Our guiding principle is “the best taste wins.” But when we taste coffee, what are we tasting for? There’s plenty of jargon in coffee tasting, but these basics help discern what you want and what you don’t. Ultimately you have to decide whether you enjoy a coffee or not.
Before you begin: flavours emerge from a coffee as it cools, so we always give a coffee a few minutes in the cup after brewing before evaluating it and continue tasting as it continues to cool… it also helps avoid burnt tongues.
Aroma is how brewed coffee smells. Simple, right? Coffee contains more than 800 aromatic compounds. Enjoy yourself and don’t worry if you can’t smell that obscure subspecies of white peach. We think that finding the subtle aromatics enhances the pleasure of drinking coffee. Some primary aroma categories are fruity, floral, chocolate, sugar-browning, nutty, earthy, spicy, and herbal.
Acidity is the perceived tartness of a coffee, not the actual pH (coffee is around 5, nerds!). A coffee without acidity is like an orange without acidity: it just ain’t right. Too much becomes sour, overwhelming other characteristics in the coffee, but everyone has different thresholds for pleasant liveliness. We describe acidity with words like bright, juicy, and tangy. If that sounds like your cup of coffee, gravitate towards lighter roasts from Kenya, Colombia, and high-altitude Central America.
Body is the perceived weight of the coffee in your mouth: full-bodied, thin, or somewhere in the middle? Body is difficult to determine when starting to taste coffee. Cream is heavy or full-bodied, while non-fat milk is thin or light-bodied. In general, lighter roast coffees are thinner in body, while darker roast coffees are heavier in body. But brewing methods also contribute to perceived body as well. French press, for example, will feel heavier while filtered drip absorbs more undissolved solids resulting in a lighter mouthfeel. Try medium-dark or dark roasts, and coffees from Brazil or Indonesia.
Finish is coffee jargon for “aftertaste.” How quickly did the coffee leave your tongue? If the flavour lingers on your palate long after the coffee is swallowed (or expectorated!), it’s called a long finish. If the flavour drifts off quickly, the finish is short. Some coffees have flavours that aren’t initially perceived but develop in the finish.
Flavour is the fusion of aromatic and structural elements in your mouth. Sweet, sour, salt, bitter, and body are tastes we detect with the tongue. Aside from these, everything else we taste in coffee is aromatic, or detected by the nose. The broad flavour categories often found in coffee include sugar browning (toasty, caramel, etc.), nuts, chocolate, fruit, floral, earthy, herbal, and smoky.
Tasting is all about figuring out what coffees you like, so: yes, there’s a guide to help you buy coffees you’ll love drinking.