Most people are surprised to find out that coffee is actually a fruit, usually referred to as a "cherry." These "cherries" grow on shrubs, which vary from knee high to the size of a small tree. Once the fruit is ripe, the green seeds inside are extracted. These seeds are then roasted, which turns them into the delicious, brown ingots of joy that we obsess over.
I believe the best place to start in understanding what you do and don't like in a cup is with understanding degrees of roast. The degree of roast is determined by the internal temperature of the bean. E.g., a light roast means it was cooked to somewhere around 410 degrees, whereas, a dark roast is more around 460.
- Light Roast
Fruity, strong, bright. The subtleties are at their peak. Weak body. Roast preferred by coffee professionals.
- Medium Roast
Balanced, sweet. a harmony between body and acidity. Our recommendation for the archetypal coffee drinker.
- Dark Roast
Smoky, bitter, heavy body, origin character virtually indistinguishable. most commonly drank coffee in the USA.
From there we should move to a basic understanding of origins. I believe the easiest way to do this is to explain the three main families of origin countries. My definitions for each of these "families", though a good reference, is extremely generalized. Be aware that there are literally thousands and thousands of variables which can change things drastically.
- Central/South America
Medium body, nutty, cacao, caramel, citrus, balanced. Because of our close proximity these are North Americans' classic coffees. Present in virtually every blend.
Full bodied, bold, earthy, mild acidity, complex. Very commonly used in espresso blends. Often enjoyed with milk.
Medium/light body, lots of high notes, floral, fruity, very diverse. The coffee plant was discovered here(in Ethiopia) and then taken around the world. Usually drank black.