Coffee Tasting 101


I hear people asking for “bold” coffee in our cafes. Simply put, “bold” is a marketing term that is overused, because it is vague. As I mentioned before, it is like walking into a candy store and asking for something sweet. A few weeks ago, I wrote about coffee descriptions. I wish to expand on this topic a little more.Specialty coffee makes up about 12 to 15 percent of all the coffee grown throughout the world.  Of that 12-15 percent, The Roasterie only buys from the top 2% of those coffees. So, of all the coffee around the world we make our selections from the best of the best available.Recently I got my hands on a bottle of Makers Mark #46 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky. I had friends to share it with and we all sipped out of our glasses and savored that whisky. Nobody took shots, and nobody diluted it with Coke. This may not be the finest whisky on the planet, but it was pretty good and we took our time with it. In my opinion, you should not just glug a nice whisky from the bottle to get drunk. I hold to the same opinions when it comes to coffee — it should e enjoyed and savored.

Many people glug their coffees to kickstart their days. At The Roasterie, we feel that our coffees deserve better. Know what coffee you are drinking, take a bit of time to enjoy it, and take notes. You will begin to notice that the Sulawesi Toraja that you had yesterday is completely different that Guatemala Huehuetenango you had today. Initially, you may not be able to articulate the differences, but you will begin to notice that they don’t all taste alike, and this is a great start.

There are four general areas we look at to evaluate coffees: acidity, body, flavor, and finish.

Acidity is a word that can have negative connotations, but in the coffee world, acidity is one of the first things that we look for in a good coffee. A coffee’s acidity relates entirely to its liveliness on the tongue. It has nothing to do with the pH balance of a particular coffee. Words that are used to describe acidity are crisp, bright, sparkling, and lively.

The body of the coffee is the weight of the coffee in the mouth. Many Indonesian coffees and Brazilian coffees are known for their heavy body. The body is also evaluated in relation the flavor profile of that coffee. More body is not always better. A body that is in perfect balance with the flavor profile of a coffee is a body that will be pleasing. Coffees that are exceptionally acidic tend to do better with a bit less body, and coffees without that acidity do better with a heavy body. Words that are used to describe body are thick, syrupy, round, and heavy.

Flavor is pretty self explanatory. Descriptors include: sweet, floral, fruity, nutty, and earthy. Flavor terms are often used to also describe the coffees acidity and body. As you taste more coffees, you will begin to classify them into these categories. If you continue tasting, you will get more specific. In a “fruity” coffee, you will notice it has a subtle citrus characteristic, and within that citrus flavor you may notice notes of lemon.

The aftertaste is the flavor that remains in the mouth once you have swallowed the coffee. It can be short or long, but you are looking to evaluate how pleasant it is. You can use flavor terms to describe the finish as well. Two words used to describe an aftertaste are clean and lingering. A clean finish is short but pleasant. A lingering aftertaste can stick around for several minutes.

Hopefully, I have given you a place to start as you are looking to learn how to describe your coffee. Remember to slow down and enjoy what you are drinking. Happy drinking!