What are the four main flavours of coffee?
The worlds of wine and coffee are similar on many levels. Starting with the importance of flavour. As any wine-lover will tell you, the beauty of the object of their passion lies in the complexity of its flavours. And they’re not wrong: approximately 400 flavours can be discerned in wine. But did you know that there are no fewer than 800 flavours components in coffee? It’s enough to get your taste buds tingling! Just as every last drop of a good wine deserves to be savoured, quality coffee should also be lovingly tasted to appreciate the aromatic subtleties associated with each bean, each origin and each process of production. So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the main flavours that make a great tasting coffee…
The main flavours of coffee
When you drink coffee, your taste buds are going to pick up on many different flavours that you can learn to understand, analyse and decipher. It may be hard at first but, with a bit of practice, you can train yourself to identify each individual flavour. The aim is to fine-tune your own preferences to make sure that you always choose the coffee that suits you best. But as we’ve already seen, attempting to cover every possible aromatic subtlety in one article would be an impossible task. That’s why we’re going to start you off with some introductory tips :-)
By now you’re probably already wondering which coffee is right for your palate. To help you with that choice, we’re going to look at the four main flavour of coffee types typically present in a cup of coffee: acidity, bitterness, sweetness and saltiness.
To the untrained palate, acidity is easily confused with bitterness. However, the two are actually at opposite ends of the flavour spectrum. In some ways, acidity is quite simple to identify because it is picked up on the sides of the tongue. Think about the taste of fresh lemon juice… OK that may be an exaggeration, but you’d be surprised at the acidity of certain beans! The flavour is typical of Arabica coffee grown at altitude and, when nicely controlled, it’s a flavour that is highly appreciated by many coffee specialists.
If you’re a fan of this flavour type – or if this is all new to you and you’re curious to try it out – you should look for light roasted coffees. If I had to choose one, it would be the Moka Sidamo Marabou from Cafés Lugat, a truly remarkable Ethiopian coffee with distinctive citrus notes.
Unlike acidity, bitterness is picked up on the top of the tongue and at the back of the mouth (if you want a good example of a bitter taste, try eating the white skin of a grapefruit!). Unsurprisingly, many people consider it to be a rather unpleasant flavour. But when it’s well managed, it can bring a genuinely distinctive quality to a coffee and we think you’d be pleasantly surprised by the result! The bitterness of a coffee develops during its roasting process: the longer the beans are roasted for, the more bitter the resulting coffee becomes. Scientifically speaking, bitterness comes from the chlorogenic acids that are present in caffeine. It’s for that reason that Robusta coffee can contain up to twice the amount of caffeine found in Arabica coffee, and consequently, dark roasted Robusta beans often have a pronounced bitter flavour.
If you’re a fan of bitterness, or you simply want to experiment with it, then dark roasted coffees are the ones for you. Italian coffee is a good place to start or, for maximum bitterness. Just pick up the first pack of Robusta beans that you come across. But do bear in mind that what you gain in bitterness? you may lose in complexity, as Robusta coffee tends not to offer the textured flavours of an Arabica coffee.
Sweetness is such a familiar sensation that I won’t spend all day describing it here! But it goes without saying that this pleasant taste brings a more gentle flavour to coffee.
A little tip for making slow coffee: once your coffee is ready, be sure to swirl it around in its container (like the Chemex for example) to let it plenty of air in. By doing so, you’ll bring out more of the natural sweetness found in your coffee. Not bad, eh?
Does the idea of a salty coffee seems a little strange to you? Don’t worry, that’s perfectly normal! But I can assure you that there is a certain saltiness to the taste of coffee, and above all of espressos. The taste is actually created at the start of the extraction process. As an experiment, try making a 30-second espresso and tasting it at 5-second intervals. You’ll probably be taken aback by the saltiness of your first mouthful, but the flavour becomes less and less pronounced as the espresso keeps pouring. Pretty crazy, right?
I think I’ve crammed your heads with enough information for one day :-) All that’s left is for you to train your palate! With a bit of practice and a healthy variety of coffees to hand, you’ll soon become an expert in the domain. Next time we’ll continue the journey of discovery for your taste buds by taking a closer look at fruity coffees. There are plenty of surprises left in store, we can assure you!
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