“Cinnamongate”: The Intriguing Science Behind El Diamante’s Aroma

“Cinnamongate”: The Intriguing Science Behind El Diamante’s Aroma

El Diamante is one of our most exceptional coffee varieties. This coffee first made its grand appearance on the World Brewer’s Cup stage in 2016, marking a significant milestone for Keen Coffee. The sensation that made El Diamante stand out was its compelling and potent cinnamon-like aroma and taste, which intrigued coffee connoisseurs worldwide.

Image: Esteban at Danilo’s farm

This unique trait, however, stirred a series of questions within the coffee community. The way that the coffee’s producer, Esteban Villalobos, could cultivate such distinctive flavour notes through his anaerobic fermentation process remained a mystery. So, how did Esteban manage to bring out cinnamon, apple, and pastry-like notes? 

Image: Rob and Bonne with Esteban and his fermentation tank

A key element to note is that Villalobos does not incorporate any additives into the fermentation process. Despite this, there were still speculations that cinnamon additives could have contributed to El Diamante’s unique flavour profile.

Driven by curiosity and the pursuit of truth, we decided to delve deeper into this enigma. We trusted Dr. Samo Smrke, a wonderful chemist and coffee scientist, who conducted an explorative research to scrutinise the claims. The objective was simple: to determine if there were any traces of cinnamon in our El Diamante coffee. Dr. Smrke meticulously examined the green and roasted coffee beans, and then performed a gas chromatography-olfactometry (GC-O) analysis to detect potential cinnamaldehyde, a chemical compound characteristic of cinnamon. If cinnamon sticks were indeed added to the fermentation tank, traces of cinnamaldehyde should be detectable.

To our surprise, the results showed no trace of cinnamaldehyde. We further tested for eugenol, another compound found in cinnamon, yet again, the results came back negative.

What was even more fascinating, however, was the fact that even without any tangible presence of cinnamon, we perceived cinnamon-like notes in the coffee. Instead, we found other flavours, such as apple pie and cinnamon bun. This brought up an interesting question: how does our brain interpret the complex flavours in coffee?

Dr. Fabiana Carvalho, a notable neuroscientist, provides a fascinating explanation: our brain is excellent at recognizing and interpreting sensory experiences based on our past experiences. When the bag of coffee is labelled with ‘cinnamon’, our brain tries to match the flavour to our internal model of what cinnamon should taste like, even if the actual spice isn’t present.

However, this model can accept only so much variance. Once we compare the coffee’s taste with actual cinnamon, our brain can’t reconcile the difference. But when we describe the coffee’s flavour as ‘apple pie’ or ‘cinnamon bun’—flavours commonly associated with cinnamon—our brain comfortably accepts the ‘cinnamon’ descriptor.

Image: Danilo’s farm in Costa Rica

In conclusion, the cinnamon-y notes of El Diamante coffee aren’t a result of cinnamon additives but rather a fascinating interplay of unique flavour compounds and our brain’s recognition capabilities. This mystery solved gives us an even greater appreciation for this extraordinary coffee, and shows us that the world of coffee is full of intricacies waiting to be discovered.

Read more about Samo Smrke’s projects: https://www.zhaw.ch/en/about-us/person/smrk/

Click on the images to see Esteban’s coffees in our shop!

Unlocking the Flavour Journey: Exploring Coffee Processing Methods

Unlocking the Flavour Journey: Exploring Coffee Processing Methods

Coffee processing plays a crucial role in determining the flavour profile and characteristics of the coffee we enjoy in our cups. From the moment coffee cherries are harvested, farmers employ various processing methods to transform the raw fruit into the beans we grind and brew. With constant innovation and experimentation, coffee producers strive to enhance the quality and uniqueness of their coffees. In this article, we will explore the three main coffee processing methods and delve into how they influence the final cup of coffee.

Natural or Unwashed Coffees

Also known as the dry process, natural coffee processing is characterised by its simplicity and minimal intervention. During this method, the coffee cherries are left intact, and the beans undergo a drying and fermentation process within their skin and mucilage (fruit pulp). This natural fermentation takes place under controlled conditions for a period of 25 to 35 days, depending on the climate. Once the beans have dried, the pulp and skin are removed through a process called dry milling.

Natural coffees often exhibit inconsistencies due to the higher risk of mold development during the extended drying period. Each bean possesses its own unique levels of sugars and alcohols, which can affect the overall uniformity of the cup. However, when properly handled, natural processing imparts a distinct and complex flavor profile to the coffee, often characterised by fruity and vibrant notes.

Wet Process or Washed Coffees

The traditional wet process begins when fully ripe coffee cherries arrive at the mill. The cherries’ skin is mechanically removed using a depulper, separating the beans from the fruit. Following depulping, the beans undergo fermentation in clean tanks to remove the remaining mucilage (sugars). This fermentation period typically lasts between 12 to 48 hours. Once fermentation is complete, the beans are thoroughly washed to eliminate any remaining traces of mucilage.

Various methods can be employed to dry the washed coffee beans, such as patio drying, raised bed drying (African method), or mechanical drying. A dry climate is essential for producing high-quality washed coffees. The washed process yields a clean and transparent cup, characterised by a bright acidity and liveliness. These coffees are often cherished by coffee enthusiasts for their pronounced flavour clarity.

Honey Processed or Honey Coffees

The honey process is a unique and relatively newer method that involves the removal of the skin and pulp from the coffee cherries, while retaining some or all of the mucilage (sugars). After depulping, the beans are dried rapidly for a shorter period, typically around 10 to 15 days. During this drying phase, the beans must be regularly agitated to prevent the growth of mold.

Honey coffees can exhibit different levels of coloured parchment during the drying process, often categorised as yellow, red, and black. The darkness of the parchment corresponds to the remaining mucilage content and imparts complexity to the resulting cup of coffee. Honey coffees strike a balance between the body and sweetness of natural coffees and the acidity found in washed coffees, offering a unique sensory experience for coffee enthusiasts.