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5 Ways to Describe Coffee Flavor

When you think of a coffee flavor, you might assume it’s referring to a singular and easily identifiable aspect. However, the flavor of coffee is a complex and complementary fusion of five characteristics coming together. Due to the nature of coffee beans, the coffee flavor is less of a singular taste and more like an experience. 

What Factors Make Coffee Flavors

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Coffee might appear to be a one-ingredient drink. However, even if you do not add creamers or sweeteners, the complexities of coffee flavor are complex and intricate. Therefore, the type and quality of your coffee beans, in addition to the quality of your water, play an integral role in making the final product.

The flavor of coffee beans can be altered and affected by multiple components, including the growing and roasting processes. Adding sugar, milk, or creamer, affects the coffee flavor after it has already been grown, harvested, roasted, turned into coffee grounds, and brewed into your morning cup. What remains consistent are the categories for dissecting and describing the coffee flavor profile.

5 Components of Coffee Flavor

  • Acidity
  • Aroma
  • Bitterness
  • Body
  • Aftertaste

Coffee Acidity

Acidity gets a bad rap. It often has a negative connotation when, in actuality, coffee acidity is a positive sensation that most coffee drinkers don’t even realize they enjoy. The definition of coffee acidity is described as a pleasing sharpness at the front of your mouth. It is a numbing sensation on the tip of your tongue or dryness under the edges of the tongue or the backside of your palate.

Coffee acidity, despite the name, has nothing to do with the acidity or pH level of your coffee. The average pH level of coffee is between 4.8 and 5, which will remain consistent despite how acidic the coffee flavor is.

Terms that are used to describe coffee acidity in regard to coffee flavor are:

Stone Street Coffee, Dark Roast

  • Crisp
  • Tart
  • Dry
  • Sharp
  • Vibrant
  • Lively
  • Sweet
  • Dull

Coffee Aroma

Tasting and enjoying the flavor of coffee is a multi-sensory experience. For many people, the smell of coffee is enough to give them a feeling of alertness and energy. Likewise, the aroma of our favorite coffee shop or our kitchen while coffee is brewing signals to our brain what is to come. In this sense, the aroma of coffee is just as important as the coffee acidity and other taste sensations.

We currently know of over 800 aromatics in coffee, with new aromatics being discovered regularly due to advances in testing techniques. For example, due to the nature of roasting coffee beans, darker roasts, while they still have a powerful aroma, will have less scent than a lighter roast.

In the same respect, fresh coffee will have a more potent fragrance than older coffee. The aroma will be most evident when you brew a large pot of coffee. As you drink your way to the bottom of the pot, the general aroma will become less detectable.

Key Coffee Aroma Descriptors

  • Complex
  • Smoky
  • Nutty
  • Herbal
  • Fruity
  • Floral

Coffee Bitterness

Like coffee acidity, coffee bitterness can occasionally have a negative connotation. A coffee flavor that is too bitter will not taste great, but bitterness in moderation is a beautiful way to round out and balance the sweetness of the coffee. Bitterness in coffee beans is linked to 21 different sources.

Abie's Irish Creme Coffee

The main sources of bitterness in coffee flavor originates from:

  • Caffeine
  • Acids
  • Proteins
  • Alcohols

Chlorogenic acids are the primary source of the bitter taste in light to medium roast coffee. When coffee beans are dark roasted, the chlorogenic acids break down to become phenyl compounds. When the coffee beans are heated above 425 degrees, it causes the already bitter chlorogenic acids to develop even more bitter phenyl compounds.

Not all dark roasted coffee is overly bitter, but it can become that way if it is roasted for too long. When a knowledgeable coffee roaster creates a dark roast, the bitter coffee flavor will be wonderful. However, when coffee's bitter elements are over-extracted, it overpowers the sweet-sugar flavors and fragrance. The bitter flavor in over-roasted coffee is what many people confuse with the concept of coffee acidity.

Coffee Body

The term coffee body refers to the mouthfeel of the coffee. The coffee body also refers to the weight, texture, or viscosity of the coffee on your tongue. It plays an influential role in the coffee flavor in the same way food texture does. For instance, while many people love sushi or coconut, many people cannot get past the texture or mouthfeel of these two foods.

Terms For Describing Coffee Body

Glass of Cold Brew Reserve
  • Thin
  • Watery
  • Syrupy
  • Heavy
  • Buttery 

While the coffee acidity and bitterness focus on the flavor sensation of the coffee on the tongue, the coffee body refers to the feeling sensation the coffee creates. Coffee acidity and aroma cover two separate senses, while the body of the coffee covers a third sense, touch. A standard comparison to understand the concept of coffee body is milk. The mouthfeel of low-fat milk is significantly different from that of whole milk.

Coffee Aftertaste

The aftertaste of coffee encompasses the taste and aroma left in your mouth after swallowing a sip of coffee. The aftertaste is the byproduct of all the coffee flavor elements that you experience in each sip. From the coffee acidity on the tip of your tongue to the scent that fills your kitchen, they all play a role in your coffee flavor experience from beginning to end.

A high-quality coffee bean that has been grown, harvested, and roasted by experts will produce a magical aftertaste. An aftertaste that pleasantly lingers is an indicator of a great cup of coffee. If you want to experience the aftertaste fully, try slowly breathing in and out as soon as you swallow. This will allow your mind and body to take a break to focus entirely on the sensations you are experiencing.

The Best Tasting Coffee From Sip To Swallow

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The best-tasting cup of coffee will always come down to personal preference. However, a high-quality coffee flavor will feature a well-balanced acidity, bitterness, sweetness, and mouthfeel combined with a dreamy aroma. Coffee beans will always be the central focus of a great-tasting cup of coffee. After harvesting coffee beans, it all comes down to a coffee roaster who is capable of successfully bringing out the best qualities in the coffee beans.

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