Exploring Coffee Flavours
Coffee is a subjective and emotional experience. Aside from its purposes as mental stimulant and co-star to occasions, there’s also the part that we live and breathe as a coffee roaster – developing and appreciating the flavours of the bean. Working with specialty grade coffee beans enables us to express a range of flavours in our coffee blends and single origins, through our roasting and brewing processes. At the same time, we know that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to the perfect coffee for our customers.
If we step back thousands of years to our human ancestors, taste, sight and smell played a vital role in our evolution by helping us discern between inedible or poisonous plants and animals, and those that were rich in nutrients and proteins, and safe to eat.
Our palates read flavours in terms of – sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savoury. Other contributors to experiencing flavour are smell/aroma, mouthfeel and sight (it seems, we do drink with our eyes!) Other elements are our emotions and memory, closely linked because of our brain anatomy, which adds an unconscious element into the mix. When we get down to how a coffee tastes, we’re really combining all these factors together to get the overall experience of drinking a coffee. Developing a language around all of these factors allows roasters, brewers and coffee drinkers to better communicate the flavours expected or present in a coffee.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) created the Coffee Tasters Flavour Wheel as a tool to form a common language and industry standard for coffee tasters, that helps them to describe the combinations of taste and smell that make up the flavours of coffee. The flavour wheel acts like a navigation tool that’s read from the centre circle (more general flavours) to the outer circle (more specific flavours). An example is when we’re identifying a ‘fruity coffee’. Identifying ‘fruit’ in a coffee then leads through to the type of fruit, let’s say it tastes like a citrus fruit. You then take a step further outward on the flavour wheel to which type of citrus fruit you’re tasting – grapefruit, lemon, orange or lime. Some of the terms you’ll find on the flavour wheel include; sour, floral, sweet, pipe tobacco, cardboard, meaty/brothy, hazelnut, nutmeg and blackberry, just to name a few. You can check out the SCAA Coffee Tasters Flavour Wheel here.
Discovering coffee should be a fun journey. It can be intimidating to hear highly trained coffee tasters using an array of flavour terms with absolute confidence and cohesiveness, but the awesome part is that there really are no rules! When we go through the Cupping Process at Bellissimo Coffee, we encourage our team and guests to use whatever words come to mind, without judgement of what term the next person uses to describe the same cup. That can mean we get some far out flavour descriptors – like fairy floss, sticky date pudding or ‘baked dinner gravy’. Ultimately there is no right or wrong, and exploring with an open mind keeps it interesting.
Some people are lucky enough to have a highly refined palate and can easily identify specific flavour notes in a coffee. This can be a skill that is natural or, like many other skills, can be developed over time with practise and immersion in drinking a range of coffee blends, single origins and brewing styles. To assist in expanding the senses around coffee flavours it’s important to actually know flavours i.e. how can you identify hazelnut if you’ve never tasted a hazelnut? Mindfully tasting the flavour components found on the Coffee Tasters Flavour Wheel can help educate your palate.
The perfect coffee to you may not be the perfect coffee to another. In our stores, our baristas will invite you to try our Single Origin feature coffees as a way of sharing our love of coffee. We also host all of our blends on our grinders, so whether you like a dark, chocolatey and strong coffee with hints of toasted almonds, as in our Ultimo Blend, or citrus, black tea and raspberry, found in our Mocha Java Blend, we hope you’ll find the coffee that’s perfect for you.