Coffee roasters take great lengths to create the perfect taste profile - an art form to be enjoyed with every cup.
Each roast has its own personality, and each person’s palate is unique - reacting differently to each roast. No cup of coffee tastes the same to every individual. It’s a unique experience for all.
Understanding the different characteristics of coffee can enhance your coffee drinking experience. By knowing what smells, tastes, and feels to look for, you can curate your morning coffee to the exact roast and profile that suits your palate.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about coffee flavours:
- Coffee Traits
- Types of Roasts
- The Roasting Process
Acidity in coffee doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the actual pH of the coffee bean, it has more to do with the taste profile. If your coffee is higher in acidity, it will have a fruitier taste, and if it's lower in acidity, it will have less sharpness and be on the sweeter side. However, if it is too acidic, the coffee will taste sour, and if there isn't enough acidity, your coffee will taste flat. Acidity can also be described as being lively, tangy, bright, citrusy, or sharp.
How much body a coffee has means how heavy or thick the coffee feels - the structure, or mouthfeel of the drink. There are three categories of body in coffee: light, medium, and full-bodied. Body can range from watery, thick, syrupy, heavy, to buttery. Coffee roasts that are on the darker side tend to have more body than the lighter roasts.
Aroma is very important to the tasting experience, because before you taste the coffee with your mouth, the aroma is detected by the nose. Smelling the coffee before drinking enhances the tasting experience because the nose has more receptors than the tongue.
Since the raw green coffee bean has no scent, the coffee bean must be roasted to release the aroma. The aroma profiles include flowery, nutty, smoky, and herby, depending on how long the coffee bean was roasted and at which temperature.
Balance in coffee is a difficult one to pinpoint. Because everyone’s palate is different, and coffee beans come from all over the world with different taste profiles, it can be hard to say if a coffee is well balanced or not.
Think about it this way - when coffee is balanced, one taste doesn’t overpower the other, and each taste is identifiable. Even when there are some tastes more present, the rest of the tastes aren’t drowned out in the process. Each aroma, taste, and acidity can be singled out.
Lastly, the finish is the reason we come back for more. This is the pleasant lingering taste the coffee leaves on our taste buds, also known as the aftertaste. Some have a long finish, some have a shorter finish. It can be fleeting, lingering, rough, smooth, but the most important part is that the taste should remind you of something lovely, like your favorite fruit.
Are you drinking a cup of coffee right now? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does my coffee taste tangy or sweet? Bright or sharp?
- How does the coffee feel in my mouth? Is it watery or heavy?
- Does my coffee smell flowery or nutty? Smoky or herby?
- Can I pinpoint the different tastes in my coffee?
- What is the aftertaste like?
Coffee Roasts, Explained
Next, we learn all about the different types of roasts.
Light roasts are roasted for the least amount of time with the lowest temperature among all roasts, giving it the highest level of acidity and the highest caffeine concentration of all coffee roasts.
The taste profiles here are lemon or citrus - pleasant flavours to the palate and perhaps the reason why light roasts are popular for many coffee lovers. When shopping for a light coffee roast, the names to look out for are Light City, Half City, and Cinnamon.
Average coffee drinkers choose medium roast.
It has more body than the light roast but is less acidic, since the coffee bean is roasted for longer. More roast time means more time for caramelization to occur, eliminating some of the acidity.
Medium roast coffee is also well balanced, which makes it the most palatable for the average person to enjoy. To find a medium roast coffee, look for the American, Breakfast and City.
This leads us to the last roast, which is roasted at the highest temperature and the longest out of all the others.
The dark roast has a sweeter flavor due to the caramelization of the beans at the high temperature, along with the longer roasting process allowing for richer more full bodied flavour, creating a buttery finish with the least amount of acidity than the rest of the roasts.
This roast also has the least amount of caffeine concentration due to the lengthy roasting process. Dark roasts are popular in Europe which is why many of the dark roasts have European names like French, Italian, Viennese, European, Turkish, as well as, Continental and New Orleans.
Now we move on to the most important aspect of the entire process…
The Roasting Process: How are Coffee Beans Roasted?
Since the raw green coffee bean contains a high amount of moisture (up to 12% moisture) the beans must be dried first. This is done by using large drums that heat up the bean and allow the water to evaporate. Since the inside of the drum can reach up to 160⁰C, the length of time the beans are dried is very important. The drying process should only last from 4-8 minutes, and the temperature should not exceed the maximum, otherwise the beans will burn and ruin the batch.
The drying stage overlaps into the browning stage - because here the beans are still being evaporated, but the structural compound of the bean starts to change, and a chemical reaction called the Maillard reaction occurs.
This is where the aroma is created by the sugars being reduced and the browning of the bean takes place. As the beans open up and brown, the smell is similar to hay or dried grass, but the outcome is the beloved caramelized, bitter, and acidic attributes that are most desired in a cup of coffee.
The first crack
As the browning stage ends, the next stage is ushered in by the slight sound of popping.
Up until this stage, the coffee bean has been absorbing heat in an endothermic reaction. However, the cracking sound comes from the bean releasing heat in an exothermic reaction where the water vapor and pressure that has been built up is finally released.
This stage is very brief, yet important in gauging where the coffee bean is in its development through the stages. After this stage, the coffee roaster decides how much more heat or time the beans will endure further, if any.
This is where the magic happens and the coffee roaster can showcase their skills in the coffee roasting process. Time and temperature play a crucial role in creating the profile of the coffee. The shorter and cooler the roaster decides to roast, the more acidic and bitter the coffee becomes.
The longer and hotter the roaster decides to roast, the Maillard reaction continues to caramelize the bean which creates a smoother, sweeter, full bodied coffee roast. This is the stage where all aspects of the roast are taken into account as the roaster turns the heat down or continues with the heat, and/or stops the process or allows the roast to head to the next stage.
The second crack
This stage is the last and final stage for the roasts that intentionally allow for it. Not all roasts reach this stage. For example, a light roast will not require a second crack to allow for the acidity to stick around. However, for the darker, more full-bodied roasts, this stage is imperative. The beans crack and turn darker and oily. Roasting to this stage creates a dark roast coffee with low acidity, sweet, full-bodied, pungent, and balanced. If roasted further from this step, this gives us the French and Italian roasts.
Time for a cup.
Now you have a full primer on the taste and roasting process of your coffee.
Now, you are at a good starting point to understand what exactly you like about your favourite cup of coffee from Bean Around The World.
You can experiment by tasting different roasts and different beans, and take notes on which you like and which you don’t like.
With every cup, take a moment and indulge in all aspects that you learned about today. Try to isolate each sensory experience - the scent, mouthfeel, and taste.
A new world of enhanced coffee tasting experiences await!
See you next time at your favourite Bean Around The World.