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Guide to Coffee Tasting

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By

Bryan Huynh

on January 31, 2023

Coffee tasting, also known as coffee cupping, is experiencing the tastes and aromas of brewed coffee. Americans consume over 400 million cups of coffee per day on average from various places, from kitchens to chains to local coffee shops. To the regular coffee drinker, all coffee might taste the same. However, once you dive deeper into the flavors and smell, your taste for coffee will completely change for the better. This guide will teach you the complexity behind each cup. 

What are the 5 Elements of Tasting Coffee?

To differentiate each cup of coffee from one another easier, take a look at the five elements of coffee tasting terms: sweetness, body, acidity, flavors, and finish. 

Sweetness

Sweetness of coffee is affected by aromatic chemicals produced during the roasting process. The degree of roasting influences how much of the sugar browns are known as caramelization. You first must ask yourself: How much of a sugary sense do you taste? What kind of sugar does it remind you of? Is it a maple sugar sweetness, or a hard-candy sweetness? Is it molasses, honey, brown sugar, or white sugar, for example. Think about sweet but different types of sweetness. 

Body  

The body of coffee refers to the weight and feeling on your tongue or palate. The body is not so much about the flavor but more so about the texture. For example, the different types of milk can be similar to the body. Whole milk, skim milk, nonfat milk, almond milk, etc., all have different feel and consistency whether it be heavier, lighter, thicker, or thinner.

Acidity

Acidity has numerous common connotations, not all of which are favorable for the majority of individuals. However, complex acidity, known as "brightness," is a distinguishing feature of some of the most desired coffees. 

Acidity has always been considered to be a bad thing, because of its false connection with unpleasant gastrointestinal conditions. However, delightful acidity tempered with adequate sweetness improves the whole flavor tasting experience of a coffee.

However, defects in coffee manufacturing can cause excessive acidity, resulting in harsh vinegar-like aromas.

Flavor

At this step, the key thing is to build up a library of flavor references. This means everything else your palate perceives to not belong in the coffee. This is where you bring up every flavor you remember the flavor of. Take mental notes that certain foods and smells stand out to you. Some examples of unpleasant flavors you might think of include spicy, savory, vegetal flavors, grassy or fermented.

Finish

This final is a question of what happens after your sip of coffee is “done”. The sensation on the tongue following sips of coffee is alluded to as the finish, or aftertaste. It is distinguished mostly by how the flavors linger, although it can also be characterized by tastes and sensations that emerge towards the finish. 

Short finish refers to coffee that leaves minimal trace of flavor or texture after swallowing. Others that linger on the palate for a full minute might be regarded as coffee with a lengthy finish. More specific examples are a rapid dry finish, a chocolatey-sweet finish, and a lingering bitter finish.

How Do You Properly Do Coffee Tasting?

There are four steps to properly do a coffee tasting and to truly appreciate the characteristics of the coffees. 

Smell 

Always take a good long whiff of a coffee before you taste it. Your tongue can only perceive four tastes: salty, sweet, bitter, and sour— but your nose can sense countless. Inhale by cupping your hand over the coffee and holding it near to your nose.

Slurp 

It's recommended to slurp your coffee when tasting it. Slurping distributes the coffee evenly across your mouth, allowing delicate flavors and smells to reach your nose.

Locate 

Consider where you taste the coffee. Does it cover the sides and tip? How does the coffee feel and weigh on your tongue?

Describe 

After you've smelled and tasted the coffee, consider how you'd express the experience. How would you describe the sweetness, body, acidity, flavor, and finish? 

Flavor Profile Wheel

The Specialty Coffee Association designed to be a tool for the coffee tasters. The tasting wheel that helps organize and categorize coffee tasting notes. Although it may be an eyesore, it is easy to understand and simply shows how complex those coffee flavors are. 

The design of the wheel urges the taster to begin at the center and progress outward. Near the center, the most generic flavor descriptions are found, and they get more detailed as the layers progress outward. The taster may stop at any point along the process, but the further out the taster works, the more precise the description may be.

After identifying that flavor, the taster can return to the middle and begin again, focusing on another flavor, then another, until their analysis of the coffee is complete. This is the wheel's basic function, and it may be utilized quite easily at that level. There is much more to wheel, though, and can go much further.

It may take some work at first, but if you're acquainted with the flavors, it will be easier to distinguish between tasting notes.

How Do You Make Coffee Taste Like When a Barista Makes It?

If you wonder how baristas make coffee so well and want to do the same, you must first open up your taste buds, expand your palate, and appreciate the delights of tasting fresh coffee. First of all, you should worry too much about the brewing method. However, you could brew by doing a pour over, AeroPress or French press.

Next, you must use your nose! Taste is more than just your tongue. Flavor perception is the outcome of our body's chemosensation system, which combines smell and taste inputs. When you drink, your sense of smell is activated naturally

After each sip, evaluate what you just tasted. Bring it back to the 5 Elements of Tasting Coffee; sweetness, body, acidity, flavors, and finish. You can refer back to the Flavor Wheel to help identify specific flavors.

There are a few elements to look for when evaluating the quality of a roast, especially in rare, exotic, or simply overpriced coffees. 

Is there a complex taste layering? Are there flavor notes that complement one another well? Consider the dynamic complements of chocolate and caramel, as opposed to an earthy background with weird overtones of citrus.

What is the order of the tastes? Great coffees frequently contain a taste sequence of two or three flavors. A one-note coffee can be delicious, but genuinely great coffees usually have a captivating beginning, middle, and conclusion.

What happens to the flavor over time as temperature changes is the single most important indicator of a superb coffee. Great coffees always get more intriguing and flavorful as they cool. If you drop a few degrees and begin to taste bitter, you're in trouble. People avoid cold coffee for two reasons, both of which are suitable for drinking stale or terrible coffee: while a drink is really hot, our palate essentially can not taste as much and as it cools, the flavors become less pleasant.This masks the tastes like tar, bitter, or sour tastes.

Finally, you could host a mini tasting. Brew a few different roasts and try them with some buddies when you need a foundation for comparison. Our sampling packs are ideal for this, but any coffee would suffice. You may even compare freshly brewed coffee to less freshly brewed coffee. Another interesting variation is to taste a single origin alongside a mix that has it as a component. Can you detect the bean's impact in the blend? Make it a fun research project to observe which flavors you all agree on and others you just seem to notice. Brew these coffees to the best of your ability and see which one yields the best results!

What Are The Types Of Coffee Beans?

There are four kinds of coffee beans. Arabica, Robusta, Excelsa, and Liberica all have vastly diverse flavor characteristics. There are over 120 varieties of coffee plants, each of which produces a different type of coffee bean. However, the majority of the coffee we consume comes from just two variants, Robusta or Arabica or a blend of the two. The flavor, growth conditions, and pricing of the two kinds of coffee beans differ.

Where Do Coffee Beans Come From?

More than 25 million people deal with coffee growing around the globe. It is cultivated on tiny farms in around 60 nations. The Arabica bean accounts for over 60% of global coffee output. Did you know that although we call them coffee “beans”, they are actually a seed? 

Coffee beans are produced by the coffee plant, which is a bush-like plant that can grow to be quite tall. Bunches of cherries bloom on these coffee trees, and inside these are two coffee beans.

It requires approximately one year for the coffee plant to start to produce fragrant, white blossoms, and up to four years before it begins to develop fruit. However, it will take roughly ten years for these trees to begin producing commercial coffee beans, which are the most valuable to producers. The average lifespan of a coffee plant is 30 to 40 years, although they may live considerably longer. When the berries are ripe and ready for plucking, they become red in color, but it requires a good eye to tell when they are, as selecting too early or too late can have a significant influence on the final flavor.

Where Is Coffee Grown?

The main coffee growing regions each have its own unique characteristics such as specific geography, climate, and flavor profiles for the coffee beans grown and processed there. 

The majority of coffee plants are cultivated in what is known as "the bean belt," or “the coffee belt,'' a region near the equator between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. It is here that the world's coffee capitals, such as Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia thrive as these are the regions where coffee grows best. 

Coffee beans grown in Latin America often produce crisp acidity with flavors of nuts, cocoa and soft spice. Some well known countries include México, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Brazil. On the other hand, Africa produces coffee beans that are lush and juicy, with flavors of floral and citrus to berry and spice. These countries include Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia. Last but not least, coffee beans from Asia or the Pacific are characterized to be full-bodied and syrupy smooth with herbal, earthy flavors. Some countries include Thailand, Sumatra, China, Indonesia, Java, Sulawesi, Philippines, East Timor, Papua, and New Guinea.

Arabica Coffee Beans

With origins reaching back to 1,000BC, the Arabica coffee beans have definitely become the most widespread. Arguments can be made that it is the first coffee plant ever farmed. The beans are oval in form, with a prominent center crease, and are bigger than Robusta beans.

These beans are popular among coffee lovers because of their vivid and diverse flavors. They have a sweeter, gentler taste with notes of fruits, floral, chocolate, and nuts, despite their greater acidity. Although Arabica coffee beans contain less caffeine than Robusta, the taste of Arabica beans are thought to have more flavor. Not only that, the taste is smoother and rich with chocolate and sugar undertones. 

Again, the flavor of coffee can be strongly influenced by the region it was grown. For example, Arabica coffee beans from Brazil may be sweet with flavor profiles often including fruit, berries and sugar. Honduras may produce Arabic coffee beans that are light and sweet with tropical fruit or berry notes while others are dark with caramel notes.

These beans typically cost more than the Robusta beans simply because they are more fragile and require more suitable cultivation demands such as weather and altitude. Arabica coffee beans are typically cultivated at elevations ranging from 500m to 2500m. Currently, Latin America, notably Brazil, is the leading producer of Arabica coffee beans.

Robusta Coffee Beans

Robusta coffee often has lower acidity levels than Arabica coffee, resulting in it tasting significantly less sweet. These beans are commonly cultivated in Africa, Vietnam, and Indonesia.  Because Robusta beans have lower acidity and deeper and stronger flavor components, tones of wood or burnt rubber can be prominent. It's a popular espresso bean owing to its rich flavor and coating of crema. Robusta beans are deeper and bolder than Arabica beans and often have flavor notes of dark chocolate, nutty, and whisky.

Robustas can be cultivated from elevations up to 1000m, and they produce fruit faster than Arabicas. This takes many years to mature but they yield more harvest per tree. They are less susceptible to pests and environmental conditions, which is why they are often less expensive than Arabicas.

Robusta coffee beans are often smaller and more round than Arabica beans, as well as lighter in color with a less obvious center crease.

Excelsa Coffee Beans

Similar to the high and low-altitude coffee beans, Excelsa is tart and fruity, yet yields a dark, earthy taste. It is quite aromatic! Because this bean has such a strong flavor, it is usually mixed with other blend varieties, making it more palatable.

To get the most out of Excelsa coffee beans, roast the beans at higher temperatures for longer periods of time to bring out the finest flavors. It is known that light to medium roast beans are supposed to have berry and fruity flavors, while dark roast beans are reported to have chocolaty notes. Grown primarily in Southeast Asia, it is interesting to note that the Excelsa bean contains both light and dark roast attributes.

Liberica Coffee Beans

Being one of the least known coffee beans, Liberica Coffee Beans make up less than 2% of the global coffee production. Grown primarily in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, Liberica trees prosper in light shade and well-drained soils and can survive lower quality soil. 

Liberica coffee has a very strong, yet distinctive flavor that combines floral and fruity flavors with a profound woody smokiness. However, the flavors are an acquired taste as it is not for everyone. When brewed correctly, the truly amazing Liberica features such as the smokey and chocolatey flavor pop out, which are enhanced by the floral and spicy undertones. 

Similar to a chef, you must taste each ingredient before you put it together and serve the customer. In this case, the customer would be your tongue! With coffee flavors being so diverse, it is important to understand and taste each and every flavor. As you embark on your coffee tasting exploration, it is important to smell and taste your coffee, be knowledgeable, and most importantly, keep an open mind to all flavors on the flavor wheel.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 3 roast levels of coffee?

The three main types of roasts there are; Light, Medium and Dark Roast. The light roast may have high acidity, toasty, grain-like taste, and fruity smell. medium roasts may have moderate acidity, a sugary, sweet taste, and balanced flavors. Finally, dark roasts have low acidity, bittersweet taste, and a bold flavor.

What are the 3 coffee regions?

Coffee is cultivated mostly in a region known as "The Bean Belt," which symbolizes the zone along the Equator between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. There are three coffee-growing regions inside the Bean Belt: Central and South America, Africa, and Asia.

What are the 3 parts of espresso defined shortly?

An espresso can be defined in 3 parts: the Crema, Body, and Heart from top to bottom.

What are some slang terms for coffee?

  • Joe
  • Dirt
  • Mud
  • Java
  • Brew
  • Cuppa
  • Go Juice
  • Jitter Juice
  • Bean Juice
  • Brain Juice
  • High Octane
  • Wakey Juice
  • Morning Jolt
  • Liquid Energy
  • Caffeine Infusion
  • Cupped Lighting
  • Leaded and Unleaded
  • Rocket Fuel 
  • Worm Dirt 

What is the golden ratio for coffee?

The "Golden Ratio" is a common rule that states one to two teaspoons of ground coffee for every six ounces of water. Based on individual taste preferences, adjust as needed.

What is the smoothest coffee roast?

Medium roasts are often the smoothest and most conventional taste. This variety has the most popular roasts in America if you want a more traditional-tasting coffee.

What is a good coffee roast for beginners?

As a beginner, medium roast coffee is the most tolerant, and it may be brewed using practically any technique.

What are the 4 enemies of coffee?

Coffee’s 4 worst enemies are air, moisture, heat, and light. To protect your beans as long as possible, store them at room temperature in an opaque, airtight container. Remember to avoid transparent canisters that allow light to interfere with the flavor of your coffee.

What is the most basic coffee order?

The most basic sort of coffee is an espresso. It is created by passing hot water through coffee grinds.

What are the 2 most popular species of coffee?

In effect, coffee beans are classified into two types: Arabica and Robusta. Aside from being different species of the same plant family, the biggest distinction is in the flavor and features of the actual bean.

What is the 10 second rule for espresso?

An espresso shot may "go bad" in 10 seconds. That is, for the heart, body, and crema to blend into a vast dark bitter sludge. It makes no difference if you're drinking espresso directly.

What are the 4 M's of espresso?

Miscela, macinazione, macchina, and mano are the four distinct parts that make up the larger image. Macinazione refers to the correct grind. Miscela refers to the correct coffee blend. Macchina refers to the espresso machine. Mano refers to the Barista.

About the Author

Author-Bio -Bitmoji

Bryan Huynh

Product Tester & Writer

Bryan Huynh is a determined Product Tester & Writer. Being a coffee addict, it is only right that he mainly tests and reviews different coffee from around the world and coffee subscription services.

Bryan Huynh is a determined Product Tester & Writer. Being a coffee addict, it is only right that he mainly tests and reviews different coffee from around the world and coffee subscription services.