Orange blossom, dark cherries, tobacco, stone fruit, pie crust, and dark chocolate are some descriptors you’ll see on coffee labels. But what do these tasting notes mean? Will your coffee taste like leather or tobacco?
Keep reading to find out more about coffee-tasting notes and how you can detect them.
What Are Tasting Notes
Every coffee-of-the-month club worth subscribing to includes cards with each bag of coffee they ship. Along with its country of origin, arabica variety, and suggested brew methods, these cards often include tasting notes.
Similar to the descriptors you’d expect to find on wine or beer labels, all the best coffee roasters use notes to encapsulate four major elements:
These elements, along with their country of origin and coffee variety, determine each cup’s unique flavor or cup profile.
How To Find The Four Major Elements
To find these elements, you’ll want to conduct a coffee cupping each time you try out a new variety of coffee beans. Using the coffee flavor wheel, you’ll classify the coffee according to the four major elements above.
Upon opening the bag, you’ll most likely notice the coffee’s aroma first. Just as with wine tasting, there are two ways in which we detect aroma: orthonasal olfaction and retronasal olfaction (1).
In orthonasal olfaction, you detect the aroma by smelling the coffee grinds, and in retronasal olfaction, you’ll experience the aroma as flavor.
This is why you’ll smell the freshly ground beans first, note what you smell, and then detect more subtle aromas of the bean as you taste it.
Related: What is Coffee Aroma: How to Describe the Smell of Coffee
The coffee’s body describes how it settles on your tongue (2). According to Perfect Daily Grind:
…An espresso’s body can be light and airy, almost like a tea, or dense and heavy, like warm honey. An espresso’s body can vary massively; it might be oily, creamy, juicy, or syrupy.
Also, you can describe this texture or mouthfeel as heavy, medium, or light. You may use words like velvety, rich, or thin as well.
One of the first things you’ll notice about your coffee is its acidity. While some coffees have a natural citrus acidity, other coffees taste sour because they’re under-extracted.
This under-extracted coffee is sour throughout the cup but lacks depth and body. Well-extracted bright coffees, however, balance the aroma, body, flavor, and finish. Also, thanks to retronasal olfaction, you’ll be able to taste and smell more nuanced coffee flavors in the cup.
The finish of a coffee describes the lingering notes the coffee leaves on your palate. If the coffee has a long, sweet finish, you can taste the sweetness on your tongue after it’s swallowed.
To see a visual demonstration of coffee cupping, check out this video from the staff a