This a the fourth in a series of coffee tasting articles intended to give you a better understanding of coffee taste characteristics. In this installment, we are going to talk about "taints and defects".
Coffee Taints and Defects? Sounds Horrible
I know, you're thinking that coffee taste defects can't have anything to do with pleasing or desirable taste attributes. Actually, taints and defects have more to do with taste characteristics that might be less natural or introduced externally from the soil, the drying or washing process, or even from some remnants of fermentation while the coffee beans are in storage or transit.
For example, once the coffee cherries are picked and harvested, the longer the fruit is allowed to remain intact and in contact with the beans inside of each cherry, the more influence the outer layer of fruit can have on the flavor of the beans.
Some purists consider this a somewhat artificial external flavor influence preferring that the coffee beans should exhibit only the transparent, natural taste characteristics of the beans. And there are others that like the additional variety and unique taste characteristics that can result by leaving the beans in contact with the external fruit.
So, at best, the terminology, taints and defects, is a little misleading, and in many ways, the types of taste characteristics that are a result of these so called coffee flavor defects can actually be desirable or a preference.
Wet and Dry Processing Methods
The two common processing methods in practice today to remove the beans from the harvested coffee berries are the Dry and Wet Processing Methods.
The dry processing method is an older, traditional method. The coffee berries, fruit and pulp intact, are spread in a single layer on the open ground, exposed to the sun to dry. After several weeks, the outer pulp and hulls are removed and discarded leaving just the coffee beans inside the fruit. The alternative use of mechanical dryers can speed up the process, but the technique is similar to drying under the sun. With this dry processing method, the outer fruit stays in contact with the internal coffee beans for and extended interval of time during the drying process. Any taste or flavor characteristics from the fruit or through this drying process that are imparted to the coffee beans can be called a taste defect.
The wet processing method is in more widespread practice today. With the wet method, the intention is to remove the outer fruit layers and pulp as quickly as possible once the coffee cherries are picked and harvested. Once the fruit is discarded, and the protective parchment covering the coffee beans is removed, the coffee beans are quickly and carefully dried. When the wet process is executed properly, the coffee will taste clean, and the innate taste characteristics and flavors of the coffee beans emerge without any external and potentially unnatural influence from the drying process.
It Does Boil Down to Your Preferences
Its important to be aware of these coffee flavor taints and defects. It's part of the coffee tasting vocabulary, and it will help you better recognize and characterize the flavor qualities and taste attributes of the various coffees. Once you are aware of this aspect, you will begin to notice that wet and dry processing is frequently identified by the roaster or supplier of the coffee beans.
Coffee flavor defects provide additional dimension and unique taste characteristics to the coffee, and for most, the presence or absence of these taste defects is a matter of preference. These are the choices that you want to explore and determine what you like or don't like for yourself.
Another aspect of the dry processing method that you might want to consider is the production of crema, the wonderful tan foam that appears on the surface, when you make a shot of espresso coffee. The dry processed arabica coffees tend to produce more crema than their wet processed counterparts. This is due to slightly higher amounts of lipids, soluble solids, fats, and mineral content that remain in the green coffee beans when the dry processing method is employed.
You can now add "taints and defects" to your coffee tasting vocabulary
OK, we're getting to the finish line. In the next installment of the "Coffee Tasting Primer" we're finally going to apply what we've learned about taste characteristics, coffee roasting, and even taints and defects, and start talking about a few specific coffees. The fun begins!