Taste of Place

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In November, I had the opportunity to travel around the eastern states of Brazil, tasting coffee and learning about the various micro regions of the world's largest coffee producing country. Spending most of my time in the eastern part of Minas Gerais, one of Brazil's largest coffee producing states, I visited the smaller regions of Matas de Minas and Sul de Minas. Although these two growing areas are part of the same state, the differences in topography from one region to the next lend to the production of coffees with very different flavor profiles. What's more, these two areas, though different among themselves, are an even further departure from the coffees grown in Cerrado Mineiro, located in western Minas Gerais.

In the world of coffee, the ability to understand and distinguish between regional characteristics can be crucial to a coffee's current identity and future survival. This is especially true in the Specialty Coffee sector, as possibly nothing creates more demand and competition than someone else's aggressive investment in quality coffees from specific regions.

For consumers, which is just about everyone from the home brewer to the coffee roaster (yes, we're consumers, too), coffee growing regions can be vast, complicated and esoteric. Without an experience to connect you to a location, making it both accessible and memorable, the names of these places are essentially meaningless. What is great about coffee is that it has the ability to provide regional experience and can tell a story about the area from whence it came. In other words, coffee can give us personal taste of place.

Anunu_Faz Sao Paulo_blog.jpgA coffee, like wine, is said to be representative of its growing location, or terroir. The mineral composition of soil contributes to the amount of sugars that are metabolized. The altitude of the plot contributes to the overall metabolic rate, lending to differences in bean density and acidity. Location of a region contributes to the need of higher or lower elevation for a given varietal to yield the highest quality. Harvesting time, processing techniques, reposo (resting) period... these are all just some of the variables that can make or break a coffee's quality and unique character. 

For the most part, the taste of a place can be broad and predictable, but how we taste can be as individual as fingerprints. In A Natural History of the Senses, writer Diane Ackerman notes that taste is an intimate sense. We cannot taste things at a distance the way we are able to when we see, hear or smell. She says the mouth is the place where we get to greet the world. Well, this world is very, very complicated.

Flavor chemists and industry professionals are often baffled by the hundreds of different organic and inorganic compounds that make up the sensitive balance of a coffee's flavor profile. What further complicates flavor is the intricate way in which our palates respond to sensations. We all have different capacities to taste, and even then, taste involves a number of other senses. For example, in coffee analysis, taste is inseparable from both olfaction (smell) and mouthfeel (touch).

Anunu_Taste of Place_blog.jpgDo we need to know the intricacies of flavor chemistry in order appreciate and understand a coffee? Certainly not. Neither is it absolutely necessary to understand how a given growing region in Brazil may differ from the slopes of Mt. Kenya or may share similarities with NariƱo, Colombia. What is important, however, is knowing that these variables contribute to the quality of a coffee, the overall trends in the global coffee economy, and why we at gimme! coffee choose one coffee's uniqueness over another's.

It is also important to know that taste of place is accessible. In February, when we release our new crop Brazil arrivals, you will have the opportunity to differentiate a classic big bodied Cerrado Mineiro from the intensity of a Rio de Janeiro raisin coffee or from the delicate acidity of a Sul de Minas coffee.

Tasting connects the world to us, intimately, and suddenly these places don't seem so foreign.