The basics of single-origin coffee and how to appreciate it

Steph Arnaldo
The basics of single-origin coffee and how to appreciate it
Ready to learn a latte about how to taste and appreciate coffee like a true barista?

We all know what a good, life-changing cup of coffee is capable of.

Coffee is the wind beneath our sleep-ridden wings in the morning, our defense against the dark world, the socially acceptable addiction that gets us through the worst of the daily grind. For many, it’s a daily staple – to others, a calming ritual. To the preferential some, coffee is a personal luxury to enjoy. 

If you go beyond the 3-in-1 coffee habit, you may consider yourself a preferential coffee drinker – someone accustomed to specific single-origin coffee beans, tastes, flavor profiles, acidity, and methods of brewing. 

“Do you like your coffee full-bodied? Is your palate inclined to bright acidity? Do you prefer fruity undertones to rich, chocolatey notes? Do you enjoy your drink lighter on the tongue, or heavier and longer-lasting?”

Most likely, preferential drinkers already know these answers by heart.

Photo courtesy of Starbucks Philippines

For those still relatively new to the single-origin game, no worries – I am, too.

Luckily, 2018 Starbucks Philippines Barista Champion, Steaven Bueno recently held an Origins Masterclass for the interested, and I walked out of that class with a new sense of appreciation for my daily cup (or two) of coffee.

The guide you’ve bean waiting for 

Photo courtesy of Starbucks Philippines

There are thousands of coffee beans in the world – how do we distinguish one from the other?

Just like humans, no one bean is the same. Each lot of coffee has their own set of characteristics that make them who they are. 

Think of it like dating – you’ve got a handful of deal-breaking qualities you’re on high alert for during a first date. Humor? Check. Good listener? Check.

With coffee, however, it’s all about the big 4 – aroma, acidity, flavor, and body.

Photo courtesy of Starbucks Philippines

Aroma is that beautiful first whiff of freshly-brewed coffee that is just as important as a good first impression. Does it smell nutty? Sweet? Fresh? Spicy? 

Acidity, on the other hand, is the “tingling sensation” that first sip of coffee brings to your palate. It also distinguishes how long the taste of coffee will linger in your mouth. Coffee with high acidity is usually bright, fruity-sour, light, and casually passes by with a juicy zing. Low acidity coffee is bolder, stronger, less tangy, and hangs around a bit longer on the tongue.

Flavor speaks for itself. What ingredients can you taste in your cup? Does it carry berry-like fruity flavors? Is it similar to dark chocolate? Can you taste the sweetness of honey, or the woodsy charm of cinnamon? Are there any rich caramel notes? Let your foodie imagination go wild in pinning down every flavor your palate can spot!

Body is described as the weight of the coffee on your palate. Does it easily glide down like water? That’s a light-bodied cup. Does it leave a slight aftertaste, somewhat like tea? Medium-bodied is the word. Is the finish smooth, well-balanced, and non-fleeting, just like true love?

Bean there, haven’t done that: Cupping session

How best to answer the questions above yourself? Steaven Bueno recommends every coffee enthusiast try a cupping session.

Photo courtesy of Starbucks Philippines

A cupping session is coffee tasting at its purest form – grounds and hot water, nothing else. This simple, multi-sensory activity is the best way to fully appreciate coffee beans at its most glorious, unprocessed glory, and can be done in the comfort of your own home. 

1. To start, place the coarse coffee grounds of your choice (similiar to a French press grind) in a glass. Slowly pour hot water into the glass, swirling the stream around to make sure everything is soaked.

2. Give the brew 4-5 minutes to steep. You should see the grounds floating on the water’s surface afterwards, creating a coffee crust.

3. After steeping, it’s time to smell. How to get its authentic aroma? With a spoon, gently push the grounds away from you in one direction outwards, breaking the crust slowly. As you do so, put your nose as close to the glass, and sniff as you scrape.

4. Afterwards, with two spoons, scoop the grounds out in a circular motion around the rim. 

Photo courtesy of Starbucks Philippines

5. Now, this is where the magic happens – slurping.

Slurping is the barista-approved way of covering all flavor spots of your palate in one go. Using a spoonful of coffee, slurp away – the louder the better, no holds barred – and let the coffee glide all over your mouth.

According to Steaven, this is key in discerning any coffee’s flavor, body, and acidity. With enough practice, you’ll be able to capture all 3 qualities in just a few slurps.

A latte to learn: Taste testing tips

A cupping session can involve 2 or more kinds of coffee to try in one go (unless you’re planning to sleep early, then we highly suggest you spare yourself of palpitations). Just remember to always drink water between every cup to refresh and clean your palate of any residual flavors.

Photo courtesy of Starbucks Philippines

Steaven said baristas usually have a separate spit cup next to them during tasting sessions. After every slurp, there is no swallow – the coffee goes into the spit cup instead. This is best for those just looking for flavor and want to avoid acidity attacks or a high spike in caffeine. – Rappler.com

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Steph Arnaldo

If she’s not writing about food, she’s probably thinking about it. From advertising copywriter to freelance feature writer, Steph Arnaldo finally turned her part-time passion into a full-time career. She’s written about food, lifestyle, and wellness for Rappler since 2018.