For centuries, wine tasting has been practiced by wine aficionados. Over time, it has become more mainstream, such that seldom is a glass of wine served during a meal without someone swirling and sniffing prior to sipping. Not everyone can be a sommelier, but we can strive to learn more. The evaluation of specialty coffee has followed a similar path.
In recent years, coffee drinkers have enhanced their knowledge and understanding of coffee including its origins, characteristics, and methods of brewing to ensure the best cup. Many coffee drinkers are quickly rivaling wine tasters in their understanding of coffee’s unique characteristics.
The language of coffee includes:
Aroma: A sensation that is difficult to separate from flavor. Aroma contributes to the flavors we discern on our palates. Subtle nuances, such as “floral” or “wine-y” characteristics, are derived from the aroma of brewed coffee.
Body: The mouth-feel of the coffee; the weight and texture of a coffee. It is the viscosity, heaviness, thickness, or richness perceived on the tongue and at the back of the palate. Typically, Indonesian coffees will possess greater body than South and Central American coffees.
Acidity: A desirable characteristic in coffee that provides a sharp, bright, and vibrant quality. Without sufficient acidity, coffee tends to taste flat. Acidity should not be confused with sour, which is an unpleasant, negative flavor characteristic.
Flavor: The overall perception of the coffee in your mouth; the taste and aroma combined. Acidity and aroma are components of flavor. It is the balance and homogenization of these senses that create your overall perception of flavor. Typical flavor characteristics include:
Richness – refers to fullness of the coffee.
Complexity – the perception of multiple flavors.
Balance – a satisfying presence of all taste characteristics, where no single one over-powers another.
Desirable characteristics include chocolaty, delicate, earthy, fruity, nutty and spicy. Less desirable characteristics include bland, flat, musty, sour, thin and bitter.
Enjoy learning about coffee, and the many different origins and blends available.