Do you remember the day that you found out that coffee does not have to be bitter? Maybe you were young, and your parents had a french press for years (lucky you!). It could have been recently at a coffee shop that brews theirs to perfection (better late than never!). Either way, it is an important day for a coffee lover. It’s the day you realize coffee’s full potential.
How about naturally sweet coffee? Before adding any sweet creamers or brown sugar, can coffee even be naturally sweet? Some of you may already know the answer to this, but first, we need to discuss how it all happens.
The Source: Coffee Naturally Has Sugar In It
Coffee starts its journey to us as something unexpected: a fruit! Similar to a pit in other fruits, the coffee bean is at the center of the fruit. The green, unroasted bean naturally has sugar in it—specifically sucrose, arabinose, mannose, glucose, galactose, rhamnose, and xylose.
The species of coffee will affect just how much sugar the coffee initially has. Arabica beans have just a bit more sucrose in it that robusta beans, but only matters for so long. Perfectly ripe coffee beans will be sweeter than beans from under or overripe coffee fruits.
Sugars in Roasting
By the time coffee beans reach your cabinets, they have zero fats, carbs, or sugars. If that is the case, how would coffee be sweet? A lot of it comes down to the roasting process. The Maillard Reaction occurs as the roasting process takes place. This same reaction occurs in tons of different types of foods to form both flavor and color. From that, a lot of flavors are created when heat, sugar, and other elements all react together. The sugar is decomposed during the roasting process. Sugar continues to play a role in the aroma, antioxidants, and color of the coffee.
Important note: The Maillard Reaction occurs when the coffee beans reach 150-200º C, while caramelization occurs when the beans reach 170-200ºC. Close overlap but equality important parts in creating the flavor of the coffee!
The Maillard Reaction is different from caramelization, which is just as important. The sucrose, aka sugar, is “converted to caramelized compounds.” When you compare light roasts and dark roasts, the sugars in dark roasts are more caramelized because they are given more time and heat to convert. This not only has a hand in flavor but also is the reason why coffee no longer as sugar in it when it is brewed. What is left behind after caramelization, besides flavor, are the different acids and antioxidants that coffee is known for?
Learn how to roast your beans at home to see this part first hand. Such a cool process to witness, and you can make sure your beans reach their full potential!
Sugars In Brewing
After the roasting process, brewing is going to bring out that sweetness—or not. Over or under-extracted coffee leads to different flavors. For example, brewing coffee for too long will lead to over-extraction and therefore, bitter coffee. Ground coffee meets water during the brewing process, and water is a solvent. This is what makes extraction possible—and what helps bring out the flavor in coffee.
A perfectly brewed cup of coffee is going to bring out the natural notes of the coffee, including sweet ones. Milky chocolatey or blueberry notes are not going to mean that they taste like those flavors, but some notes will give off a sweeter tone than others. A light roast will most likely have a fruitier sweetness to the, while a dark roast has chocolatey notes. Nothing too profound, but can change someone’s preference on the different roasts. Notes are such a unique thing to different roasts, but a note is only as strong as the brewing process that accompanies it.
Let us know which roasts you find to be the sweetest! Leave us a comment below.
If the coffee that you buy does not have the sweet notes that it claims to have, check out these 7 Beginner Mistakes when Brewing Coffee. Once all of those are taken care of, it is more likely that you will have a naturally sweet coffee as it is meant to be.
Thank you for reading our piece on if we can have naturally sweet coffee! Don’t expect your coffee to satisfy your sweet tooth (get a sweet mocha for that), but it can have its sweet moments. Take a look at Coffee Cupping for Beginners to get an even better grasp on tasting!
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We’ll brew ya later! ☕️