An Introduction to Coffee Flavours
In the past, when people would be asked to describe coffee they might say things like it is dark, bitter and either chocolatey, nutty or maybe even both. This does not have to be the case and over the next few 500 words or so I am going to explain in a little more detail that different coffees can have floral notes, higher acidity and fruity flavours and that coffee is so much more than a dark bitter drink.
What are the different flavours in coffee?
To start, in a very basic sense, coffee has five tastes: Sweet, Acidic, Salt, Bitter and Umami (savouriness), all of which can be highlighted in a number of different ways:
1. At the farm/terroir, through either the varietal of coffee grown 2. The method to process the coffee at the roastery and the how light/dark the roast development is3. At the coffee shop on how a barista chooses to brew the coffee.
The sign of a good cup is having all these tastes balanced and complementing each other.
What about the flavours you see on bags: are they added artificially?
No, these are all naturally occurring flavours that are highlighted through the same methods as mentioned above. Each origin, varietal and processing method plays a huge part in influencing the end cup. For example, coffees from Brazil that have been processed naturally tend to be lower in acidity and heavier in body/mouthfeel, with flavours like chocolate, nuts and caramel.
By comparison, a coffee that is from Ethiopia and has been processed using the washed method, the acidity will be much higher and citrusy, like a lemon, with the body/mouthfeel lighter. You can expect floral aromas such as jasmine and bergamot and fruit like notes from stone fruits like peaches and apricots.
How can the way in which a coffee is roasted affect the flavour in my cup?
During the roasting process, coffee changes in colour from being a green bean to the brown bean we know. In the first stages of roasting, all moisture is removed and the sugars begin to brown and caramelise. This is known as the maillard reaction.
Once all moisture is removed, the beans will then start to crack (it sounds very much like popcorn popping). This is where flavour development begins. If the development is too short then the coffee can taste straw-like and grassy. If developed further, we start to see acidity and sweetness highlighted, with more fruity notes becoming prominent. These are the characteristics unique to the coffee from its origin and processing method.
Roasting the coffee further, the bean starts to darken and become a deeper brown colour, the acidity will drop and start to lose the characteristics of the origin with more chocolate and caramel flavours being produced.
Finally, if we continue the roast even further, the coffee will crack again and become black and oily, with more chemical-like flavours coming through. These can be smoky, rubbery and medicinal flavours, for example, and yes - in our opinion - they taste as good as they sound… rubbish!
No matter the coffee, if you roast to this level they will all taste like this. This is flavour only imparted by the roaster and not from the origin.
Our role as a coffee roaster is to showcase the bean in the best possible light and be as true as possible to its origins and its flavours, hence the reason we roast light/medium in colour.
Will I still taste those flavours if I add milk to my coffee?
The sign of a well-made coffee is one that can be drunk without adding milk, as this tends to mask flavours. That means the notes you see printed on a bag tend to be for a black coffee.
Saying that, it does not mean you can’t add milk to a coffee. Adding milk to an espresso to create something like a flat white, cappuccino or latte can alter the flavours for the better. For example, our Colombia Cattura de Altura is a coffee that has flavours of hazelnut, berries and caramel.
When adding steamed milk to the espresso in a 6oz cup, it changes from what someone might describe as being a hazelnut coffee to a coffee that has flavours of blackberries, vanilla and cream, or as I like to think of it, fruits of the forest ice cream!
Finding a coffee that works with milk is all about creating a harmonious balance between sweet creamy milk and a well-brewed coffee.