What you need to know about coffee tasting
In this quick guide, you will learn how to opening up your coffee palate, but also fully appreciate your cup and all its subtleties!
The 4 factors that influence the taste of your cup
The coffee tree is a capricious plant; its culture requires a very particular climate and it depends on a soil rich in nutrients. Therefore, the cultivation of coffee is generally limited to the regions of the world bound by the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, in a band commonly called the Coffee Belt.
Optimal growing conditions for coffee are found at high altitudes, with sunny days and cold nights. The altitude will play a role on the size, the density of the grain and the time of maturation before picking. It is directly linked to taste differences, since it often influences the choice of producers on the types of variety used.
The botanical lineage and the genetic heritage of the coffee tree play a significant role in the taste and quality of your daily cup. Bourbon, Caturra, Typica, Geisha, Catuai; all these varieties are distinguished by their appearance, growth and taste.
Coffee processing is simply the method used to remove the beans from the coffee cherry. There are different methods and new innovations around the world, but coffee is usually processed by the natural or washed method.
The processing method makes a difference to flavor and aroma because the sugars in the pulp left on natural or honey processed beans undergo metabolic changes that signiﬁcantly alter the chemical composition of the green beans. Here are the main methods of treatment:
The coffee cherries enter a flotation tank to be sorted before passing to be pulped by hand or by machine. The beans soak in water for 24 to 48 hours during which the fermentation breaks down the mucilage. The soaking time varies according to the outside temperature and the nights, which influences the fermentation process. The next step is to wash the coffee to remove all that remains before being transferred to drying beds to dry in the sun.
The skin of the fruit is removed within 24 hours of harvest; the mucilage (sticky and sweet part of the coffee cherry located directly under the peel of the fruit) is left to dry on the coffee beans. The quantity of mucilage left on the bean depends on the specific recipe of the producer and is variable according to the type of "Honey" wanted, whether it is White, Yellow, Red or Black.
It is the least water-consuming process and is often the typical method for extremely dry climates. The ripe coffee cherries are fully dried with the seeds inside.
By roasting coffee, it is possible to develop 800 to 1000 different aromatic compounds. With roasting profiling, we can affect the existence of these aromatic compounds in coffee and also determine the profile we want to achieve.
The SCAA wheel of aromas and flavors
The Specialty Coffee Association of America has developed a wheel of coffee aromas and flavors that can help you describe the taste of your cup. This charter can be an excellent reference when you are training in the art of cupping.
USEFUL BASES DURING COFFEE TASTING
Aroma: The smell emitted by freshly brewed coffee.
Balance: The amount of sweetness, bitterness, and acidity in the cup.
Body: Feeling of weight and texture felt when drinking coffee. It is something that we feel, rather than something that we taste.
Finish: Also known as the aftertaste, it is the taste of coffee after being swallowed.
Full-bodied: Referring to a robust taste or aroma that is rich or intense. It can also be associated with a heavy mouthfeel. Not to be confused with bitterness.
Vegetal: Associated with fresh grass, plants or unripe fruits.
: Mild, clean flavor with a slight spicy sensation reminiscent of lemon accompanied by astringency.
Bitter: Desirable to some extent, especially in dark roasting. On the other hand, bitterness can also be a sign of over-extracted, over-roasted or generally defective coffee.
Earthy: Slightly sweet and sustained, associated with vegetation and black, moist earth.
Fruity: A sweet, floral, aromatic blend of a variety of ripe fruits.
Floral: Soft, light and slightly fragrant associated with fresh flowers.
Sweet: A taste or aroma that can be similar to honey, candied or saccharin.
Nutty: Flavor or aroma that is similar to roasted nuts, peanuts, hazelnuts, etc.
Chocolate: A blend of cocoa, including cocoa butter and dark roast aromatics at varying intensities.
Spicy: Not to be confused with spicy or salty. It is the taste or aroma of spices such as cloves, anise, cinnamon or nutmeg.
FLAVORS THAT REPORT DEFECTS
Pungent: Sharp, pungent, bitter and sour aromas associated with excessively roasted products.
Ash: The dry, dusty and smoky aromatic associated with the residue of burnt products.
Baggy: Can be a characteristic of a coffee improperly stored in a burlap bag. The coffee has taken on the bag flavor and possibly has mildew issues.
Papery: Characterizes a coffee that lacks freshness.
Medicinal: A smell or taste that reminds you of medicine. This iodine-like flavor can be the result of cherries that have dried on the plant.
Quaker: If a bean didn’t develop the proper compounds when cracked in half it can be reminiscent of an unroasted peanut. This can indicate that unripe or underdeveloped cherries were processed.
Burnt: A strong, bitter, even sour flavor, which results from over roasted or burnt coffee.
Tobacco: There may be pleasant, slightly sweet and spicy tobacco notes associated with dried tobacco, but the defective notes reveal flavors of burnt tobacco or tobacco ash.
Time for tasting!
A good coffee tasting session deepens your understanding and appreciation of the subtleties and nuances of your cup.
Discover all the steps in our video on the subject!