BLOG // // 9.4.2018

Flavor of Coffee is a Matter of Flavor

Coffee has dozens of flavors. In order to pull the coffee flavors out correctly it is essential to find a good roast profile as well as to pick the perfectly matching brewing method and the great brew recipe. Not to forget about water we use for brewing. Coffee flavor wheel is an excellent tool to explain the flavor sensation.

What flavor really means? 

We often talk about taste when actually meaning flavor. Flavor, however, is something that all the following types of sensing things are detecting:

  • taste, e.g. fruity taste - pink line 
  • chemesthesis, e.g.  astringent body or other tactile sensations - orange line
  • smell, e.g. floral aroma 
    • orthonasal (when inhaling through nose) - blue line
    • retronasal (through mouth when chewing, swallowing, circulating in mouth) - green line

Origin factors contributing to flavor of coffee

It is a large picture we are looking at when figuring out which factors are playing a role in the great drama of coffee. 

Species, of course make a huge difference. Arabica coffees tend to have a pleasant acidity and sophisticated flavor nuances as well as higher percentage lipids than Robusta (Canephora). Very often we hear less-flattering adjectives when describing Robusta, such as tobacco, wood and soil. Robusta, on the other hand, has a double caffeine content compared to Arabica having also more body. Subspecies and varieties are for sure giving their share to the flavor, too. 

Coffee's Family Tree

The habitat has a large impact on the flavor of coffee, too. Altitude, climate, temperature, rainfall as well as the soil and the fertilization pass on their personality to coffee. You can quite easily note the typical black currant flavor of Kenian coffees for instance. And it is not a brainer that too much rain and also too dry circumstances are not good for coffee flavor.  

Processing method defines a lot. We usually find the washed coffees to have a pleasant acidity and being bright in flavor and light in body. And when thinking about natural coffees (dry processed coffees), we can already feel all the sweetness, fruits, berries and even chocolate bouncing back and forth in our mouth. Not to mention about the rich and full body they tend to have. And when these two processing methods meet in the middle, we have pulped natural coffees (honey processed coffees). And they can really be like a candy day: intensely fruity and sweet. Some rounded acidity can be found, too, and the body usually is complex.  You can read more about the processing methods from example Perfect Daily Grind’s blog.      

The way the coffee is processed effect the flavor

Things contributing to flavor after processing

Then we get to roasting. I tend to say this is the part when we set free all the taste and aroma that is hidden inside the green beans. All the flavor is there already, but it just needs to be unveiled by a series of chemical reactions. The lighter roasts have pleasant acidity as well as more fruitiness and sweetness. Darker roasts have more roasty and bitter notes. If you want to dive deep to roasting, read Sampo’s blog post about roasting.

After roasting, it is the barista that is directing the rest of the show. What needs to be kept in mind? 

  1. clean equipment and accessories
  2. storing the coffee correctly  
  3. using good quality brewing water heated to correct temperature 
  4. coffee to water ratio 
  5. brewing method
  6. brewing recipe 

What else there is to be noted than just the flavor? 

There is a bunch of other things than flavor that create the whole coffee experience for us.  Different cups, mugs and glasses give you different sensations. Some kind of a smell in the same room might interfere with the flavor of coffee. The surroundings, the weather and even the mood we are in have a direct impact on the way that we experience the coffee. You can for sure imagine, how exactly the same coffee creates a different experiences depending on the situation. Think about for example how would the coffee taste if:  

  • slept well and being energetic, waiting for a morning meeting with your wonderful team, sipping peacefully your coffee from a thick porcelain cup    
  • during a hectic day when running through rain being late from school, having a sip from a Keep Cup while running 
  • on your summer holiday in the morning, woke up by the shining sun and the birds singing on the yard, stepping outside from your cottage and preparing a nice cup of coffee with an Aeropress

I think you got the point :)

How to describe the sensation? 

The trade professionals are using a global Coffee Tasters’ Flavor Wheel. It is a nice tool for everyone from a roaster to a barista and a farmer to a trainer. You can check the “How To” for using the tool from here.

sca_The Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel
The Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel (SCA)

At Barista Institute we have created our own, more simple, version of the flavor wheel.

Paulig Flavor Wheel
Paulig Flavor wheel


 So the next time when you are about to enjoy a cup of coffee, take a moment and think of the journey your coffee has made. Try to find the taste and aroma that the story behind tells there should be in your cup. And enjoy :)