You’re special. Unique. One-of a kind.
I’m not just saying that because you clearly appreciate good coffee… it’s science!
You have your own personal history of sensory experiences. Unique physiology also means that you probably perceive the world a little differently too. All of those differences make your flavor preferences truly one-of-a-kind.
You’re in luck, because coffee is pretty special too.
Looking at the coffee tasting notes on specialty coffee bags, you might have seen lemon, honey, black tea, and dark chocolate. Those flavors on the label aren’t just window-dressing. They’re part of a common language that make it easier to think about, talk about, and buy coffee that even your unique flavor preferences will enjoy.
Coffee is one of the most complex flavor experiences we have.
Roasted coffee naturally contains over 800 aromatic compounds. Though we don’t smell or taste the majority of those, the hundreds that we do still make things very interesting for our senses. Unfortunately, that can also make it hard to wrap our heads around what we’re tasting.
Coffee professionals have long recognized that challenge. In response, they’ve created flavor wheels which represent our common language of coffee tasting notes. These guides can help jog our sensory memories and are useful tools for professionals and consumers alike.
Understanding what we like or dislike about coffees can help us choose better coffee experiences.
The best specialty coffees are prized for their delicious distinctiveness. In other words: flavors which set them apart from typical coffee. But a memorable cup won’t always be a crowd-pleaser.
That’s a great reason to be aware of the flavors you’re experiencing when enjoying (or not) your next cup. Being able to translate those personal flavor preferences into shared language means better communication between consumer, barista, and roaster. Better communication means it’s easier to pick coffees you’ll enjoy.
How does one become more aware of their coffee experience?
Roasters and other professional coffee tasters consider several sensory aspects when cupping (evaluating) a coffee, and so should we. Here’s a closer look at three of them:
Aroma is the smell of brewed coffee.
The smells associated with brewed coffee evoke the full range of the human experience: produce, candies, flowers, even industrial. The strong connection between smells, memories, and emotion helps make the experience of aroma so personal.
Since aroma is so important, choose aromas you enjoy and steer clear of those you don’t.
One particularly polarizing coffee characteristic is roast. Specifically, the flavors and aromas created by the roasting process. If you love a smoky dark roast, look towards the left side of the flavor wheel for descriptors like smoky, dark chocolate, molasses, tobacco, or earthy. If darker flavors and aromas don’t appeal to you, seeing those tasting notes can be a hint to look elsewhere.
Flavor is the combined experience of taste and smell.
So flavor includes simple tastes like sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami combined with the myriad of aromas which bombard your palate with every sip.
Why is it sometimes so challenging to identify a particular coffee flavor? Often, they may be more reminiscent of the flavor described, not literal. Other times, they may seem out of context – like running in to your favorite barista at the grocery store.
Most flavors listed on a coffee label will sound delicious, so picking a coffee based on them alone isn’t always helpful. In most situations, it helps to read between the lines.
Coffee tasting notes can provide clues to how exciting a coffee may be. If you enjoy an easygoing cup, look for chocolate, nutty, and sweet descriptors on the upper left side of the flavor wheel. Want something more adventurous? Look for more vibrant-sounding fruits and florals on the upper right side of the flavor wheel.
Good coffees also have a noticeable natural sweetness when brewed properly. Not quite “add 5 sugars” sweet, but enough that even “light and sweet” coffee drinkers may enjoy a quality cup black. Honey, caramel, brown sugar, molasses, and candy references on the label are good clues that a coffee may be sweet.
Acidity can add a spark of excitement to the cup.
Or it can leave a sour taste in your mouth.
This is another area where personal preference varies widely. Both the character and intensity of acidity often determine how much you’ll enjoy a cup, so it’s worth paying attention to both.
Notes for the flavor of acidity appear on the right side of the flavor wheel. Look for lemon, lime, orange, green-apple, even red wine. These tend to be accurate, so let your preference be your guide.
The intensity and balance of acidity is also important to note. Balance is the difference between a refreshingly-tangy glass of lemonade and a sour lemon. Look for words like bright, crisp, lively, and tangy to describe higher levels of acidity. Mellow, smooth, and mild suggest a lower acidity.
The code of coffee tasting notes isn’t hard to crack after all.
Thinking about, talking about, and buying coffee is easier when we use the common language of coffee flavor. With a bit of reading between the lines on the coffee bag, and a better understanding of our own preferences, we can all enjoy better coffee experiences.
To see coffee tasting notes for some of our favorite Dilworth Coffees, visit our online store. Or call us at 866 849 1682.