You’ll be able to taste coffee more knowledgeably if you understand the terms used to describe its flavour and aroma. As you sample different types of coffee, keep these characteristics in mind. Analysing the aspects of your tasting experience will help you determine your favourites, and your knowledge will sharpen your guests’ enjoyment of the coffee you serve.
ACIDITY: This refers to a sharpness or snappiness that you can feel at the edges of your tongue, and it’s a positive quality. Sometimes it’s also described as “brightness.” Coffees with less acidity are sometimes called “mellow,” but all coffees need some acidity in order to avoid being flat or dull.
AROMA: Since our taste buds are only capable of discerning four flavour categories (sour, sweet, salty and bitter), our sense of smell provides all the other dimensions of flavour. Coffee aroma adds qualities such as smoky, flowery, fruit-like, earthy, or it may remind you of certain berries or nuts.
BODY: Even though all coffee is brewed with water, some types feel physically heavier and denser in your mouth. A full-bodied coffee may remind you of having whole milk or cream in your mouth, while a medium or light-bodied coffee will be more like skim milk or water.
ROAST: Described in detail here, the amount of time that the beans undergo heating has a big effect on their finished appearance and taste.
BALANCE: This is a descriptive word for the way in which the above factors interact. Good coffee beans usually present a high level of balance between acidity and mellowness, and they include a complex and satisfying overall aroma and flavour. Coffee with a low balance level would be extreme in one aspect of taste, and the experience would feel shallower.
FINISH: Taken from the world of wine tasting, the term “finish” refers to the taste and sensation left in your mouth after you swallow. Some varieties of coffee have a cocoa or chocolate finish, others leave an aftertaste of fruit, berries or nuts.