Provisions Vol. 25 No. 08

Why Coffee Is Like Wine and Why It’s NOT

Coffee terroir, and the effect of growers, roasters, and baristas.


Coffee and wine have many things in common. Of course, they are both agricultural products that go through a myriad of processes before finally being released to the end enjoyer. They are both organoleptically complex and have been the source of joy and strife throughout centuries. 

They both have varieties within their broader category. Each of these varieties has a unique shape, taste, and preference for growing conditions.

 Both coffee and wine are heavily influenced by terroir. The soil, elevation, and aspect of where the plant is grown determine the yield, flavor development, and quality of the final product. This is where the similarities tend to end. 

Coffee beans. Photo: Jake Leonti

Coffee, Like Wine 

Though coffee was once touted as the ‘wine of Islam’ as it was first popularized by the Sufi monks of Yemen before being spread throughout Europe, today it can still occasionally be referred to as ‘mud water.’ Certainly, there are exceptional and expensive coffees. Specifically, coffees from Panama, Yemen, and Kenya tend to fetch the highest prices. That being said, the most expensive and finest coffee is still not going to compare with a mid-level wine at a high-end restaurant. However, some rare coffees or Cup of Excellence award winners have garnered over one hundred dollars a pound at auction; however, that is uncommon. 

Many fine wines are aged and can be cellared for many years.  Coffee is best consumed within the first month if sealed properly. For espresso, a resting period is recommended so it can be enjoyed anywhere between ten days and three hundred sixty-five days post-roast. Some companies will give a shelf life of up to two years which is considered old for a coffee. 

Roasting coffee beans. Photo credit: Jake Leonti

Coffee, Not Like Wine 

With wine, the vintner is the final author of the final bottled product, where it remains untouched until it is consumed. Coffee has three authors with an equal effect on the flavor. The grower manages the terroir and initial processing and then hands the beans off to the roaster that cooks and chemically alters the coffee through heat. Cooking the coffee at a high heat between four hundred twenty to four hundred eighty degrees Fahrenheit in a large rotating drum transforms acids into sugars and then caramelizes the sugars in the mallard process turning the coffee from green to brown.

The roaster then hands it off to the barista or home barista who, for better or worse, gets the final say in how that coffee tastes. The barista controls the grind size, which varies depending on the brew method, the water it is brewed with (99% of the product), the temperature, and the length of time it is brewed. 

These factors alone can make or break the coffee experience. For example, should the coffee sit soaking in hot water in a French press for six minutes rather than the recommended four minutes because you were distracted making matching French toast, the results will be an over-extracted bitter tasting coffee with less balance and sweetness. 

Photo: Eden Estephen

Alternatively, should the brewer grind the coffee too coarse while trying to make a pour-over in a Chemex, the water will simply run through the grinds too fast, and you will end up with an under-extracted coffee that lacks any of the nuanced acidity, sweetness, or body and merely tastes of hollow cereal. These are just a couple of simple mistakes that can destroy all the hard work of the farmer and roaster in a matter of minutes. Most vintners would go mad if they had to cede this much control to the imbiber. 

In the end, wine and coffee are usually night and day products. One is our favorite morning wake-up call, the other is best enjoyed with a meal and most often later in the day and evening, often to wind down. Both are beautifully complex and enjoyable drinks that can elevate the culinary experience and enjoyment of life.

Photo of coffee mug and beans by Oliver Guhr on Unsplash

Jake Leonti is a writer and food + beverage advisor working in New York City, and around the world. He has worked in the food + beverage industry for over 20 years. Anything that touches coffee, Jake has done it. Including: importing green coffee, blending, roasting, building brands, packaging and coffee houses, developing RTD beverages, syrups, full scale menus and overseeing international product launches. Jake is a member of the Roasters Guild, a certified MuMac trainer, Editor-in-Chief of CoffeeTalk Magazine and host of Food + Beverage Therapy podcast. F+B Therapy is a food and beverage consulting company that offers an array services including: opening cafes to menu creation, staff training, product development, branding and business strategy. F+B is based in the Northeast with offices and training labs in New York and Miami. Clients range from 100 year old international brands to owner operator small businesses across the US, Europe, Australia, South and Central America.

1 comment on “Why Coffee Is Like Wine and Why It’s NOT

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