The worlds of coffee and wine are similar on many levels. Starting with the importance of flavor. As any wine lover will tell you, the beauty of the object of their passion lies in the complexity of its aromas. And they’re not wrong: approximately 400 flavors can be discerned in wine. But did you know that there are no fewer than 800 flavored components in coffee? It’s enough to get your taste buds tingling! Just as every last drop of a good wine deserves to be savored, quality coffee should also be lovingly tasted to appreciate the aromatic subtleties associated with each bean, each origin, and each process of production. So, without further ado, let's take a closer look at the main flavors that make a coffee with excellent taste ...
The main flavors of coffee
When you drink coffee, your taste buds will take on many different flavors that you can learn to understand, analyze, and decipher. It may be difficult at first, but with a little practice, you can train to identify each individual flavor. The goal is to adjust your own preferences to make sure you always choose the coffee that suits you best. But, as we have already seen, trying to cover any possible aromatic subtlety in a single article would be an impossible task. That’s why we’re going to start you off with some introductory tips :)
By now you’re probably already wondering which coffee is right for your palate. To help you with that choice, we’re going to look at the four main flavors of coffee types typically present in a cup of coffee: acidity, bitterness, sweetness, and saltiness.
For the untrained palate, acidity is easily confused with bitterness. However, the two are actually at opposite ends of the flavor spectrum. In some respects, the acidity is quite easy to identify, as it is taken up on the sides of the tongue. Think about the taste of fresh lemon juice ... OK, it may be an exaggeration, but you would be surprised by the acidity of certain beans! The aroma is typical of Arabica coffee grown at altitude and, when well-controlled, it is an aroma highly appreciated by many coffee specialists.
If you’re a fan of this type of flavor - or if it’s new to you and you’re curious to try it - you should look for lightly roasted coffees. If I had to choose one, it would be Moka Sidamo Marabou from Cafés Lugat, a truly remarkable Ethiopian coffee with distinct citrus notes.
Unlike acidity, bitterness is high on the top of the tongue and on the back of the mouth (if you want a good example of the bitter taste, try eating the white skin of a grapefruit!). Surprisingly, many people find it a rather unpleasant aroma. But when well managed, it can bring a truly distinctive quality to a coffee and we think you would be pleasantly surprised by the result! The bitterness of a coffee develops during its roasting process: the longer the beans are roasted, the more bitter the resulting coffee becomes. Scientifically speaking, bitterness comes from the chlorogenic acids that are present in caffeine. It’s for that reason that Robusta coffee can contain up to twice the amount of caffeine found in Arabica coffee, and consequently, dark roasted Robusta beans often have a pronounced bitter flavor.
If you’re a fan of bitterness, or you simply want to experiment with it, then dark roasted coffees are the ones for you. Italian coffee is a good place to start or for maximum bitterness. Simply pick up the first pack of Robusta beans you come across. But do you take into account what you gain in bitterness? you may lose complexity, as Robusta coffee tends not to offer the textured flavors of an Arabica coffee.
Sweetness is such a familiar sensation that I won’t spend all day describing it here! But it goes without saying that this pleasant taste brings a milder aroma to the coffee.
A little tip for making slow coffee: once your coffee is ready, be sure to swirl it around in its container (like the Chemex for example) to let it have plenty of air in. By doing so, you’ll bring out more of the natural sweetness found in your coffee. Not bad, eh?
Does the idea of a salty coffee seem a little strange to you? Don’t worry, that’s perfectly normal! But I can assure you that there is a certain salt to the taste of coffee and, above all, espressos. The taste is actually created at the start of the extraction process. As an experiment, try to prepare a 30-second espresso and taste it at 5-second intervals. You’ll probably be taken aback by the saltiness of your first mouthful, but the flavor becomes less and less pronounced as the espresso keeps pouring. Pretty crazy, right?
I think I’ve crammed your heads with enough information for one day :-) All that’s left is for you to train your palate! With a little practice and a healthy variety of coffees at hand, you will soon become an expert in the field. Next time we will continue the journey of discovering the taste buds, taking a closer look at the coffee with fruit. There are a lot of surprises in store, we can assure you!
What is a Well-Balanced Coffee Flavor?
The aroma of a coffee describes the global and combined sensations/perceptions of the distinct aromatic and gustatory characteristics of coffee, body fusion, acidity, aroma, bitterness, sweetness, and subsequent taste. A well-balanced coffee is one in which no aromatic characteristics dominate and/or overwhelm/overwhelm others. Many of the best coffees in the world are well balanced, although some highly prized coffees are especially sought after for their unique (not well balanced) flavors.
Coffee Taste Descriptions
Some general descriptions of coffee flavors include complex and rich. Some coffees have an aroma reminiscent of red wine and are called vinous. Other coffees have a fruity essence that suggests berries or citrus fruits.
Coffees With Fruity Flavors
Fruit aromas tend to have a naturally sweet taste and are some of the most sought-after qualities in the best coffees. In general, they are grouped in stone fruits (peach, apricot, nectarine) to citrus (orange, lemon, grapefruit, nectarine) and berries (raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, cherries). In general, Africa produces a lot of coffee with prominent fruit flavors, while cultivated South American coffees will sometimes have them as secondary. Some regions are listed here with visibly associated flavors, see each page for more details:
- Kenya - Berries
- Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Region - Citrus (Lemon)
- Brazil - Fruity (Cherry)
- Costa Rica - Tropical Fruit
- Tanzania - Tropical Fruit (Kiwi), Berries (Blackberry)
- Guatemala - Citrus (Orange, Green Apple)
- Colombia - Berries (Blackberry, Currant), Stone Fruit (Peach, Apricot)
Crop variations between years mean that some years have more pronounced flavors than others, and the flavors will vary between varieties in a country, but these descriptors appear frequently for the coffees mentioned above. Fruit notes are less common as an espresso flavor, due to the organic compounds destroyed in the "espresso roast" point - keep in mind that any steak (including a medium steak) can be used in an espresso machine.
Coffees With Chocolatey Flavors
There are a lot of different terms that can be used to describe chocolate and, unsurprisingly, it is a very popular flavor. It can be described as milk chocolate, Swiss chocolate, dark chocolate, and cocoa. You will find many countries in South America that are at the forefront of the taste of chocolate, especially Colombia and Brazil. Many of these places are also known for growing cocoa, used in the manufacture of chocolate.
- Brazil - Milk Chocolate
- Colombia - Cacao
- Burundi - Dark Chocolate
- El Salvador - Chocolate
While the more subtle flavors (milk chocolate) will look stronger in a medium steak, the heavier flavors of dark chocolate and cocoa will hold up better in darker cakes and will be more prominent as the more nuanced flavors of each origin fade. Dark chocolate is a more prominent espresso flavor than milk chocolate.
Coffee Flavor Syrups
Brands such as Torani and Monin are developing flavoring syrups designed for use in coffee and espresso-based beverages. The most popular are:
There are also dozens of other variants, such as vanilla beans and French vanilla. You can add some very unique flavors, such as macadamia nuts, pumpkin spices, English caramel, butter rum, and Irish cream.
While they can be used in black coffee, most syrups are designed to be used in milk. Dairy products are a key component in improving the flavor of syrups, and dairy products with higher fat content work best.
They are made with a combination of natural and artificial ingredients and are intended exclusively for taste.
There are also coffee-flavored syrups, including coffee and espresso flavors, that can be added to milkshakes and other desserts without the need to prepare and store real coffee around.
Espresso is not a special type of coffee, it is simply a term used to describe coffee that is brewed in an espresso machine or machine. Very dark roasted coffee is canonically called an espresso steak, although any coffee roast can be used in an espresso machine.
Espresso is usually very strong flavored compared to regular coffee due to the higher amounts of solids dissolved in the drink. A finer grind of the coffee is used in espresso machines, combined with a higher pressure brewing process means that more coffee is extracted.