The Taste Of Coffee
Do you really taste the coffee?
Most of us describe the taste of coffee as “bitter”, but all coffee is far from just “bitter”. In reality, the taste of coffee is much more advanced, and coffee is one of the most complex things we humans drink. Coffee contains refined aromas, texture and flavors that can actually be hard to describe.
Every taste and aroma of the coffee is determined by the coffee bean’s genes, including where in the world the coffee tree has grown, the growth conditions of the tree as well as what weather the coffee tree has been exposed to. In addition, there are a number of important elements in the production – and the subsequent handling of the coffee, which is of great importance to the taste; pulping, drying, storage, transport, roasting, grinding, brewing method and so on.
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The coffee is best tasted through the mouth
When we drink coffee, we get a mixture of different flavors, which together create a series of sensory experiences in the mouth. There are 5 basic flavors that are recorded through taste buds on our tongue and throat: salty, sour, sweet, bitter and umami.
Each taste bud can capture only one flavor. At the front of your tongue sit the taste buds that pick up sweet and salty, while bitter and sour flavors are mainly picked up at the back of the tongue. Our sense of taste is closely related to the sense of smell, and this helps to give the taste experience more dimensions, since we humans can perceive far more smells than flavors. Therefore, it is not at all a bad idea to slurp the coffee when drinking, as this will increase the taste experience.
What does the coffee taste like?
Back in 1995, SCAA (the Specialty Coffee Association of America) released the so-called “Flavor Wheel” which is used by roasters, coffee laboratories and coffee producers around the world.
The Flavor Wheel is intended as a compass that can aid thoughts and senses in the right direction. It also helps to create a universal language about coffee taste, so everyone has a common starting point to express what the coffee really tastes like.
The wheel works by working from the inside out. For example, try sipping a cup of coffee and initially relate to the wheel’s innermost fields. Here you can taste whether it looks fruity, spicy, sweet, chocolatey or otherwise. Depending on how you experience the coffee, you can move a step further on the wheel. In this way, you become more and more specific about the taste of this particular coffee. For most people it will be difficult to find the exact taste, but the wheel helps to separate the concepts and tastes from each other. Exercise makes a master, and the more you taste, the better you become. It’s all about being concentrated, and closing your eyes and removing the sense of sight helps sharpen the sense of taste.
Coffee has many exciting and intriguing aspects, and when it comes to tasting and identifying the notes in the coffee, “cupping” is the absolute best way to do it. Coffee’s taste and aroma is incredibly complex, so how do you really identify the notes?
Cupping is a barista language for coffee tasting, and here you have a very special approach to identifying the characteristics of any coffee. Cupping is a way of assessing the quality of coffee beans, but you do not need to be a professional barista or taste judge to make a coffee tasting – in fact, it does not take much to get started and you will quickly experience a whole other side of your favorite coffee.
Cupping does not require a lot of equipment – basically, just use water, beans and a cup. We recommend doing your cupping on freshly ground beans as there is far more flavor and aroma in it, and you will therefore have the most intense experience.
How to make your own cupping / coffee tasting
What you will need:
- coffee beans
- Cups of the same size (200-250ml)
- coffee mill
Here’s how you do it:
- Weigh out 12 grams of whole coffee beans and grind them in a medium grind
- Scent for the ground coffee and consider what notes you experience in the scent
- Bring water to a boil and let it cool down to 90-94C.
- Pour 200ml water over the beans and make sure the coffee is soaked
- Let the coffee soak for 4 minutes – scent for it along the way and compare with the previous ones
- When the pulling time is over, the surface is stirred three times so that the coffee falls to the bottom
- Remove foam and liquid particles with a spoon
- When the coffee is cool enough to taste, dip the spoon and you now have to sip the coffee from the spoon
- Now is the time to evaluate the coffee on taste notes, mouthfeel, etc.
How to use the taste wheel
Start in the inner circle on the taste wheel (click on the image to see it in large), and identify the key flavor of the coffee, think not of undertones, but the first note that falls into you. Take another teaspoon of your coffee, and now determine from the key taste what undertones you are experiencing in your mouth. Coffee can have many undertones, so consider if there are more tones and which ones are most straightforward.
In addition to the coffee tasting notes, you can also consider the following 3 things:
Mouth sensation (body / acidity)
The mouthfeel is about whether the coffee is acidic, full, dry and the like. What do you feel when the coffee hits your tongue?
Here you need to assess acidity and body.
- Acidity: How does the coffee feel in your mouth? Acidic coffee is tasted at the back of the mouth and feels fresh and crisp, whereas low-acid coffee is smoother and more persistent in the mouth.
- Body: Speaking of body, it’s about how the coffee feels in the mouth – is it heavy, full or light? A heavy or full-bodied coffee has a more intense flavor, with lighter coffees typically having a short aftertaste.
How the coffee feels in the mouth – is it heavy or light, creamy, soft or thick. A heavy coffee will often provide a long lasting experience.
What do you experience after sipping coffee?
Some coffees have a very long-lasting aftertaste, which can be tasted long after – The aftertaste can be many things. soft, heavy, long lasting, bitter and short.
Try to taste the coffee yourself
You should almost try to make it at home, as it helps to put words to taste, and you may be better off, finding exactly what you prefer in your next cup of coffee.
Try tasting for cup of coffee and look at the wheel’s innermost fields. Is the coffee fruity, sweet, spicy, nutty or something else?
Let’s assume you experience the coffee as fruity. After this realization, we can then move a step further out on the wheel.
Now you have to taste again and assess what fruit you taste in the coffee. Is it citrus, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, dried fruit or any of the other shades?
From here it may be difficult, but try to close your eyes and then think about the fruits that are in the different sub-categories.
Try also to take a step further out on the wheel to get an understanding of what fruits you might taste. You may taste citrus, but whether it is a bitter or a fresh citrus flavor will determine where you land.
Here it may be helpful to have a look in the fridge or in the fruit bowl, and simply scent for a lemon and then scent and taste the lemon juice. Then you can more easily confirm or deny whether this is exactly what you taste in the coffee.
Once you have reached an agreement with yourself about which citrus fruit you feel characterizes the fruit acid you taste in the coffee, you can start to taste again.
Start again from the center and move out slowly. Whether you taste right or wrong is difficult to assess, but the trick of finding a “right” reference is not so crazy, and it is also a good way to train yourself. Start again from the center and move out slowly.
Whether you taste right or wrong is difficult to assess, but the trick of finding a “right” reference is not so crazy, and it is also a good way to train yourself.
Start again from the center and move out slowly. Whether you taste right or wrong is difficult to assess, but the trick of finding a “right” reference is not so crazy, and it is also a good way to train yourself.
Try to assemble a lot of different nuts: hazelnut, almond, bacon, walnut and pecan and taste them separately (possibly clean your mouth with water or milk between each tasting).
When you think you are in control of the shades of nuts, try brewing a Brazilian coffee and taste what nut you think will appear in the coffee.
It’s fun, it’s educational, and it’s a way you can expand your own taste compass.