What makes coffee taste good? Digging deeper, what makes a brew delicious to you, but not-so-tasty to your coworker? It is all about those coffee flavor profiles!
Each coffee bean is packed full of chemical and organic compounds, developing the taste of the brew. Even the soil the beans grow in and the water used to hydrate the plant impact the taste. The way the beans are processed – such as drying and storing – changes the taste further. A lot goes into each drop of java!
The next time you are craving a caffeine hit, try to explore the sensory experience. Smell the dry coffee grounds. Inhale the aroma after you add water. When you take that first sip, try to identify the tastes you are uncovering. You can use a coffee taster’s flavor wheel like this to note your impressions. For the full cupping experience, check out these step-by-step instructions and become a real expert.
The more you pay attention to the flavors in coffee, the more notice you take of those you enjoy most. This will improve your coffee experience.
Common Coffee Flavor Profiles
The World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon is a repository of everything you could possibly want to know about coffee flavor profiles. All of these flavor profiles are determined by sensory experts and leaders in the coffee industry. The goal is to use this information to make coffee better, from the seed to the cup you enjoy at work.
Of course, there are a lot of coffee flavor profiles in that lexicon! If you are new to figuring out flavors, it can be overwhelming. Even the more basic taster’s wheel represents many flavor options. We’re here to help, with a quick explanation of the most common coffee flavor profiles you are likely to find in your cup. Once you have these down, you’ll find it easier to explore further.
If you detect a bright, tangy, dry sensation when you sip your coffee, almost like a glass of wine, that is acidity. It does not mean that the coffee itself is more acidic than another roast. The pH level of coffee always stays around 5 or 6 no matter the brew. Rather, it adds vibrancy, elevating your cup into something special.
Without acidity, coffee is flat, boring, and dull. That being said, coffee should not be so acidic that it seems sour or dries your mouth. You are likely to find flavors like fruit in the flavor wheel for a nicely acidic cup of coffee. These may be reminiscent of peach or pineapple.
The acidity flavor profile is more common in lighter roasts of coffee. The darker a bean is roasted, the less this sensation emerges.
Nobody wants a truly bitter cup of coffee! However, bitterness is an important flavor profile in coffee so long as it is balanced. Think about an enjoyable bite of quality dark chocolate versus a harsh medicinal taste. Without a touch of bitterness, coffee seems too sweet or too acidic to many connoisseurs.
If coffee is overwhelmingly bitter it, has likely been over roasted or over-extracted. Going back even further, the bean itself may have been picked before its prime. On the flavor wheel, you might find an overly bitter brew in the burnt section or under the chemical segment with a medicinal taste.
This is the mild, smooth taste sensation of coffee. If you sense something akin to chocolate, fruit, or caramel in your brew, that is the sweetness profile coming out to play. Note: coffee has a level of sweetness even without sugar, so while there is no problem with sweetening your coffee, here we are talking about a brew without alterations.
The roast of the coffee impacts how sweet it tastes. Lighter roasts have more of a fruit-like sweetness, while roasting longer for a dark roast caramelizes some of the sugars and creates a more chocolate or caramel sweetness.
On the tasting wheel, you might find your coffee fitting into the sweet segment, whether it has a vanilla taste, brown sugar, or one of its subsets: vanillin, sweet aromatics, or overall sweetness. A darker roast could land in the nutty/cocoa section. Or, if it is a lighter roast, it could fall into the fruity flavor profile, especially if there is enough acidity to note a citrus fruit taste.
Different from acidity, this is one flavor profile that you likely want to avoid in your coffee. It is the difference between biting into a tangy slice of pineapple and taking a swig of vinegar. Unlike acidity and even bitterness, sourness is considered a defect in coffee. It usually means you are dealing with bad beans or bad brewing.
You can normally attribute a sour cup of coffee to under-roasted beans, stale beans, or under-extracted coffee. Whatever the reason, the coffee’s overall flavor profiles are out of balance, allowing sourness to take the lead.
The flavor tasting wheel divides sour/fermented flavor profiles into sour, subdivided into various types of acid, and alcohol/fermented, subdivided into winey, whiskey, fermented, or overripe.
Not a flavor profile itself, body still impacts the enjoyment of your coffee. It refers to the way coffee feels in your mouth, whether it is delicate, heavy, drying, metallic, or oily. It also covers any aftertaste you experience within a few sips of coffee; some compounds, sensations, and profiles take a while to make themselves known.
Why Flavor Profiles Matter
Knowing the flavor profiles you like can make a coffee break all the more enjoyable. Instead of guessing at which brew will hit the spot, you can use your knowledge of flavor profiles to get what you truly crave.
For instance, if you are looking for a particularly flavorful cup of coffee, you will now know to avoid dark roast coffees, which tend to be less flavorful than their lighter roast counterparts; the roasted flavor masks more nuanced tastes. With time you will also come to understand which coffee origins, processing methods, and preparation methods come together to make the ideal cup of coffee. Then, coffee will not only get you through your day but also inspire and invigorate you.
Bringing Coffee Flavor Profiles to Your Office
We understand that everyone’s tastes are unique, which is why our fully customized office refreshment solutions are so valuable in today’s corporate culture. From locally roasted coffee bursting with flavor to other on-tap beverages, healthy snacks, and water of all kinds, your break room will have something for everyone. When a break room is an oasis in the busy corporate world, you can count on it being a place where relationships and ideas grow.