known as ‘Koffie Kees’ among his friends – was a coffee consultant for a long time and has had his own coffee brand since 2017: Café Keppler. He prefers to buy coffee directly from the farmer, with whom he maintains close contact. His coffee farmer in Brazil regularly texts him pictures of the dog. Kraakman then roasts the beans himself in Tuindorp-Oostzaan.
Origin and the roasting profile mainly determine the taste, explains Kraakman: “The height of the plantation is important. Coffee grows in warm countries. Often on a mountain. Because the higher you go, the greater the difference in temperature between day and night and the slower the plant grows. The metabolism then provides more acidity in the bean and more complexity in the taste.”
Then it’s the burner’s turn. Roasting gives taste. Under the influence of heat, chemical reactions take place that add new flavors (these are called the Maillard reactions). But at the same time, tasty things are also broken down: sugars and acids. And eventually the bean chars. The game is looking for the sweet spot: does develop flavor, do not lose too much, do not make an ashtray. “Every burner finds its own balance and its own truth in it.”
Fortunately, Kraakman can draw a few broad general lines. First of all, you can say that coffee from Central and South America is more nutty and coffee from Africa is often more fruity. These high-quality coffees are mainly produced for the western niche roasters. Two styles can also be distinguished within that scene: “In the Northern European and Scandinavian countries they burn relatively lightly, so that the coffee remains light and sour, in the Mediterranean countries they like something darker, so fuller, but also more bitter. ” And you can taste that.
First of all, a feather for Kraakman himself: the Yirgacheffe by Café Keppler (Ethiopia, 250 g, 9 euros) is a wonderful example of how fruity good African coffee can be: lots of citrus, but also some peach and a hint of jasmine blossom – beautifully defined next to each other, so roasted with great respect for the taste. The Sidama Keramo from the Amsterdam burner Rum Baba (Ethiopia, 250 g, 10 euros) is intended for espresso and therefore roasted darker. It’s not fair to compare it to filter coffee, but it does make it clear what that roast does: it has less acidity and a darker, sharper edge, but a lot of pleasant peach.
The effect of a branding that is too light is noticeable in the The Delicas by Drop (Nicaragua, 250 g, 16 euros), a Swedish roaster. Behind a slightly sour touch of ripe pineapple is an unpleasant vegetal grain taste. Due to the short roasting, the raw peanut taste that all unroasted coffee beans have, simply lingers. The Uraga by Drop (Ethiopia, 250 g, 16 euros) is the prettiest in our tasting, on the other hand, packed with strawberries, mango and rose.
You can also taste the way of processing from coffee berry to bean. A ‘washed’ bean gives a clear, fresh taste compared to the more exotic fruit and the rustic barn smell of ‘natural processing’. “It doesn’t really matter which method the farmer chooses, they both have their qualities,” says Kraakman. “As long as the technology is well mastered.” The Santa Rosa from the Swedish Coffee (Costa Rica, 250 g, 16 euros) has that clean potpourri scent with a slightly buttery undertone of orange and milk chocolate. The Adrubal by Bonanza from Berlin (Costa Rica, 250 g, 15 euros) comes immediately with a pleasant whiff of horse manure, it is a mango smoking a cigar on a leather armchair – the other extreme.
In the Guji by Keppler (Ethiopia, 250 g, 10 euros) we clearly come across Malibu cola. The Bumbogo Natural by Bonanza (Rwanda, 250 g, 15 euros) is fleshy like a cabernet franc, with a very long cherry-coke finish. The Nkonge from the Danish The goat (Burundi, 250 g, 15 euros) has a funky frayed edge, astringent like goat’s cheese with even a hint of petrol; but for a trained nose a really nice fruity coffee.
You can continue to associate endlessly. Like the burner, you must discover your own truth. But the nice thing is: with a mill of two tens and a pouring filter you can get started right away.