Written by Lori Thiessen
Wine isn’t the only beverage that is rigorously judged. There are beer, spirit and even coffee connoisseurs. Like me you may have been baffled by the coffee ads and packaging that tout the heady aroma of this brand over the sultry dark flavours of another.
Oh and whatever you do, don’t call it coffee tasting. The correct term is coffee cupping. Check out this website dedicated to the art and practice of coffee cupping, http://www.coffeecuppers.com.
For this post, I just want to provide some definitions of what coffee cuppers mean when they talk about what a coffee tastes like. My thanks to The Coffee Faq website which is where I found the following definitions.
Related both to the roast and to variety. This term is akin to the description of acidity in wine, not to acid content. Indeed, retailers may avoid using this term in order to avoid confusion, and rely on terms such as “bright” or “lively.” Acidity is more of a sensation than a taste, and is experienced on the tip of the tongue and/or the roof of the mouth. During roasting, acidity varies in an approximately inverse relation to body or bittersweet aspects; as the degree of roast increases, perceived acidity decreases. Coffees without acidity tend to taste flat, lacking a pleasant palate-cleansing aspect. Acidity can often have wine-like aspects, especially in many Kenyan coffees, or can come across as citrusy. When acidity is extreme, it can feel astringent, as if the moisture has been sucked from your mouth.
Related to both roast and variety. Most of our taste perception comes from our sense of smell, so the volatile aromatics emitted from brewed coffee play an important role in its taste. Aroma develops during roasting, but as the roast starts becoming dark, the carbonized sugars become dominant.
Baked or Bready
A roast related term. Baked coffee is flat, with little aroma; typically the result of an insufficiently high roasting temperature over too long a period of time. In other words, if the heat applied to the unroasted coffee is too low, the physical and chemical changes do not occur in a desirable fashion.
Roast and variety related. The pleasing combination of multiple characteristics, none overpowering.
Roast and variety related. Body is a textural quality, a perception of viscosity or fullness on the tongue; one roaster has likened it using your tongue as a weight scale. Body develops with the degree of roast, falling off sharply with over roasted coffee, but it can also vary by origin. Distinguish between body and the “thickness” imparted by some brewing methods, like coffee from a press, where fine particulates remain suspended, or espresso, which contains emulsified coffee oils. Underextracted coffee will also have a defectively light body.
Roast and preparation related. This is not always a defect; up to a point, it can be desirable. Robusta is more bitter than arabica, but mild coffees can become bitter if over roasted or over extracted during brewing.
Roast related term. Often mischaracterized as “strong,” the bittersweet aspect is created by the caramelization of sugars in the bean. The longer the coffee is roasted, the greater the caramelization, until at last the sugars are completely burned, giving the coffee a taste akin to charcoal (see next entry).
When very mild, this aspect may be desirable for cutting through drinks containing a lot of milk and/or sugar, though there are those who like it in a straight cup. When overdeveloped, it is the flat taste of charcoal; this taste can be overwhelming.
Clean-tasting coffees are free of defects or undesirable distractions.
Complexity simply means that the cup has many elements–aromas, textures, and tastes–apparent at once, or in succession. Since it is rare to fnd all of the desirable elements in a single origin, roasters often roast different coffees to achieve a varied profile.
Earthy, or Natural
Within limits, this can be a pleasant note, but more commonly a defect in which the brewed coffee has an aftertaste akin to freshly turned soil. Commonly relates to poor processing, one way this defect can occur is when the beans absorb flavor from the dirt on which they were spread to dry. In more muted degrees, this quality can add interesting notes to a coffee.
Lacking in taste or aroma; low in acidity. Often occurs when the coffee goes stale.
Processing related. The aroma and taste of hay, or a newly mown lawn. This can result from prematurely picked cherries.
A harsh, medicinal quality, the term derives from a reference to low quality coffees from Brazil (i.e., Rio De Janiero).
Unpleasantly acrid or sour, as if contaminated by vinegar. This taste can occur in low-growing, unwashed coffees, but commonly occurs in under roasted coffees, or even properly roasted beans that were then brewed with water that was too cool.
So there you have it. Everything you ever wanted to know about coffee flavours and were afraid to ask!
Q: Which kind of coffee do you like the best?
Until Next Time,
May Your Coffee Always Be Freshly Brewed!