How to Describe the Taste of Coffee

Since the rise of specialty coffee, drinking a cup of coffee is more and more becoming an enjoyable, flavorful experience, and not just a functional one. It’s no longer just about getting caffeinated (although that’s not a bad side effect), but about exploring the complex flavors presented by the coffee. We’ve discussed in previous blogs exactly how and why that change in coffee culture occurred, but how do we translate of all that information in something that makes sense to us when we actually take a sip of our morning brew? How we describe what it is that we’re experiencing? Sure, we could talk about the presence of lipids and the chemical makeup of the coffee, but those abstractions are a far cry from the reality of what we’re experiencing in our mouths.

Luckily, there’s a very easy way to take all these complicated ideas and sensations and bring them down to the ground level, talking about them in a way that makes sense to everyone. It all starts by breaking our experience up into a few simple categories:

  • Flavor and Aroma
  • Mouthfeel
  • Body
  • Acidity

These categories simplify our experience, isolating key aspects of the coffee and helping us tackle all of these complex sensations one by one.

FLAVOR & AROMA

are exactly what it sounds like: what specific flavors and smells do you notice? Does it smell sweet, like strawberries? Does the taste remind you of oranges and cream? Here’s where the flavor wheel we discussed a few blogs back can be an extremely helpful tool.  

MOUTHFEEL

is also a fairly straightforward term: How does the coffee feel in your mouth? Or, in other words, what is the texture of the coffee? Does it feel creamy, or juicy? Does it remind you of the feel of tea, or milk? Is it watery, or thick and heavy? You can think about these terms in combination with the flavor of the coffee to more completely describe your experience.

BODY

The body of the coffee goes hand in hand with the mouthfeel, as these two aspects of the drink are very closely related. In short, the body describes the weight and fullness of the coffee, and how it amplifies or diminishes the enjoyment of the other characteristics of the coffee. Is it a heavy or thin coffee? Is it bold, or delicate? Heavy, or light? All of these descriptors can be good or bad, depending upon the coffee that your drinking. For example, a coffee with a creamy texture and a lavender note might be enhanced by having a very delicate light body, whereas a coffee with notes of dark chocolate might feel incomplete if the body is too light.

ACIDITY

is perhaps the most complex term we use to describe coffee, as it essentially encompasses all three of the previous terms, but in reference specifically to the brighter, light flavors of the coffee. Remember, in a previous blog post we said that the acids in coffee contribute to the sweet, fruity flavors of the coffee, so when we describe the acidity, we’re essentially describing how enjoyable our experience of those flavors are. Are the sweet flavors noticable and clean, or are they perhaps a little too muddy? Is it sparkling, like the feeling of drinking champagne, or is it dry, like a really dry wine?

BALANCE

Lastly, once we’ve gotten a feel for how all of these terms relate to the coffee we’re drinking, we might describe what’s known as the balance of our coffee. How well do all these characteristics work together to create a cup of coffee that we actually enjoy? Is there too much body and not enough acidity? Does the mouthfeel enhance or detract from the overall taste of the coffee?

Once you start describing your coffee in these terms, you may find that there’s a lot more going on in that cup than you previously thought. When you begin to pay attention to the many different facets of coffee taste, a whole new world of enjoyment opens up to you. So best wishes on your coffee tasting experience, and happy tasting!