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How Do Different Beans Taste?

Ever wondered what makes one type of coffee taste better than another? Turns out, there are a lot of different factors that affect how your coffee will taste. Beans can range from spicy and woodsy to sweet and nutty. So, we want to talk about the different types of beans you can roast yourself at home and what they’re like when roasted:

– Costa Rican: mild, with notes of chocolate and nuts. Roasts well without burning.

– Colombian: smooth with chocolate notes; roasts well without burning or getting bitter. Great for espresso or French press for its fruity flavors without the bitterness.

– Ethiopian: fruity, like black currant and blueberry. Roasts well with a light, clean finish.

– Guatemalan: rich, smooth and dark. Strong caramel notes; roasts well with medium to dark roasts.

– Hawaiian Ka’u: nutty and rich, with chocolate notes like their name says! Low acid makes them good for both espresso and drip coffee.

– Honduras Santa Barbara: chocolatey with a hint of spice (almost cinnamon); it’s low acidity makes it perfect for espresso or French press coffee.

– Sumatran: bold, spicy flavor; pairs well with milk or sugar as it takes on the flavor of both when melted.

– Indian Monsooned Malabar: chocolatey and earthy, with notes of fruit and caramel.

– Mexican: pecan, hazelnut; medium body with smooth finish.

– Peruvian: woodsy, earthy flavor. It’s great for espresso due to its high citrus acidity; it’s also great for darker roast styles like French press or cold brew.

– Brazilian Yellow Peaberry: bright, zippy flavor—less acidic than your average bean. It has a lively aroma with a hint of sweetness. Roasted lightly, it’s great for espresso or iced coffee as it won’t get bitter.

– Indonesian: earthy and fruity, with lots of body.

– Kenyan: smokey and chocolatey; slight acidity makes it ideal for French press.

– Mexican San Andres/Tuxtla: nutty and sweet, with hints of chocolate; low acidity makes its great for espresso or a nice dark roast like French press.

– Panama Puntarenas: coffee bean flavor without the harshness of other beans. Roasts well without burning.

– Sumatran Washed Geisha: complex but not super strong; high acidity helps make it great iced coffee but not great espresso. 

– Sumatran Mild Coffee: mild and fruity, with notes of coconut and chocolate.

– Yemeni Yemensis: earthy and sweet; low acidity makes it great iced coffee but not fantastic espresso. 

– Guatemalan Antigua/La Minita (Highland/Lowland): mild, nutty flavor. Sometimes called a “pinta” bean as it is similar to a Bourbon bean in its nutty flavor. Tastes great iced or hot! 

– Ethiopian Sidamo: smooth, sweet notes that don’t overwhelm the other flavors in the cup, with an earthy finish; roasts well without burning.

– Brazilian Arabica: smooth, delicate flavor with a fruity finish. Roasts well without burning.

– Hawaiian Kona beans: rich, nutty flavor with hints of chocolate flavors. Tastes great iced or hot!

– Maui Moku: dark, earthy flavor; fruity and floral flavors with a slight acidity that helps the taste of the coffee last longer. Tastes great iced or hot! 

– Sumatran Sumatra Mandheling: earthy and nutty; lighter roast can be bitter while dark roasts are smoky and have a strong body. .

– Sumatran Mandheling: a dark roast makes it fruity and chocolatey, but lighter roasts are more mellow.

– Central American Geisha: strong and bold flavor that may be too harsh for some; low acidity makes it good for espresso or French press, but not milk drinks.

– Ethiopian Semien: earthy, spicy flavor; roasts well with a clean finish. 

– Ethiopian Yirgacheffe: fruity flavors and floral notes; the Cuyo variety of this bean is great in light toast levels while the Sidamo has citrus notes and is great in darker roast levels.

– Kenyan Kenyatta: fruity flavors, but not too strong; low acidity makes it ideal for espresso or a French press

– Mexican Bourbon: nutty and earthy flavor with light smoky notes.

– Sumatran Robusta: bold and strong, with notes of chocolate and caramel. Roasts well without burning. 

Is there really a significant difference between each vanilla bean? The answer is a resounding YES!

Vanilla beans are, well, a bean. They grow in (what coffee makers call) the bean belt, which is roughly 25 degrees north and south of the equator.

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The climate within the bean belt is the most ideal for growing coffee beans, cacao beans and every other bean, including vanilla beans. Similar to coffee and chocolate, vanilla beans take on the taste of the soil and climate where they are grown. In the same way a coffee aficionado will tell you that Columbian coffee is completely different than Brazilian or Costa Rican coffee, a vanilla bean aficionado will tell you that a Tahitian vanilla bean is nothing like a Madagascar vanilla bean.

So, what’s the difference?

First of all, let’s discuss vanilla bean DNA. There are really just three types of vanilla beans in the world:

Planifolia

Pompona

Tahitensis (Also called, “Tahitian” or “Tahiti”, this is believed to by a hybrid species between Planifolia & Pompona)

Planifolia is the most commonly-harvested vanilla around the world, originating from Central America. Pompona is not as widely cultivated while Tahitensis is growing in popularity. The DNA of each distinct vanilla bean will contribute somewhat to its unique flavor and aroma, but the soil and climate where the bean is grown, as well as the drying techniques, will determine quality and taste more than DNA alone.

So, what is the difference? Here is a chart that summarizes various types of beans on an axis of buttery vs. fruity and earthy vs. light and sweet. Below the chart is a more detailed summary of bean and taste characteristics by geography. 

Ecuadorian (Tahitensis family)

This is one of the most exquisite vanilla beans with a flavor profile unlike any other. It’s bold vanilla with hints of plums, apricots and cherries. A durable outer skin protecting a rich center of sweet caviar with a floral vanilla smell and taste will be predominate while the subtleties of the fruits will present themselves fully after extraction.

Hawaiian (Planifolia family)

These vanilla beans are grown along the northern shores of Hawaii and offer one of the most unique vanilla experiences. As with all vanilla beans, the predominant flavor is a sweet and bold vanilla. But the smells and tastes of tropical fruit bring this vanilla to life. A hint of mango, guava, papaya and even a subtle undertone of cocoa.

Indonesian – Papau (Planifolia family)

This is a popular vanilla bean for dark chocolate lovers. Indonesian beans have an earthy, strong and smokey vanilla profile that contribute to chocolate and mocha notes that are perfect for dark chocolates, frostings and brownies. DIY extract makers will often use bourbon with their Indonesian vanilla beans to accentuate the smokey/sweet taste of Indonesian vanilla.

Indonesian – Sumantra (Planifolia)

This is a rare, floral scented Planifolia vanilla bean. It also smells of ripe plumbs, raisins and contains bold, earthy and dark vanilla notes with hints of mocha and dark cacao. Finally, after months (or even years) of extraction, your finished extract will demonstrate an extra sweet vanilla aroma as the floral scent fades somewhat into the spirit and you are left with a complex extract with enhanced vanilla sweetness underscored with scents of dried tropical fruits.

Madagascar (Planifolia family)

This is the most common vanilla bean for cooking. It has a classic buttery and rich vanilla taste. It has universal vanilla appeal and a wide range of applications in baking, brewing and so much more. This became the world’s most popular vanilla bean because Madagascar has historically produced the world’s most vanilla beans. It’s the traditional vanilla that we have all acquired a taste for.

Mexican (Planifolia family)

Mexico is where the nearly all of the world’s vanilla beans all originated. The climate and soil of Mexico contribute to a rich vanilla aroma and traditional taste, but with a slight vanilla kick that hints of smokey caramel and chocolate. Sometimes woody and sometimes a soft coffee scent are also present. This is usually a more expensive vanilla bean as supplies are limited due to low production within Mexico.

Sri Lanka (Planifolia family)

Sri Lanka is home to teas and coffees made popular by its rich, floral soil. Vanilla beans from Sri Lanka are equally elegant. The bold vanilla taste of these beans are softened by a hit of dates. Behind the vanilla, you will pick up a cocoa scent that is reminiscent of a chocolate-rich mocha. A strong, earthy vanilla aroma becomes more pronounced during extraction and is complimented with soft and subtile fruity undertones.

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Tahiti (Tahitensis family)

Quickly becoming a customer-favorite vanilla bean, Tahiti beans are known for their subtle floral aromas with fruity undertones. These vanilla beans are often grown in Tahiti, Indonesia, PNG, Ecuador or other bean-growing regions around the world, similar to Planifolia. It’s a light, crisp and uniquely-sweet vanilla that is great for fruit-based desserts, creams and pastries.

Tongan (Planifolia family)

Another bold and entirely unique vanilla bean experience. Tongan bean cultivation is incredibly limited, making Tongan beans one of the most expensive beans on the market right now. Even at higher pricing, they continue to be in high demand for their non-traditional vanilla flavor. They usually have strong cherry notes coupled with a black licorice after taste that is truly a unique, culinary experience.

Ugandan (Planifolia family)

This bold vanilla bean teases with hints of raisins and figs along with mocha undertones. It’s a brilliant combination of soft and fruity vanilla accents coupled with traditional vanilla aromas and tastes. This is the perfect vanilla bean for baked goods that incorporate fruits and drinks with a Mediterranean emphasis. 

We will continue to add more vanilla beans as we work with farmers around the world to bring you the entire world of vanilla under our little roof, here at VanillaPura.

Does a vanilla bean taste good?

Yes. Vanilla beans are delicious and can be used in both savory and sweet applications. In addition to using vanilla beans for cooking/extracting/baking, they can be used as part of a culinary herb blend.

Should I store my vanilla beans in the freezer?

Yes. The best way to store vanilla beans is in an airtight container that is kept in the freezer. It is not necessary to freeze them, but it will keep them fresher longer. If you keep them in the fridge, they will become soft and sticky. They will still be edible when stored in the refrigerator, but there may be some negative changes to the bean’s texture and scent if you decide to cook with it. The same storage rules apply for both whole vanilla beans as well as cut pieces of vanilla bean pods that have been used for extraction and scraped or chopped pods left over from extractions (either homemade or purchased).

How long do vanilla beans last?

Vanilla Beans are viable for several years so long as they have been properly cured after harvest and stored in an airtight container away from heat and light. As with most food items, we wouldn’t recommend eating them if they have mold or signs of spoilage (discoloration, swelling, etc.).

Does vanilla bean taste like vanilla?

Vanilla beans do not taste like vanilla extract or imitation vanilla products. Vanilla beans have a unique, earthy taste that can be very strong in some cases. It is important to note that, like wine grapes or coffee beans, each regional growing environment and variety of vanilla bean can produce a different flavor profile and application appeal.

What are the little dark flecks in my extract?

The very tiny black specks are the endosperm from within the interior of the bean pod itself. It absorbs all of the flavoring components from its growing environment and, as it ages, it dehydrates and turns black. These are completely harmless, but they do add a beautiful – and unique – finishing touch to your finished product.

How many beans should I use for my recipe?

This depends on the overall strength of your recipe in which you are using vanilla. There is a very general rule of thumb to follow when measuring vanilla extract: 1 tablespoon of extract equal 5–10 beans depending on the recipe and desired amount.

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Does vanilla bean smell like vanilla?

Depending on the variety and region of growth, vanilla beans have a distinct scent profile. When you open a jar of beans, you’ll likely notice the sweet aroma of vanilla. When the jar is opened, the beans begin to break down due to oxygen exposure and will release their fragrance for several hours or even days. Vanilla can be compared to wine in that it has a fruity-floral scent and an earthy undertone. These will vary depending on growing conditions as well as which variety of bean is being used in your recipe.

Does vanilla bean taste bitter?

When you steep vanilla beans in a cup of hot water, you may notice that the water tastes bitter right away. This is not necessarily the case. In fact, there are many reasons why this may happen and it has little to do with vanilla beans themselves. It is a result of many different factors including chemical reactions within the bean and changes to your water due to alkalinity from mixing with water or other chemicals in the air.

Is it okay to use just half a vanilla bean for my recipe?

Vanilla beans contain volatile compounds that evaporate during processing, extraction and storage and are part of how they taste, smell and experience when used within a recipe. Many of these volatile compounds evaporate when the beans are exposed to open air, so they don’t contain as much flavor when they are used in recipes without being mixed with another extract. The amount of flavor that can be extracted from a bean varies depending on ingredients and processing methods, so only start with half beans or 1/4 cup for starting your recipe.

Can I substitute vanilla for another food flavoring?

Absolutely. Vanilla has many applications within cooking but can be used in place of other aromatics as well. Beyond culinary applications, vanilla plays an important role in perfumery and leather production as well. Vanilla beans can be substituted for cinnamon, which is a vital component in many Middle Eastern recipes. Vanilla is best suited in applications that call for the secondary characteristics of cinnamon, such as baking or beverages, but can be used to replace the primary flavor profile of cinnamon as well. Use vanilla extract when you want to add traditional vanilla flavor into your recipe or want to use it as a substitute for other extracts in your cooking.

How many servings are in each bean?

Vanilla beans will vary from pod to pod as well as from region to region. You may find that some beans are extremely large with a sweet scent and others are smaller or less aromatic. Each bean has both a sweet and a less sweet, mellow flavor depending on how the beans are used in the recipe.

How do I store my vanilla beans?

We suggest keeping vanilla beans in an airtight container that is kept in the freezer. It is not necessary to freeze them, but it will keep them fresher longer. If you keep them on the counter or in the fridge, they will become soft and sticky.

Do all vanilla beans taste the same?

There are several different varieties of vanilla bean on the market today, which can be considered subcategories of four main categories: Bourbon, Tahitian, Mexican and Creole. The flavor of the resulting extract will be different for each bean, and this is largely dependent on both the type of vanilla bean and how it was grown or cured. Your own personal preference of vanilla, as well as sources you have used in the past, will decide which type of vanilla bean will work best for your recipe.

What is Madagascar?

Madagascar Bourbon Madagascar Bourbon beans are a black-skinned, dark brown bean with waxy brown skin and a strong aroma that’s similar to vanillin. Developed in the early 1990s by Vanilla Masters Co., Madagascar beans can be used in any recipe calling for vanillin but provide a much subtler chocolate/vanilla flavor than regular vanillin.

Vanilla is a delicious and versatile natural flavoring that has been used for centuries. Vanilla is produced many different ways and in many forms worldwide, with most of the production considered to be of Indonesian origin, including the islands of Réunion, Comoros, and Mayotte. Although there are many inconsistencies in exactly where and how vanilla is grown, most of it is grown on plantations on the west coast of Madagascar. Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans have an earthy chocolate-like flavor profile that provides a very velvety smooth sweetness to recipes while retaining much of their characteristically strong aromas.

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