People often find themselves asking for “bold” or “blonde” roasts at coffee shops, or seeking the words out on the packages at the store. They order the darkest coffee available, and define their taste as such, but immediately doctor it up with cream and sugar at the bar. What do these words really mean, then? What do they signify?
Just like wine and beer, although a little late to the party, coffee preparation has shifted towards craft, and the sheer amount of options and terms available to describe them can make the experience kind of scary. It shouldn’t be, though, and this post should hopefully help to clear it up a bit.
The taste of coffee is typically evaluated in 4 ways: aroma, acidity, body (or mouthfeel), and flavor.
Defining the aroma is the first, and easiest, step in evaluating your coffee’s flavor profile. Some smell floral and spicy, some nutty and earthy. The actual aromas can be difficult to differentiate at first, but come more easily with practice. Remember that flavor and smell are directly intertwined! That’s why it’s always important to take a moment and smell your coffee first.
Acidity, even though it has negative connotations, is a very important aspect of a good cup of coffee, and an easy way to tell the difference between beans. It really doesn’t have anything to do with the actual pH value of your drink, but the way it feels on your tongue. You’ll feel it on the tip and the sides, just like you would eating an orange, and you’ll usually see it described with words like bright or lively.
The body of your coffee refers exclusively to how heavy it feels in your mouth. Having a lot of body isn’t always a good thing. It’s important to note how the body interacts with the other 3 qualities. A good cup of coffee is all about balance, after all! Note that the flavor of light-bodied coffee typically won’t linger too long in your mouth, but that of a full-bodied cup might stay for a while!
Finally, the flavor itself! It’s pretty self-explanatory, but in practice it’s hard to get a good reading on it. Hazelnut, cocoa, grapefruit, and blackberry are only a few of the words you might use to describe what you taste in your cup. For example, the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had tasted like dark honey, pears, and almonds!
If at first you can’t seem to taste anything but coffee in your coffee, don’t give up! It takes time and practice to develop your palate. Before you know it, you might find yourself excitedly describing your morning cup as “bright” or “floral” and you’ll thank yourself for sticking it out!