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The taste of coffee

The taste of coffee

by Espresso Di Manfredi

The taste of coffee, where to start? It is such a massive subject.

We all have a particular idea about the taste of coffee, whether we drink 1 cup a week or 5 cups per day, or we drink tea!

Whatever our level of consumption there are a few main tastes that really come to mind when you mention coffee. They are some of the basics tastes, bitter, sweet, and sour (we coffee people call this one acidity, just like wine tasters).

For the non- coffee lovers of the world it is usually ‘bitter’ or the double whammy ‘burnt /bitter’. Yes, terribly negative words, and it’s hard to come up with two more powerfully descriptive words about taste. Bitter has always been associated with something which is bad for we humans. As kids we hate bitter things and for good reason as once it meant the difference between staying alive and healthy or not. We are pretty sensitive to bitterness as this taste can indicate a toxic substance. In the past people who can perceive bitterness at low levels tended to live longer.

Coffee experts understand bitterness slightly differently as it can have a negative and positive reaction in the taste of a coffee. In other words, the bitterness can help the overall enjoyment of the coffee or detract from it. Usually negative bitterness comes from poorly brewed or roasted coffee where the oils have become oxidised. A lot of people relate bitterness with Robusta coffee.

It is true that Robusta coffees are on average less acid, and less fruity in flavour than Arabica coffee, in my opinion unless the Robusta is a poor quality type or badly processed/roasted the bitterness tends to have a, more or less, low level impact in the profile. Robusta can positively add to a blend’s complexity and when used at say 10 to 15% is almost undetectable to most people.

Sweetness on the other hand is one main taste which connects with humans and however mostly is not associated with black coffee.

We coffee experts use the term ‘sweet’ differently to the average consumer to whom it means how much sugar or artificial sweetener has been used to counteract the bitterness of their coffee. When a coffee expert describes a coffee as sweet they are referring to the perceived sweetness of the coffee beans. Beautifully prepared (processed green coffees) tend to have more of this flavour. Sweetness too, can be overdone and can be an indicator of poorly processed green coffee, in other words, a taste fault. Overly sweet coffee tend towards over fermented coffee, this is an excessively fruity flavour which I always liken to the taste of that orange you left in the fruit bowl for one week too long. You know the one, one more day and it turns a little mouldy. Some coffees, I really like the Colombian Arabica, produce a sweet almost honey like taste when roasted to a mid brown colour, past the first crack!

The sourness of a coffee, or as I mentioned before, the acidity of a coffee is up to a certain level perceived positively. In other words, it gives a nice refreshing liveliness to the taste of the coffee, like a good sav blanc! The acidity in coffee can be likened to citrus taste. Too much acidity can be unpleasant and irritatingly aggressive. It hits the sides of the tongue and creates a drying, astringent reaction in the mouth. Lightly roasted high grown washed Arabica coffees can deliver this type of taste. In particular some fantastic quality Kenya Coffees produce this level of acidity, a lot of experts like this style but the average Aussie consumer doesn’t. A small percentage of such a coffee in a blend helps with the richness of the blend profile at the right roast degree!

But here I digress into the area of blending.....let’s talk about that next time.