Coffee 101: What Flavor Profiles?

Most of us slurp down our coffees in the morning without giving much thought of any tasting notes, as long as it delivers that big dose of caffeine! In recent years specialty coffee has started to create a buzz for it’s interesting and complex flavors, even more so than wine.

The flavor of coffee may come across as simple but has more than 800 aromatic compounds compared to only around 200 for wine. The two main influences of flavor are it’s origin (where it’s grown) and how it’s roasted. 

Once you understand the taste profiles of coffee, picking one becomes less daunting and more exciting. Breaking these down into bitter, sweet and sour categories is an easy place to start. 

Bitterness -  Extra dark or over-extracted coffee will usually have a very bitter flavor, like raw arugula or radicchio. The back of the tongue is most sensitive to these bitter flavors.

Sweetness - Coffee beans are the seed of a fruit, known as the coffee cherry. Each cherry contains a small amount of sugar as it matures which is passed on to the coffee bean giving coffee it’s sweet flavor. This can taste like chocolate, fruit, or caramel and is most sensitive to the tip of the tongue.

Sourness - Under roasted or under-extracted coffee can taste sour and harsh like sour lemons or grapefruit. The sides of the tongue are most sensitive to this flavor. 

Coffee tastes great and is enjoyable when a cup is balanced in all three areas.
Two more words that are common when describing coffee flavors are it’s acidityand it’s body. More commonly found in lighter roasted coffees, acidity is good and something to be celebrated. Without acidity, coffee is often dull, boring and mellow.  The body is a description of how it feels in your mouth. While whole milk is thick and has a lot of body, water is very thin and has little body.

Once the basics are down, a hyper-detailed flavor wheel (see image below) is used to pick out specific notes. Try brewing a cup of your favorite coffee, black, and focus on what flavors comes to mind. Honey? Coconut? Cherry?
Our specialty coffees have been studied and given a flavor profile which is displayed on each bag. Try our Sumatra Aceh and see if you can pin the flavor profiles listed!