How Roasting Can Mask Terroir

In the coffee world, terroir, a French term, is a crucial aspect of specialty coffee, shaping unique blends and delivering an exclusive experience to customers while being a key factor in assessing the quality and value of coffee.

coffee origin

But what exactly does this word signify, and why should coffee enthusiasts and roasters understand it? Keep reading to find out.

Exploring Terroir

The flavour of coffee beans can be influenced by various factors, including their origin and variety. When we consider these combined influences, they are collectively referred to as terroir.

Coffee cherries on branch

Much like in the world of wine, where the grapes absorb the characteristics of the land they’re grown in, coffee beans exhibit distinct qualities based on the terroir in which they are cultivated. These factors include soil composition, climate, and elevation.

Soil

Coffee trees thrive in well-draining, porous soil types, particularly volcanic or clay loam. Ideally, the land should have a slope of around 15%, and the trees should be shielded from direct sunlight.

Climate

An optimal climate for coffee cultivation entails consistent rainfall and temperatures ranging between 60°F and 80°F. Coffee plants are sensitive to extreme temperatures, with excessive heat potentially causing harm, while freezing conditions can lead to damage to blossoms, cherries, or the entire plant.

Elevation

Elevation plays a crucial role in shaping the flavor profile of coffee beans. Generally, higher elevations and cooler temperatures contribute to beans with increased acidity and complexity, resulting in a sweeter, fruity, and acidic flavour profile. The temperature variations at higher elevations, characterized by warmer days and cooler nights, facilitate the development of complex acids and sugars, enhancing the overall flavour profile of the coffee beans.

How Does Roast Level Affect Terroir?

Roasters can enhance and emphasize the unique flavours derived from terroir through the roasting process.

coffee roaster

During roasting, the hidden flavours in green coffee beans are brought to life. This process lasts approximately 13-18 minutes, with temperatures ranging from 400 to 460°F.

Canterbury employs an Agtron Colour Analyser, a light spectrometer, to measure the roast of whole bean coffee. This machine assigns a numerical value based on the amount of light reflected off the coffee sample to ensure the beans are roasted to their intended profile.

However, it’s essential to note that beyond a certain level of roast, the coffee begins to lose its distinctive characteristics. According to Tim Cole, Canterbury’s Q-Grader, as the coffee gets darker during roasting, the terroir attributes diminish. The beans start adopting roast-related notes such as smokiness, char, and malt. A deep, rich flavour dominates the coffee, and the acidity of the coffee is completely diminished.

To fully experience the unique qualities of a coffee’s origin, Tim recommends maintaining a roast level within the light-medium range. This ensures that the coffee retains its original terroir-influenced flavours without being overshadowed by the roast characteristics that become prominent at darker roast levels.

sketch of a hand holding a magnifying glass over a coffee bean

If you’re seeking new coffee options for your cafe’s menu, explore Canterbury’s catalogue. Find the guide at the bottom of the flipping book to discover their variety of Fairtrade, organic, and conventional choices, and explore their different roast profiles.