Coffee Flavour Notes: what do they all mean?
Understand coffee tasting notes with our super simple guide.
Our coffee labels make for some rather good bedtime reading. Descriptions of rich, coffee flavours, tales of all the luscious aromas you’ve got to look forward to… Five minutes and you’ll be dribbling. Guarantee it.
Flavour notes are crucial when it comes to choosing a new coffee. They are your first port of call, your first snippet of all the lovely sips that await. So, why not get to grips with the coffee tasting lingo? Being able to describe the flavours will help you get even more from your coffee and allow you to pinpoint the ones that set your tastebuds spinning!
When it comes to coffee, what is flavour?
The flavours we experience when we eat or drink come from our mouth and nose. Taste describes the salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and savoury notes we pick up when putting something in our mouths. Aroma is similar, just in the nose and back of the mouth. Taste and aroma are closely related, which you’ll know if your mum used to hold your nose while giving you medicine, and together make up our experience of flavour. There’s even something cool called retronasal smell, where tiny molecules shimmy up our nasal passage as we chew.
Hitting the right notes with coffee tasting
Top-quality coffee usually leaves us speechless, so we have to pinch ourselves from this coffee-induced daze and put the experience into words. We use the Coffee Taster’s Flavour Wheel to describe a coffee’s taste and aroma, as well as its mouthfeel (what does the coffee feel like? Heavy, or lighter and more tea-like?), balance (do all the different flavours come together in a happy harmony?) and aftertaste.
Important point about to land… what we are NOT describing is anything added to the coffee. We’ve not bunged a kilo of Dairy Milk in your beans if we say they have notes of chocolate. Nor have we slathered it in cherry jam if we highlight berry flavours. Instead, we are describing the beans’ natural flavours. Are we tasting cherry? This is probably because the coffee contains compounds that are the same or similar to those in an actual cherry.
What makes coffees taste different?
But where do all these compounds come from? Do they just rock up like some crazy kind of pick ‘n’ mix?
Nope. Each stage of the process influences a coffee’s flavour profile. From growing right through to brewing, every step plays a part in creating one oh-so-unique brew. You’ll notice that all our coffees are single origin. That’s because each country gives us slightly different beans. From bright, berryish Kenyan beans to sweet, rich coffees from Venezuela, country of origin is a major player when it comes to flavour. Soil acidity, rainfall, temperature and altitude all play a part, too.
The growers process their coffee cherries after the harvest. And yep, you guessed it, each processing method adds a new kind of flavour. Take the natural (also called dry) process; this brings a slight tropical fruit-like fruitiness to the beans. See ‘washed process’ on your Two Chimps label? Keep an eye out for heightened acidity and awesome complexity.
Roasting is in on the fun, too. Lighter roasts spend less time in the roaster and give you a brew with floral, citrus or fruit flavours, while darker roasts are richer, with caramelised flavours of chocolate and nut. Dark roasts give you that traditional coffee flavour in a cup that is bold, balanced and beautiful.
Quick shout our to brewing before we move on, because your brew method can take flavour in a cool new direction. Pressure methods like Moka pots give you a fuller, punchier coffee, while filter coffee (hey there, V60) highlights brightness and intricacy.
Gosh! How to put all THAT into words?
We are not alone when it comes to writing our coffee tasting notes. Remember the Coffee Taster’s Wheel? It’s our (and your!) fail-safe coffee companion. We have it in our notebook, on the roastery wall, in the living room at home (joking. Or are we…?) and use it every time we cup a new coffee.
We’re not saying that a coffee will taste exactly like a Pink Lady if it’s got hints of apple. A hazelnut-like coffee won’t be a carbon copy of your trail mix. Rather, they will bring these distinctive flavours to mind. And remember that flavour is subjective. Our tasting notes give you a guide and help you pick out coffees you’ll love, but the final flavour rests with you, your tastebuds and your brainbox of a nose.
How to taste coffee like the pros
Give your senses a workout with some coffee cupping – it’s how the experts taste and rate top coffee. It’s important to start with a blank canvas, so strong perfume and stinky cheese are banned for a while. Sorry, Stilton lovers. Then, weigh out precise amounts of coffee (13.4g) and water, making sure to cover up the coffee labels all the while to avoid bias. Brew in cupping bowls for exactly the same amount of time before breaking the crust after four minutes. Allow to cool slightly and then slurp off the spoon. Yes, we wanna hear that sluuurp – it’s a sign that the coffee is reaching all around your mouth. Keep tasting the coffees as they cool. You’ll be surprised at just how much the flavours evolve.
What flavours are you getting? Are juicy blueberries popping to mind? Or is there some sweetness? Butter toffee, perhaps? Ooooh, scrummy!
Hey, pro taster, you need some top coffee! Head to the shop for coffee flavours of every sort!
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