Coffee and Wine. Same or different?
Breaking down the similarities between two of our favorite drinkables
As access to both good coffee and wine has increased throughout the world, knowledge about both drinks has also proliferated. Both are beverages that come in countless varieties. Both are made from fruit. Both have flavors that are heavily influenced by the soil and climate in which they’re grown. But the similarities between coffee and wine don’t end there, from the way we taste them to the words we use to describe them. It turns out that there’s much more to two of the world’s favorite drinks.
Lettie Teague of The Wall Street Journal recently visited the birthplace of American coffee culture with coffee expert (and Starbucks master blender) Andrew Linneman and wine sommelier Erik Liedholm to ask the question, “Is Coffee More Complex than Wine?”
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Did you know that coffee beans come from cherries? The growth and processing of coffee beans, similar to grapes, is a blend of art and science. A coffee farmer knows their fruit trees as well as a vintner knows their vines, and the decisions each make before, during, and after harvesting their crops has a direct impact on how we experience it later on. The fruit affects the flavors.
Coffees from Kenya, are big, bold and almost tropical-tasting due to their equatorial origins and shadeless growing methods. Coffees from South America have a bit more acidity and caramelly sweetness due to being grown in a wetter climate and at higher altitudes. The same goes for wine. Most French vineyards are in cooler climates, and produce wines that are lighter-bodied and more acidic than wines from California, which has a warmer climate. Which results in — you guessed it — bold, full-bodied wines. So with both, the soil sets the stage.
Winemakers use the word terroir to describe how location affects cultivation, and that concept also applies to coffee. A coffee tree in the northern hemisphere will produce beans that are inherently different from beans grown on the same tree in the southern hemisphere.
How do we describe all that’s going on in our mouths when the liquid hits our taste buds? For wine and coffee the tasting process is nearly identical. Both wine sommeliers and coffee cuppers use the following terms to describe a simple process that helps bring out the flavors in the drink.
This process exposes the liquid to more oxygen — which is essential to deciphering the individual tastes found in the drink.
Both cuppers and sommeliers will tell you to get your nose in the cup or glass. Inhaling deeply is critical to take in the aroma because much of what you taste comes from your nose.
Like stirring or swirling, this process also exposes the liquid to more oxygen which allows more specific flavors to come through.
Professional coffee tasters and wine sommeliers will often spit into a jar between sips so as to limit consumption.
For every word used to describe a certain wine, there’s likely a coffee that would fit the same description. For example, chocolaty, fruity, spicy, floral, nutty, grassy, citrusy, sweet and so on.
Whether we pair them with a refreshing morning routine or an evening meal, coffee and wine have become part of many of our lifestyles. Some of us may even take them for granted. But what makes both coffee and wine so special is that they were made to be savored — like a gift from the planet to our palates. Salute!