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Flavours, coffee seed maturity and trends

20/3/2015

This is the English version of an article published on March 17th, 2014 by the Istituto Internazionale Assaggiatori Caffè (International Institute of Coffee Tasters). While it does not necessarily represent our opinions at Caffè del Bar, we think that it offers an insight into the philosophy of Italian coffee experts confronted with the new realities of an evolving coffee industry, and is worth sharing with our readers.

The original article in Italian can be found at http://www.coffeetasters.org/newsletter/it/
Published with the permission of the author. 


The biological world, on which we rely on for food and many of life’s pleasures is selfish. We should not think that fruits develop flavors for the enjoyment of humans. Actually, they do so as a means to find “collaborators” for the propagation of their species. Consequently, until the seeds are ripe we shouldn’t dream of an appealing flavor, and we shouldn’t expect a rewarding tactile or taste sensation. Only when the seeds are ripe, and the plants reduce their defences against external attacks, do the fruits become sweeter and reduce their astringency.

Unfortunately, most of the fruits that are available commercially are acidic, sometimes astringent and often flavorless, because (amongst other reasons) they have been picked too early. This is a straightforward concept, but historically various trends have managed to quietly push against it. Remembering wines of the 80’s, there was a movement that encouraged the picking of grapes before the point of physiological maturity. A little acidity was convenient and the wines were surely easier to preserve. The results however weren’t great.

Now this is happening to coffees, sometimes by necessity and sometimes by lack of competence. On one hand, labor cost increases have lead to mechanical picking wherever possible. The effect of this is that in many places only a small part of the coffee fruits achieve sugar levels of 20 Brix (which is the threshold required to get minimum flavor) and an even smaller part achieves 25 Brix, which is the level necessary for a first class coffee. In addition to this, to avoid surprises in the logistic chain, many coffee farmers resort now to accelerated drying. In addition to these factors, there is the modern trend of lightly roasting to maintain acidity. Together these lead to a failure to develop even the minimal precursors of flavors that exist in beans.

Some roasters would like the public to believe that coffee that contains a mix of citric and malic acids is the best coffee there can be. Among the supporters of this new trend there are some who, if the coffee has citric acid, will comment that it has citrus notes, and if it has malic acid, they will say it has apple notes. For us, these are reasons to mistrust many representatives of these new trends, and to reaffirm the philosophy of the fathers of our Espresso Italiano: roast slowly and roast fully, using only perfectly mature coffee beans. We’re happy to be out of fashion.

Luigi Odello, President, International Institute of Coffee Tasters (IIAC), luigi.odello@italiantasters.com


The International Institute of Coffee Tasters (IIAC) is a nonprofit association supported by members’ fees only and founded in 1993 with the aim of compiling and spreading scientific methods for sensory evaluation of coffee. It has always focused on espresso, the symbol of coffee Made in Italy, perfecting a specific tasting method. Since its creation IIAC has carried out hundreds of coffee tasting license courses, attended by operators and coffee lovers from all over the world.

Also in the training sector, in 1999 IIAC created the Espresso Italiano Specialist course for certifying operators working in coffee shops serving Certified Italian Espresso. Further evolutions in didactics since 2005 have allowed the development of the Professional Master of Coffee Science and Sensory Analysis, which includes five educational modules. In twenty years of activity the association has reached more than 9.000 professionals from more than 40 countries that have attended the courses.

IIAC is cooperating with the Italian Espresso National Institute (INEI) which has the mission of setting and guarding the quality standards for Italian Espresso. 

Our Caffè del Bar note: Several coffees available on www.caffedelbar.com are INEI certified and have won awards in the International Coffee Tasting competitions organized regularly by IIAC.