Answer this: Who roasts better coffee, Illy or Lavazza? Lavazza or Nespresso? Nespresso or Starbucks?
I’m here to tell you that I believe all roasters are pretty similar in their roasting abilities and technologies. What determines coffee quality isn’t so much roasting, but rather the beans that are used. To illustrate the point, let us look at the world of wine and consider the world’s most expensive wine – Romanee-Conti.
Aubert de Villaine, owner of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, owns two additional wineries: Domaine de Villaine in Bouzeron and HdV Wines in Napa Valley. He has all the technical resources on hand to produce exceptional wines across all estates, including the best winemakers, years of technical know-how and great financial strength. Yet only the wines he produces from grapes grown in Burgundy command thousands of dollars per bottle, whilst the rest are offered for two figures only.
In the world of wine, great importance is given to terroir. Literally meaning “land”, this French term is used to describe the local environmental factors that influence a wine. They include natural elements such as soil type, climate and elevation. These factors are so important that many wine appellations are defined and protected geographically by law. This is why, for example, only sparkling wines made in Champagne are allowed to be sold as Champagne.
The concept of terroir crosses many categories of specialty food and drinks. Consider Cognac, a fortified drink which must be called brandy if produced outside the Cognac region. Scotch whisky must be produced in Scotland. In Italy, the great balsamic vinegar made in Modena known as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP is protected by the European Union. There are plenty of other examples.
In the world of coffee, the same concept of terroir plays a very important role in the quality of the bean. Although coffee is now grown in more than 70 countries, not all countries have the terroir that enables exceptional coffee cherries to grow. Over the years, notable locations such as the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, the Kona Belt in Hawaii, and the mountainous region of Boquete in Panama have all produced exceptional beans, and some of these terroirs are now protected by law too. That said, in the same way that Burgundy wines will have varying levels of quality, so too will different coffee estates within these regions.
Identifying the World’s Best Coffee Growing Regions
Difference Coffee was created with a singular aim: to identify unique terroirs that produce exceptional coffees, to seek farms that excel at their cultivation and to bring you the best expression of the terroir. The way in which we achieve this is pretty simple. We seek out coffee competitions that identify the highest scoring Arabicas and we buy the winning lots, most of the time by bidding for them at auction. We also source directly from farms of legendary status, whether they achieved such acclaim through discovering a unique varietal or by winning multiple elite competitions.
So whilst many of our competitors might sell Hawaiian Kona or Panama Geisha, we always seek to source the champion Kona from the annual Kona coffee competition, and the Geisha bean from the estate that discovered it first in 2004, Hacienda La Esmeralda. The difference is as great as that between a DRC and any other Burgundy wine. As for Italian coffee… that is simply a marketing term. After all, coffee doesn’t grow in Italy!