What is coffee flavor

Date Posted:2 March 2014 

What is coffee flavor -
Flavor is not about the brand or beans you buy. It is generated by a function of the brew efficiency. This article helps you understand why brew and extraction controls your flavor experience.


hit me......

Flavor is a complex beast - a multi-headed one at that.

Every single day I am faced with a constant obstacle - articulating the links and relationships between coffee and flavor.

Some days I succeed and many days I fail to get the message across properly.

This is highly frustrating for me personally and can detract from the joy of transforming something plain and raw into an intoxicating beverage.

It happens across the entire spectrum of coffee consumers - from the experienced barista who has owned and run specialty coffee cafes for many years, the chefs who are trying to improve the beverage in their food-focused/dominated establishment and often

the mycuppa customer that writes the simple message on the order comments sections for a Roaster's Choice product purchase "something strong with full bodied flavor please".

What does it really mean..........strong ?

It is a topic I have written on a few times previously - coffee strength.

As coffee roasters, we don't go through a list of 400 raw coffees imported into Australia every year looking for the words "strong" or "high flavor".  

That is not how raw coffees are graded or rated. They are not offered in a scale from 1 to 10 in "strength".

It would make it easy to pick the coffees that are a "10" so that we have a more powerful and stronger coffee portfolio than our competitors - NOPE ! that's not how it works.

The majority of coffee roasters in Australia, say 97% are offered the same list of coffees at the same time. There is no secret, exclusive or special treatment - just a level playing field upon which selections and choices need to be made by coffee roasters as the buyers.

We buy based upon our perception of quality and value - just the same as any buyer would approach a purchase.

Some coffee roasters may focus more on value and others on quality - that's normal human behavior.

A coffee bean can be roasted to a desirable point whereby it provides flavor, acid, body, sweetness and finish (persistence).

You can under-roast that coffee to accentuate the original character of the bean such as stone fruit, acids, etc. but it comes at the cost of body, flavor and finish.

Similarly, over-roasting the coffee bean may deliver enhanced body, finish, flavor, etc. but you reduce or diminish the fruit, acid, sweetness and introduce the undesirable taints of chary, ashy bitterness.

The flavor generated by the coffee is a function of the brew efficiency.

That is, if you extract the espresso shot well, the resultant brew will contain adequate flavor and all of the other desirable attributes that contribute to an enjoyable beverage.

The single biggest challenge I see with coffee consumers is the knowledge and skills required to adapt to the variable nature of coffee.

Fresh versus aged coffee, grind setting, dosage, purging, temperature, brew times, etc. all influence the outcome to a greater extent than the original coffee bean.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where the consumer thinks it is the bean that makes the difference, not the brewing.

A skilled person can take a coffee that someone might deem or judge as "mild" or "weak" and produce something truly superb.

The secret is in knowing how to compensate for that moment in time - how fresh is the coffee, stale grinds retention in the grinder, dose levels, extraction efficiencies, etc.

Many coffees have an equivalent "strength" rating - you may be surprised at that statement and many might disagree !.

That means the flavor will be comparable and the differences you are tasting are acids, fruits, tannins, etc. or you are tasting the difference between caramel and cocoa - which one has the higher flavor ? Answer = that depends.

Flavor is a highly variable attribute - it can depend upon your genetics, mood (feelings), aromatics and past experiences (memories), etc.

Smell accounts for a large portion of what we regard as "taste" in food and beverage as both taste and smell work in similar ways using receptor cells that produce signals that travel via the sensory pathways to the brain.

Some coffees exhibit more aromatics than others.

As an example, many African and Colombian coffees produce high levels of aromatics and these sensations can preempt the taste experience in such a powerful way that physical flavor can appear more enhanced or "stronger".

When I dealing with coffee and hearing the word "strong" I immediately replace the word "strong" with "rich".

Strong to most people may in fact mean bitter - they want bitter coffee because they may have been accustomed to drinking instant coffee and add 1 or more sugars to their milk-based espresso.

Bitter coffee is easy to create - just roast the beans without any sense of control or precision and dump them at any period after 2nd crack arrives - simple, no skill, no care and just a rough cup that has the bitterness hidden by sweetness of textured milk and sugar granules.

Rich is something altogether different.

Richness is about complexity, sweetness, body, aroma and most importantly balance.

The objective for a coffee lover is to achieve a rich brew through perfecting the technique of brewing or extraction.

This is not an easy task, some days it will happen and other days not.......but persistence will reward you with an amazing experience.