What It Means When Coffee Has An Earthy Flavor

If you've ever bought coffee from a specialty shop or roaster, you've likely heard the term "earthy." There are two different connotations this could come with. The first is rather negative, as there are certain drinkers who find earthiness to be an interference with coffee's more bright and acidic flavors. Others view earthiness more positively, feeling that this type of java has extra depth and richness. However, the flavor doesn't come as a result of the coffee being roasted, but how it was processed. 

When one talks about an earthy cup of joe, they are referring to the taste characteristics imparted by the method in which the beans were processed. This kind of coffee has come in direct contact with the physical earth and dirt during the drying process. As a result, you tend to get a more defined flavor of the ground on which the beans were processed. This type of method is called the washed process and there are two specific regions that have a reputation for making earthy blends. 

The earthy coffee varieties of Sumatra and Sulawesi

Some of the earthiest coffees are known to come from two islands in Indonesia — Sumatra and Sulawesi. Coffee grown in each area has several different names, but they are most commonly referred to by their respective island names. Each is characterized by its earthy flavor tones, though Sulawesi coffee tends to be considered more refined than Sumatran coffee. However, both attain their specific flavors through the coffee-washing process.

This method involves coffee beans being agitated in water before being let out to dry. Washing removes both the outer chaff and the sticky mucilage membrane until only the silver skin and bean remain. Though washed coffee is normally associated with a fresh, clean taste, it is common practice in both Sumatra and Sulawesi to lay the wet beans directly on the dirt to dry as opposed to a dirt-free concrete surface. There the beans will sit and dry, all the while developing their earthy flavor, that many caffeine fans have come to know and love.