What Is Terroir, And How Does It Affect Coffee?
– FIND THE ORIGIN –
Terroir: a new phrase that is becoming more and more known regarding coffee. But what does this word mean? What does it have to do with the taste of the drink? And why should coffee lovers, bartenders, roasters, producers, and many coffee lovers care about it? Let’s learn more about this concept!
What is Terroir?
Let’s start with the smallest step – definition. “Terroir” comes from French and is widely used in English when referring to wine. “The word’s literal meaning is soil, and whatever you think has to do with soil,” says Pamela A. Villablanca Núñez of the Latin American Specialty Coffee Alliance.
From an agricultural perspective, this keyword is much more complicated to understand. Terroir is defined as “a specific feature of the natural constituents comprising the soil; temperature; the amount of rain; macro, micro and microclimate; local agricultural cultural factors”. Terroir does not only refer to soil and climate. The meaning and extent of this word include the space where coffee is grown and the entire environment, including the people and common ground in the local area.
Why is Terroir important?
According to Stefano Biscotto of Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchants: Terroir accentuates specific varietal characteristics. It is simply conceivable that when you grow the same variety of the same coffee in two locations with two different elevations in two separate growing regions. For example, Gesha – at 1,900 meters above sea level in Ethiopia and 1,550 meters above sea level in Panama, harvested coffee beans will have different textures and flavors.
With each different condition, the Terroir will have significantly different characteristics. However, what impact does this difference have on the coffee market?
For coffee producers, farmers or growers, Terroir includes quasi-preconditions for cultivation and processing based on geography, climate, local resources and even the growers themselves – part of the Terroir. Basic crop knowledge and understanding of Terroir determine the direction of the growing system and ensure the best-finished product quality, highest cost-effectiveness, excellent pest resistance and maximum yield output.
For roasters, Terroir is an essential variable in understanding the potential flavor development of the source material based on the molecular composition of the bean – which Terroir does a relatively significant impact on.
For consumers, Terroir clearly portrays the growing region’s identity through the coffee’s flavour, providing a complete and authentic experience of the ever-increasing area.
The main elements that makeup Terroir
Terroir gives specific characteristics to a given coffee. Let’s find out what constitutes the ideal Terroir for cultivating high-quality Specialty coffee. For the most part, there are three main factors mentioned as the most prominent:
With the element earth – ‘roir’ in the word structure, the Earth must be the first element mentioned. Because the content of substances in the soil dramatically impacts the structure and acidity of coffee beans. Especially volcanic soil – a nutrient-rich soil with magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and zinc ingredients, essential minerals for plants. In addition, volcanic soil has an excellent ability to hold water because the porosity is formed from the amount of organic material, creating a reserve for dry periods.
Soil conditions in each region with different mineral content, groundwater systems and absorption and transmission capacity create many complex and separate equations for the growth system and the process of crop cultivation, especially for products that require high quality and great sophistication, like coffee.
Besides the earth element, the climate is also mentioned a lot in the formation of Terroir. Usually, coffee is grown mainly in the Coffee Belt – a large area located on the equator. Each longitude and latitude in this area will bring different climatic conditions respectively.
For coffee cultivation, microclimate conditions are paid much attention to the specificity and degree of climate separation of small areas compared to the area’s general climate. Under these conditions, the plant, specifically the coffee tree, will have a growth process and produce its own internal flavors, which are not similar to the surrounding coffee flavor.
Based on the terroir structure, annual rainfall – a significant factor in the climate component, has a great impact and influence on the flowering process and the structure of the coffee bean. Suitable rainfall at the correct times provides good growing conditions for plants, increases mineral content, and promotes the microbial system’s development. However, heavy rain that occurs during harvest time can destroy the entire effort of a whole crop. The drying process is at risk of being prolonged because the air humidity is always high, quickly causing mould or fermenting coffee.
Understanding and balancing the appropriate development schedule for crops according to the climate is also a complex problem in the current climate change environment.
Regarding Terroir, altitude is one of the other three essential factors mentioned. The concept of ‘the higher you go, the sweeter the coffee taste and the better the quality is still believed. Because it is true that in the environment in high altitude areas, the temperature level – an essential and critical factor – is always in the low-temperature range, creating good conditions for plants and seeds to grow.
At high altitudes, the internal development of coffee beans is slowed down, and green beans have more time to accumulate and accumulate sugar content, creating more complex and complete flavor changes.
Besides, with low-temperature conditions at high altitudes, the destruction of pests and diseases is also quite limited. Plants with less strain to endure also limit many flavors with ring notes, bitterness and discomfort while accumulating the taste of green coffee beans.
If the assessment of the Terroir of two areas with similar elevations but in two separate geographical locations with different distances from the equator, it is difficult to make an easy judgment. Because the Earth is not as simple as measuring the height of two plants in the same garden, the complementary and related factors always create many variables and strange constants for the equation of terroir discovery and crop control work.
Altitude contains many favorable or unfavorable conditions for coffee cultivation. This factor always needs to be explicitly considered and has an organic relationship.
Terroir, in addition to the purely natural factors of soil, climate and altitude, is also constituted by the impact of local people. Through changes in harvesting, processing, storage, use, and soil improvement, people directly change and interfere with flavor quality in many positive and negative ways. This impact can improve the quality but, in many cases, reduce the rate of coffee.
New changes in processing methods and recent research in the processing of coffee beans significantly impact the final taste. Applying advanced techniques, updating science and technology, or adapting and transforming primary processing methods to suit the desired taste needs is also a factor related to people but dramatically reduces the background structure. The flavor foundation is formed from within the growing area. Can it be said that ‘people are the key to transforming the terroir’, or are humans destroying the sustainable terroir structure?
Terroir in the context of climate change
Although there is still a lot of controversy about whether Terroir is the most essential factor for coffee cultivation, it cannot be denied that Terroir is indeed important. This makes climate change a big and challenging prospect for many manufacturers. We cannot talk about Terroir without mentioning climate change. By “climate change is really affecting the terroir.”
With the temperature amplitude situation having unpredictable changes, staying in a location is challenging to establish the same temperature according to the usual period. The process of farming crops worldwide is being affected by these changes.
Many producers are adapting to climate change by researching and developing crop varieties that grow well in warmer climates, changing farming methods or preliminarily processing flavors. However, it is still a long journey with many difficulties and challenges.
It will be a long way to truly understand Terroir and whether humans can guarantee product quality despite changes in Terroir. However, understanding the importance and components of the ideal Terroir are essential first steps for transitioning among many of today’s changes. Follow and update continuously with 43 Factory Coffee Roaster!