I broadly know what affects the taste of a cup of coffee, but does this include bean size?
You get an inconsistent flavor if you roast different size coffee beans together, as they roast at different rates. So similar-sized coffee beans are all graded. Bean type, grind size, brewing water temperature, steep time, and how much ground coffee is used in each cup also affect the flavor.
Let’s dive down into the subject of coffee bean size and flavor in more detail, and find out if this is really an issue, how beans are graded, and what other factors are at play that influence the taste of your cuppa joe…
Does Size Affect the Flavor of Coffee Beans?
Sorry, folks, but in the world of coffee beans, size matters. You get an inconsistent flavor if you roast differently-sized beans together, as they roast at different rates. So similar-sized coffee beans are graded together.
Sure, it’s complicated. The flavor is affected by the type of plant, amount of rainfall, amount of sunshine, growing altitude, processing method, roasting method, amount and size of grinding, steeping time, type of water, water temperature and how much coffee you use in your brew. And more.
What Does Affect the Taste of Coffee Beans?
A better question might be – what doesn’t?
Coffee is a hugely popular beverage, second only to water. But unlike other beverages that have strict formulas, a cup of coffee is a little bit like a fine glass of wine – it’s complicated.
Coffee starts with a plant. The taste and quality of the coffee bean depends on the variety of coffee plant, the amount of rainfall, sunshine, what’s in the soil, the altitude, and the temperature.
But that’s just the beginning.
Coffee is produced in over 30 countries in Equatorial areas stretching around the planet, aka The Coffee Bean Belt. Coffee plants grow the fruit called coffee cherries. The coffee cherry has two large seeds, the coffee beans.
Separating the coffee bean from the fruit is an important process that varies from region to region. Some popular processes are: wet, semi-wet, honey, and natural. Once the bean is separated from the cherry pulp, mucilage and hull, the green coffee beans are sorted and dried. Once the beans are dried, they are ready for market.
The next step in the coffee journey is roasting. Roasting coffee beans is an art. The degree of roasting varies from light to dark (aka Half City to Coal). Then, the roasted beans are ground up and packaged.
Finally, there’s the brew, but even brewing coffee gets complicated – there’s pour-over, French press, pods, drip, Aeropress, and siphon, just to mention a few.
How Are Coffee Beans Graded? (What Sizes Are They?)
Once the coffee beans have had the mucilage and hulls removed, the green beans are graded. To grade coffee beans, growers use a standard set of mesh screens. For the most part, hole sizes are standard worldwide.
Screen sizes for Arabica beans are the even numbers 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 or 20. The numbers are shorthand for the size, which is measured in 64ths of an inch. For example, a “20” is a bean that is 20/64 inches in length, which is one of the largest beans, while an 8 is one of the smallest at only 8/64 inch.
To grade beans, they are sifted through a series of sieves or screens, beginning with the largest hole size and progressing onto the smallest. When the bean won’t pass through a mesh size, then its size is set at the next largest hole size up.
For example, if an Arabica bean falls through the mesh size 16 (16/64 inch) but sits on top of the next smallest, the 14 (14/64 inch), then it is graded as a 16.
Traditionally, sieve sizes for Robusta beans are odd numbers, from 9 up to 21.
You won’t often see the sieve size marked on a package of coffee, but you might see the industry classification or the regional one. Here’s a good reference that relates the sieve size, industry, and regional classification.
How Do You Get More Flavor Out of Coffee Beans?
There are four big factors to consider here: the grind size, the brewing water temperature, the amount of time you steep your coffee and how much ground coffee you use in every cup.
Other ways to ensure that you get great flavor is to make sure your coffee machine is clean. Old beans stuck in your machine are surprisingly sour, and should be cleaned out. Then, use the tastiest, coldest water you can find. Filtered water kept in the refrigerator is a great choice.
If you are looking for the best flavor for you, our advice is to approach your cuppa joe like a science experiment. Brew your old favorite – it will be your control cup. Then, vary the grind, the water temperature, the steep time and the amount of coffee you add – but, and this is key – only change one thing at a time. Do the taste test with black coffee.
How Important is Grind Size in Coffee?
The grind size is one of the top four factors affecting coffee taste. The size of your ground coffee should be set by the way you like to brew your coffee.
For example, if you like Turkish-style coffee, then the grind should be set to very small. A medium grind is good for drip filter coffee and a French press uses coarsely ground coffee. The grind needs to be consistent.
Finally, it’s also important that you start your brew right after your grind – time matters. Coffee beans begin to lose flavor after a half an hour or so.
What Coffee Beans Have the Most Flavor?
Coffee taste preference is deeply personal, and everyone is entitled to their favorite. But. Most coffee gurus agree that Arabica beans have the most flavor.
The four most common types of coffee beans are Arabica, Robusta, Excelsa and Liberica. As compared to Robusta beans, Arabica is smoother and has less caffeine. Robusta has more caffeine and is often bitter.
Do All Coffee Beans Taste the Same?
No! And who would want them to? Would we want our morning joe to taste like our afternoon one? Or our holiday java to taste like our everyday brew? There are lots of coffees on the market. Set up a taste test – it’s super fun.
For a fascinating history of The Devil’s Brew click on this video, The History of Coffee.
Why Do Different Coffee Beans Taste Different?
Coffee plants come in a wide botanical variety. Like wine, the beans have characteristics that vary between regions and nations.
For example, Indonesian beans are famous for their dark and deep flavors. They have notes of chocolate. Ethiopian beans are lighter and have hints of lemongrass and jasmine. South American beans are mellow. They have notes of nuts, chocolate and caramel.
Central American coffee is bright and clean with fruity, cocoa and spicy notes. Kenyan beans are savory and sweet. Brazil bean flavors are varied, but include chocolate, nutty, and spicy. Some are heavy.
Here’s a good reference on why different coffees taste different.
Conclusion: Coffee Bean Size Affecting Taste
So when it comes to the taste of your coffee – bean size matters.
Roast small ones with big ones and as they all roast at different rates – you’ll get an inconsistent flavor (and no one wants that).
So that’s why coffee beans are graded for size and type, so we all know where we are when we brew up a delicious cuppa joe. 🙂