The specialty coffee industry has borrowed the term “terroir” from the wine industry. The term terroir codifies the concept that everything that happens to the coffee tree affects the flavor of the coffee in the cup.
The terroir is a system of complex interactions between a set of actions and techniques conducted by men, an agricultural product, and a physical environment to be developed through a product, to which it confers a particular originality. The terroir is therefore a geographical area combining a physical environment, know-how, practices that are often applied in response to the environment and derived from a local history, and a product with original characteristics.1
The soil composition itself adds a unique flavor. The makeup of the local water adds a unique flavor. The amount of shade, if any, and the type of trees that provide the shade add a unique flavor. All of these things are wrapped up in the concept of terroir. Different countries have different terroirs and it can get as specific as different terroirs in one large farm via microclimates.
For me, as a coffee roaster, terroir is what makes single origin coffees so special – I get a sense of a region by drinking its coffee.
1. Coffee: Terroirs and Qualities, QUAE, 2007, p. 52↩