The Coffee & Wine Relationship: Part 2

with Michaël Engelmann, MS
and Paul Bassett, World Barista Champion

In Part 2, we continue to explore the similarities between the world’s most popular beverages.

HARVESTING

Harvesting practices determine the extent of maturation in coffee and wine, in turn affecting the ripening of the bean or grape and the final sugar levels.

Coffee harvesting requires the selection of uniform ripe cherries and the removal of defective and under-ripe cherries. Longer maturation periods often produce higher quality beans with more complex flavour profiles.

Grapes are selected at a time of optimal ripeness, usually measured by sugar, acid and tannin levels. The later the grapes are picked, the riper they get. Complexity can be achieved in various ways at various levels of ripeness, but it might be easier to see more nuances in a wine that has less obvious ‘very ripe’ fruit notes, for example.

The quality of each year’s harvest will vary depending on the climatic conditions. This will impact on the quality of the fruit and in turn the quality in the glass.

 

PROCESSING

Now that we’ve looked at the primary characteristics of coffee and wine, it’s time to consider the secondary elements that influence the final cup. At this point, the power lies in the hand of the producer. Stylistic choices are responsible for accentuating certain characteristics and masking others.

Coffee: There are two main processing methods – natural processed and washed.

NaturalThe ripe cherries are picked, sorted and ideally left to dry on raised beds over a period of several days. During this time, the mucilage on the cherry dehydrates and its sugars are absorbed by the seed. This process is known for producing coffees with greater body, intense sweetness and lower acidity.

WashedThe ripe cherries are picked, sorted and pulped to remove the skin from the outside of the coffee seed. The seeds are then placed in tanks whereby a fermentation process loosens the mucilage. The seeds are then rinsed and dried. This treatment tends to produce coffees with less body, higher acidity and greater complexity of flavour.

Wine: Many producers continue to make wine the traditional way while others choose to embrace new, modern techniques.

Traditional: The way wines have been made in regions like Barolo for a long time, embracing longer macerations and old barrels. These are wines that need to age longer in the bottle, allowing the tannins to soften. They tend to be less attractive and approachable in their youth but age very well and develop incredible aromas.

Modern: The modern style of winemaking has been developed by the younger generations. Its shorter macerations and use of new oak make it distinctly different to the traditional style that came before it. These wines are more approachable in their youth. They are immediately softer and more attractive and display spicy, toasty wood aromas.

 

ROAST / OAK INFLUENCE

Recent years have seen a change in the styles of wine and coffee being produced. There has been a shift away from heavy roast and oak influence towards lighter styles that display the primary characteristics of the coffee or wine. Similarly to the way fashions vary and styles come and go, wine and coffee trends change as well.

Coffee: The roasting process aims to transform the green coffee by developing its intrinsic flavours, body and aromatic characteristics. The higher the bean temperature and the longer the roast time, the greater the roast character imparted.

In recent years, many specialty coffee roasters have moved towards lighter roast profiles to allow greater room for expression of high quality primary characteristics.

Wine: The ageing and fermentation of wine is an integral stage in the journey of wine from grape to glass. Wine can be aged in stainless steel or oak barrels.

When thinking about steel, we imagine something grey, cold and angular. Often wines aged in these vessels tend to be like that; very straight, linear, and precise, with a little bit more edge.

When thinking about barrels, we picture something warmer and rounder, just like the shape of the barrel. There is more richness and generosity. It is not unusual for a winemaker to age a wine in barrels and then put it in a stainless steel tank for a few weeks in order to settle the wine down, to help it develop a tighter structure.

 

SUMMARY

It’s obvious there are countless similarities between the journeys that coffee and wine go through from ground to glass. The combination of primary and secondary characteristics gives each coffee or wine its individual identity and the many variables we’ve discussed impact greatly on the quality of the final product. It’s safe to say that wine and coffee are very close indeed. As technology advances and more research and experimentation takes place, we expect to see even more similarities come to light.