The term terroir, borrowed from the French, is a romantic sounding word, even in our rough translation, "a sense of place." However, behind this romanticism there is quite a bit of science. The way a growing location's different features can affect a plant, interacting with the way its genetic features are expressed, can have an incredible impact on the food and drink we make from these plants. Any experienced wine drinker will confirm this and, now more than ever, coffee drinkers may have something to say as well. Terroir can have a noticeable effect on the taste of your coffee, especially if you are drinking the right kind.
Terroir of a Single Estate
Single estate coffee is a relatively new trend in which coffee is sourced from one single farm, rather than from a region, or a blend from more than one region. The benefits of this practice are taste that can develop a unique complexity unlike any other. For single estate coffee, terroir is key, and only with single estate coffee can terroir be truly appreciated. This is because the microclimate of an estate, and this is particularly so on the very small estates where coffee beans are grown, will have such a unique character. Every detail, major and minor, from climate down to what types of plants are growing nearby, will contribute to the distinct flavors, which will only be expressed at full strength when not mixed into a blend.
Jamaica Blue Mountain Terroir
One of the finest examples of terroir in the coffee world can be found in Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee beans. Grown high above sea level, at elevations between 1,800 and 5,500 feet, these peaks are a treasure trove because they just happen to boast the perfect growing climate for coffee. At the elevations where authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain is grown (export regulations are very strict), it is a green lush paradise, and perfectly mild, cool, and misty. The terroir interacts with the beans to create low levels of acidity that are unheard of anywhere else, all but removing the bitterness found in most coffees. A smoothness and mildness that has the rest of the world desperate to get some in their mugs is the result. Any coffee drinker should try this delicious phenomenon at least once, but if you are in the market for some Jamaican Blue Mountain, use caution. There are not many in the United States that are authorized to import it, and many that will try to pass over cheap blends that include just a little of the real stuff, cut with less expensive beans. Check your labels carefully, and look for single estate. You will be able to taste the difference.