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Exploring Coffee Flavour Attributes

Posted by Vinod Jethwani on

Learning the language of coffee flavour is not only great way to further appreciate the world of specialty coffee but also to discover why you might prefer one coffee over another. The more coffee you consume, the more focused you will become on the inherent nuances. We are talking top quality coffee here - avoid the supermarket if you are looking for complex flavour characteristics.

Coffee is chemically complex and contains more aroma molecules than wine. It takes years of cupping and learning about different varieties and origins to accurately perceive flavour notes. A Q-Grader is one who has a qualification to determine these notes and grade a coffee in terms of quality. While you needn’t aim this high, you can discover more by attending ‘cupping’ events with your local roaster and even experiment with your coffees at home.

Aroma and taste, are the overriding factors determining coffee preference. The Specialty Coffee Association of America created the first mapping of coffee’s flavour profiles was performed around 20 years ago. This resulted in what we know today as the Coffee Taster’s Flavour wheel which you can view on the SCAA website. It’s not only super informative, it looks pretty cool too and makes for good wall art for the coffee aficionado!

You can find a multitude of subtle flavours in different coffees, as indicated on the flavour wheel, which like wine, are often associated with their aroma. Some of the most common flavour descriptors include:

* Chocolate * Nutty * Vegetal * Spicy * Fruity

Coffee tasting goes even deeper than aroma and flavour however, if you aren’t overwhelmed enough. We also discuss acidity, body, aftertaste and balance. It can be helpful to look at it in a pentagon or heptagon. Here is an example from one of our green been suppliers. At a glance, this type of graphic is very helpful in guiding us to choose a coffee bean.


Coffee Attributes

While initially the word acidity doesn’t sound too appealing, acidity in the coffee world suggests a sharpness, tangy, fruit, sparkling, brightness with a dryness at the back of the mouth. Think crisp apple rather than sour lemon. Acidity denotes a high quality, high grown coffee that is set apart from the lesser, commodity grade which will taste “flat” in comparison.

Refers to the thickness or weight of the liquid against your tongue. Imagine the difference between honey on the mouth versus water. A bad coffee might feel oily, grainy, watery compared to a beautifully silky, buttery body. Body also helps the coffee to cut through milk, so a heavier body is ideal for milk based espresso.

This one is easier for the novice! The sweet, pleasant flavour that is enjoyed without any sense harshness. Sometimes a fruity taste that is evident at the tip of the tongue.

Balance refers to the notion that no one quality overwhelms all others, and that there enough complexity in the coffee to be interesting and not flat.

Also known as the finish, is the flavour that sits on your tongue after you have sipped your coffee. Hopefully you will experience a pleasing aftertaste like chocolate, spice, fruitiness, nuts or caramel and not burnt, smokiness. A coffee’s aftertaste is created by vapors that are released from the residue that remains in the mouth after swallowing the coffee.

 Exploring Coffee Flavour Attributes


We hope this overview gives you a greater understanding of some of the descriptors on your coffee packaging. You might like to compare a few coffees at home and see what differences you notice. This is best done without the hindrance of milk, however there are further ways to make this process even better. We will cover these in our next post!.


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