Java Beat: What’s that flavor?
This article originally published in Greater Sturbridge Town & Country Living, October2020 By Elvis Dyer, Owner/Roaster, Sturbridge Coffee Roasters
When asked “what’s your favorite flavored coffee?”, some people respond with French Vanilla or Pumpkin Spice. However, in the coffee industry, flavors refer to the tastes and smells the consumer experiences from grinding the beans to taking the first sip. Understanding your flavor preferences can help you find your most desirable coffee.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America and World Coffee Research has developed a tool known as the “Coffee Tasters Flavor Wheel” to help coffee tasters analyze and describe coffees. This flavor wheel is used in casual tasting and professional coffee cupping with the intent to let the tastes of the coffee you are drinking float to your mind. But it’s not just when you’re drinking the coffee, it’s used to analyze and observe coffee at different stages. These stages include the fragrance right after grinding the beans, the aromas that escape when the water hit the coffee grounds and the flavors the consumer experiences when the coffee is sipped. The coffee flavor is a combination of taste and smell.
This industry standard features a range of tasting notes and is designed with the taster to start with the broader qualities in the center of the wheel, with notes including floral, fruiting, sour/fermented, green/vegetative, roasted, spices, nutty/cocoa, sweet and other. As you move from the middle of the wheel outward, each flavor becomes more precise. For example, nutty/cocoa is further specified as peanuts, hazelnut, almond, chocolate or dark chocolate. Or fruity can be further characterized as berry, citrus, dried and other fruits. Taking it one step further, citrus could then be defined as grapefruit, orange, lemon or lime.
There are three main coffee growing regions: Latin America, Africa and Asia. Generally speaking, Latin American coffees have a sweeter and more balanced flavors, African coffees are bright and fruity with floral and Asian coffees are known for their earthy, spicy and woody tastes.
More specifically, each individual country and even parts of countries have their own distinctive tastes. For example, taste profiles from different coffee growing regions around the world differ. Africa’s bright and fragrant notes vary. Ethiopian coffees from Harrar can have floral, fruity tastes, whereas those from Yirgacheffe are more known for their chocolatey tones. Kenya coffee has a bold, bright flavor and Tanzania has a fruity finish.
Central and South America’s mild and smooth flavors can range from Brazil and Nicaragua notes of nutty or buttery smooth taste to Colombia’s sweet almost liquor-like quality. Indonesia’s full bodied and bold flavors include Sumatra’s bold flavor, much like you would describe a bold red wine often accompanied with an earthy, pepper finish whereas Papua New Guinea has a sweet, sometimes slight leather finish.
Single origin coffees allow the flavors to really stand out. Once you’ve found a coffee that is roasted well and brewed well, it’s all about consuming. Practice, tasting, and referring back to the flavor wheel can help consumers better understand their tastes and identify your favorite coffees. Or, chat with a coffee roaster to discuss the bean’s specific characteristics.