And you maybe thought this was just something for wine…
Different words like body, aroma, flavor notes… Well it turns out coffee is sophisticated, too.
There are five different elements of the coffee taste – aroma, flavor, acidity, body, and aftertaste. Any baristas reading this know them and are very familiar with them, I’m sure.
But for those who don’t know them, now’s a good time!
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We don’t necessarily do ‘coffee tastings’ every single time we drink coffee. But when we try a new coffee, or want to give our palate a refresher course, it’s a nice thing to practice.
Mind you, this isn’t as much for Folgers, Maxwell House, Dunkin Donuts coffee or the like. You probably won’t get much out of those kinds of coffee.
But if you purchase a good, quality coffee and want to understand the taste beyond the point of just “this tastes really good!”, then read on.
Some of these you may understand right off the bat, and maybe a few of them need a bit more explanation. So here they are, the five elements of coffee taste.
When we talk about tasting coffee in this way and picking up on these 5 elements, this is called a cupping.
The smell, scent, fragrance, olfactory properties – whatever you want to call it – it’s the aroma of the coffee is how it smells after it’s been brewed.
We’re not talking about the beans before brewing, although that smells nice too and can be part of it. We’re talking about the aroma that the freshly brewed coffee gives, and it’s a key factor in understanding the taste. Taste is closely linked with smell.
You can think of the aroma as a precursor to the flavor to the coffee.
Some examples of a coffee’s aroma would be herbal, flowery, citrusy, nutty, carmelly, spicy, fruity, floral, etc.
The most obvious characteristic of coffee is, of course, the flavor. More specifically, we mean the flavor notes that come through when you’re evaluating the taste.
Does it have citrus, floral, berry, chocolatey, nutty, buttery, carmelly, smokey, spicy, sweet, sour, vanilla flavor notes?
The list of flavor notes and flavor profiles is quite large. It can be very similar to aroma. Although, the characteristics that come out with the aroma and flavor can be different. So it’s good practice to do both.
To get the most of the flavor, don’t just take a big mouthful of coffee and swish it around. You won’t be able to get much from it that way.
Instead, take a small sip with a slightly open mouth, and take some air in with it, as if you’re drinking a really hot beverage that you’re being careful with. Then gently let it swirl around your tongue.
This way you will get the most out of the flavor.
Coffee does have acidic content.
There can be at least a few different types of acids in coffee, for example citric acid, and I’ve written about the subject in this article. But in this case we’re not talking about the level of acidity or the types of acid in coffee.
When we say acidity in coffee, what we mean for tasting is the brightness, and the dry sensation that brings out the flavor profile of the coffee, or on the negative side the sourness or pungency of a coffee.
Many people don’t like coffee that’s too “acidy”.
But the acid in coffee is actually very important to the taste. Without it, coffee becomes boring and sort of flavorless.
It can be perceived as how sour or not sour the coffee is, but it’s more than that. It can also be a sweet, tart, brightness in the coffee. When there’s less acidity, other characteristics come through more. Light roast coffee has more acidity, and dark roast has less.
Body or mouthfeel refers to how the coffee feels in your mouth.
It has to do with sediments that are in the coffee and how “dense” it feels. It can feel full-bodied or no-bodied.
Ok, silly puns aside… it can’t actually feel like there’s no body to the coffee. But when there’s a lack of body, the coffee feels flat and thin in your mouth.
Body can be described as full, light, thick, watery, silky, syrupy, etc.
Also called the finish, aftertaste is the flavor that lingers after you’ve either drank the coffee or spit it out. When there’s a heavier or more full body, more of the flavors will linger.
Usually the aftertaste can be described as smoky, woody, spicy, and other flavors that are characteristic of darker roast coffee or full-bodied coffees.
It Takes Practice
Understanding and being able to perceive the elements of coffee taste, and the coffee tasting experience, does take practice.
It can be fun and rewarding for sure, but it takes some times to get the feel for it.
The first time you try it, you might think, “Yep, it tastes like coffee!”
But when you’re able to perceive more of the elements of coffee taste, you might be surprised how quickly you start to recognize some of these things.
What I would recommend is to buy a nice, good quality coffee that describes some of these things on the bag.
They might describe some of the flavor notes and the aroma, possibly the body as well. When you try the coffee, see if you can detect these characteristics!
I personally enjoy doing that every time I buy a new coffee.
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After you’ve tried this at least a few times, buy a coffee and then do your own coffee tasting before you read about the characteristics, and see if you got it right.
This is a great test of how well your palate has developed.
The fact of the matter is that this really isn’t just for coffee snobs, it’s an enjoyable experience that actually helps you appreciate coffee more every time you drink it. Whether you do a ‘coffee tasting’ or not.
What are your favorite characteristics for coffee?
I hope you found this article helpful, please feel free to share any questions or comments you may have below. Have fun with your coffee tasting! Coffee cheers!
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