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Intro to Coffee Tasting Part Four

How to describe your coffee This is the final post in our series about coffee tasting. If you haven’t yet seen the previous posts, we have already covered tasting terminology and how to set up a tasting with a brief overview here.   This, our final post about tasting, and will be covering the terminology to describe the actual coffee. So, for practice purposes, grab a cup of your favorite coffee and see if you can discern the different aromas, flavors, body or mouthfeel, and finish as you sip.  

Aromas

Most people enjoy the smell of coffee, even if they don’t like the taste. Even though most coffees smell pretty much the same, if you really concentrate you may be able to pick out other individual fragrances that make up the overall smell. The most common aromas you may be able to pick up are  
  • Earth – damp soil, raw potatoes, or herbs like oregano. Prominent in wet-processed coffees.
  • Fruit – possible citrus or berry notes with occasional exotic fruits like mango or papaya.
  • Nut – often notes of buttery nuts like pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds can be found.
  • Chocolate – usually bittersweet dark chocolate, rarely milk chocolate
  • Floral – mimosa, honeysuckle, and jasmine are fairly common.
  • Wine – rich, ripe grape smell. Could be confused with fruit and earth.
  • Tobacco – think cigars or pipes before burning. Kind of a leathery smell.
  When you have an idea of what aromas you may be able to pick up, you are more likely to notice them when you are drinking your coffee. See what you smell in your coffee.  

Flavors

Much like with aroma, coffee has a general flavor everyone recognizes. There may be certain underlying tastes you can pick out, though. Two of the most obvious flavors you may notice are sweetness and bitterness. These basic tastes will set you up for more subtle flavors you can pick out. Often these flavors will mirror those you found in the aroma. Here are a few additional flavors you might notice  
  • Caramel – rich and buttery smooth with a sweetness.
  • Bread – may taste more like toast or cereal.
  • Nut – hazelnut, almond, macadamia – really any of the buttery nuts.
  • Spice – always refers to sweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice.
  • Pepper – typically this refers to a black pepper note. Never referred to as spicy.
  • Chocolate – like the aromas, most likely bittersweet but may rarely be milk chocolate
  • Fruit – notes of grapefruit, cherry, papaya are the most notable fruity flavors you’ll find
  Now that you know what flavors you may find in coffee, what do you taste in your cup?  

Body/Mouthfeel

As mentioned previously, the body of a coffee is how it physically feels in your mouth. Your coffee is primarily made of water, but there are also soluble elements from the ground beans that are extracted to make the aromas, flavors, and even contribute to the texture of the coffee. The natural oils and small specks of coffee bean along with proteins, caffeine, sugars, fats, and acids all end up in your cup. These combine with the water and alter its feeling to create body. Here are some things to look for  
  • Medium – most coffee falls into this category. Not too light, not to heavy, just right. If the feel of the coffee in your mouth is mostly unremarkable, it is likely medium-bodied.
  • Heavy – often called full, with the coffees in this category you can feel the oils and fats in the coffee. Not even remotely as thick as a syrup, this particular body type is still palpable.
  • Light – even though this coffee has a great flavor to it, it does not feel like there is much there. Light coffees seem to feel easy to drink.
  • Thin – a negative version of Light, a thin-bodied coffee seems watered down. If you feel like there is something missing, your coffee is probably thin.
  • Juicy – this may fall under the heavy category for some people, though it feels somehow brighter. Think of the difference between milk and orange juice… both are heavy, but the OJ just seems brighter. This is the same type of texture.
  • Creamy – may also be considered silky, this is the milky version of a heavy coffee. *See the description for Juicy.
  That sip you just took of your coffee, hold it in your mouth for a moment and let it swirl around. As it coats your tongue and rolls over your teeth, how does it feel?  

Finish

As you finally swallow that delicious sip, how does your mouth feel? That is considered the finish. Different from the body, the finish is what is left behind in your mouth. The finish is more than just an aftertaste, it is also the feeling on your tongue. As this is the last thing you experience when drinking your coffee, it is just as important as all the other aspects. Look for things like  
  • Clean – after you swallow, does your mouth feel like there isn’t anything there? This would be a clean finish. With this you would be ready to eat or drink anything afterward.
  • Alkaline – do you notice some dryness after you swallow? If so, your coffee finish may be alkaline. This could come across as a feeling like there is not moisture in your mouth.
  • Acidic – the little bit of a pucker you notice means the finish is acidic. It will feel tangy or bright.
  So, how does your coffee finish?  

Other Notes

There are other sensations you may notice as you taste. They will likely fall into the above categories, but you should include them wherever you feel they fit.  
  • Bright – tangy or wine-like, this could be considered acidic, juicy, or fruity
  • Bitter – different from bittersweet, this is a harsh taste that is noticed on the back of the tongue and is undesirable.
  • Ashy – not necessarily a bad thing, ashy may be noticed in a dark roast.
  • Balanced – for many coffee drinkers, this is one of the most desirable qualities. Not too much of any one aspect, a balanced coffee will leave you satisfied. If, however, you prefer a particular note to stand out, balanced may be boring to you.
  • Complex – when the flavors, aromas, and body seem to encompass more than just one of the characteristics, your coffee is complex. Typically found with blended coffees rather than single-origin.
  • Bold – a full-flavored coffee that stands out is considered to be bold.
  Now that we’ve gone through how to taste coffee, what to look for when tasting, and how to describe what you have tasted, you’re ready to start trying coffees. We mentioned a coffee tasting journal in Part One, but if you prefer digital, there are plenty of tasting apps in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store to help you keep track of the coffees you tried and how you liked them. Let us know in the comments how your tasting is going.
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