An essential ingredient for many looking to wake up, stay awake, or just keep moving, coffee is one of those things that many take for granted. And the coffee market is not resting on its laurels, especially as a better brew has been top of mind for just about everyone before and during the Covid-19 pandemic — whether it’s new flavors or prep techniques that give them quality coffee at home.
The segment continues to pioneer new flavors, interesting substitutions, and cutting-edge deliciousness that is far from your mom’s can of ground coffee under the sink brewed in a 12-cup standard coffee maker. Craft techniques, as well as new flavor profiles and roasting styles, can elevate even the average cup of Joe — even those made at home. But one coffee trend in particular is catching the eye of caffeine addicts and beer lovers alike: anaerobic coffee.
What Is Anaerobic Coffee?
“During a blind tasting, there was this one coffee that was so distinct in smell and flavor, that I thought it was a defective cup,” says Maryna Gray, director of coffee for Seattle, Wash.-based coffee subscription service Bean Box. “I wasn’t even sure how to describe it — I had nothing to compare it to.”
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As anaerobic coffee is processed differently to showcase its punchy flavors and the bright, fresh quality of the beans, Gray says that the flavors she tasted included a super-sharp tropical flavor, as well as an interesting sour candy flavor that she says echoes that of sour beers. “It twists around your expectations of what you can get out of a cup of coffee,” she says.
The roast tends to be lighter in style, which allows sippers to taste the bean and all of its different sugars.
How Is It Made?
The process of making anaerobic coffee is by no means an easy one, says John Johnson, director of coffee at City of Saints Coffee Roasters based in Brooklyn. Unlike other styles of coffee, which are made using open fermentation, in which the air interacts with the beans, anaerobic coffee is made in a sealed environment.
“In anaerobic coffee, the beans are put in airtight containers that help to control the environment. Because of this, we can expect more fruit flavors and sweetness in the coffee,” Johnson says. It also helps to give those involved in the process more control. Climate change, explains Gray, has shifted the means of coffee production, as the industry relies on the ecosystem really being in balance. While Gray says this style of coffee can help keep flavors consistent, Johnson notes that it also gives those involved in the process the opportunity to evolve flavors and styles by adding different yeast strains, similar to the winemaking process. But word to the wise: Because this style is so labor-intensive, the coffee tends to be more expensive than other types, as you can pay upwards of $20 per pound for the brew and can only find it through craft-coffee vendors. While it may not be as expensive as some Kona-style coffees, it is definitely more than a $7 mass-market roast.
When making anaerobic coffee at home, experts agree that it should be brewed in a French press or pour-over- style coffee maker. They also recommend a few other “must-dos” for the most optimal final result.
“You really have to make this the right way, or else it’s going to taste really sour. That creates a big disconnect to how good this coffee can actually be,” says Johnson. He suggests buying the beans whole and using a grinder to help create the perfect brew for you. “Using a grinder allows you to adjust and make the grinds bigger or finer until you get the sweetness you want. This allows you to adjust the flavor to your own preference,” he says.
Johnson also suggests ensuring the water you’re using is the best it can possibly be, as water chemistry has a lot to do with the end result. He recommends using filtered water, as water from your municipality changes all the time as far as mineral content. This, he says, influences the flavor. “The water used is one of the biggest challenges to making a great cup of coffee,” he says.
He also explains that, especially for a style of coffee such as this, ensuring you have the brew ratios correct is crucial, or else the flavor will not be spot-on. There is more room for error here, especially since the style takes a bit of getting used to. “There are so many variables that you really need to dial in here to standardize the dose. This will make sure that you get the same results every time,” he says. His preferred ratio is one tablespoon of ground coffee for every six ounces of water.
Flavor Fun: Here’s What To Expect
Anaerobic coffee may not be for those who prefer a dark roast, but the flavor profile alone is enough to make it intriguing for self-proclaimed coffee connoisseurs. However, while the notes on the palate are tropical and fruity, they are also tart — a punch in the face for those who may not be expecting it.
“It’s brighter and cleaner than a lot of types of coffee and has a better structure,” says Johnson. As for doctoring up your cup, says Gray, milk is a no-go. Since the flavor profile is sour, milk will only enhance that to the point where the cup won’t be enjoyable. She suggests starting with a bit of sugar first, if you truly need something, but says that drinking it black is the way to go. “It doesn’t have that super-intense flavor of black coffee,” she says. “Adding a little sugar will help the flavor come out as the coffee cools down a bit. That’s where it will really shine.”
Gray says that this style of coffee actually makes a standout cold brew when brewed correctly. This cold-brewed style makes a great addition to coffee cocktails. “When you make cold brew with it, you will actually get an entirely different set of flavors. You’ll have a nice, cool, crisp cup of coffee,” she says. Unsure you’re ready to start your day with it? Anaerobic coffee doubles as a stellar dessert ingredient. Gray suggests putting it atop some vanilla ice cream first or adding brandy and whipped cream to begin getting familiar with the flavor.
Four Anaerobic Coffees To Try
You won’t find anaerobic coffee down the supermarket aisle – yet. But if you’re itching for a caffeine fix stat, here are some beans available for online purchase:
Tasting notes for this coffee include apricot, fresh papaya, and a touch of cinnamon. It has a kombucha-like punch, with a finish reminiscent of a tawny port.
If you love Mexican hot chocolate, this brew is for you. It has a cinnamon-sugar flavor and a deep, silky body of dark cocoa. A little baking spice rounds out the finish. This is an anaerobic blend you can drink with a bit of cream for a full-bodied sip.
Floral meets citrus for a stunning, bright cup of coffee. It has a silky finish on the palate and a sweetness that lingers a bit in the mouth.
Acidity and vibrant fruit combine to create a unique and complex flavor. A tropical note adds a bit more depth.