What are sweet coffee beans?
A generally accepted definition of sweetness is the taste produced by high sugar in food. There’s a fantastic array of sweet substances, with carbohydrates being best known. These carbohydrates include sucrose (ordinary table sugar) and lactose (found in milk).
In The Flavor Bible, Page and Dornenburg provide the following insight: “It takes the greatest quantity of a substance that is sweet (versus salty, sour, or bitter) to register on our taste buds. However, we can appreciate the balance and “roundness” that even otherwise imperceptible sweetness adds to savoury dishes….”
In other words, sweetness isn’t just important for those of us with a sweet tooth. It’s also an essential part of the balance.
What type of sugars do we find in coffee?
Coffeechemistry.com reports that in green coffee, carbohydrates make up “approximately 50% of coffee’s total dry basis”. These include sucrose, arabinose, mannose, glucose, galactose, rhamnose and xylose.
Of course, not all of these sugars are soluble in water. Only a certain percentage will end up in your cup.
And the number of sugars in your coffee will also depend on the species, varietal, and production practices. The Arabica species, for example, has almost double the amount of sucrose that Robusta has – one of the reasons it’s gained a reputation for being better quality. And you might expect a Bourbon to have more sweetness than a Catimor.
Coffee cherries that ripen more slowly (for example, at a higher altitude) generally develop more sugars. Moreover, honey processing will likely result in sweeter coffees than washed processing.
If coffee is sweet, why do some people add sugar?
Many people find coffee bitter, sometimes even so upset that it’s undrinkable for them without a spoonful of sugar or two. Part of this is linked to expectations: consumers may be used to poor-quality Robusta blends that have been roasted dark, obscuring many of the sweet notes. Part of it may also be a habit.
It’s easy for coffee professionals to feel frustrated when a customer automatically reaches for the sugar pot. Sugar can mask and even alter the flavour profile of the coffee, which has been carefully processed, roasted, and brewed to produce the “perfect” taste.
But we have to understand these customers’ perspectives. As coffee professionals, we seek out the sweetest flavours because we know those are the most delightful. Why shouldn’t it be the same with our patrons?
The only difference is that those people adding sugar to good coffee are simply less sensitive to the sweetness we taste. And there’s a reason for that.
Some discussion of sweet coffee beans
Are there naturally sweet coffees, almost like caramel? If so, what are they?
Yes! There are a lot of naturally sweet coffees. Typically coffees grown at higher elevations picked at the height of ripeness are well-processed and well-roasted to develop the sugars in the coffee will be naturally sweet!
It’s a bit of the driving force behind speciality coffee is that people are paying a premium price for farms that are doing these things well, along with roasters who are well trained to showcase the sweetness of the coffee.
I would find a Latin American coffee from a good roaster near you for caramel-like flavours! Anything from Costa Rica, Colombia, or Peru will likely do the trick!
If you don’t know anyone selling it locally, there are a few roasters I like that you can buy online: Little Wolf, Sey Coffee, and Regalia Company. You’ll find pretty much every one of these coffees is naturally sweet!
Yes, there’s a species of coffee with almost no bitterness and this Splenda-like sweetness. It’s crazy.
The coffee is of Coffea euginoides species. Yet, it’s a rare coffee and fetches quite a high price. But for what it is, it’s a whole different experience from coffee. It’s been understood that this coffee is one of the precursors of Coffea arabica today.
It also depends on the roast and how you brew it. In my experience sweetest were probably India Balmaadi and Monsooned Malabar. Also, Sumatra is lovely if it’s at least medium roast (I had one from Johan and Nystrom, lovely coffee).
Monsooned Malabar has a minor issue that very few know how to roast, so mostly it’s pretty meh. But rather excellent when it’s right.
Also, one from Thailand was rather sweet, Doi Saket.
Processing has an impact on how it tastes, too; natural is usually sweetest, I think.