Coffee is considered a staple drink worldwide, with its immense popularity and benefits that no other beverage can match. Majority of people love to drink coffee early in the morning because it awakens the senses and promotes focus. It’s no surprise why coffee is a multibillion industry.
If you’re planning to start a coffee business or simply want to become a professional coffee hobbyist, you need to be equipped with the right knowledge about coffee through coffee testing. In this beginner’s guide, we will help you understand the basics of coffee testing. At the end of this post, you’ll be more confident tasting different flavors of coffee. You’ll learn how to distinguish different coffee species and how roasting affects the aroma and flavor of coffee.
Let’s get started!
Factors Affecting the Quality of Coffee
Every cup of coffee has a unique taste, which depends on the origin of the coffee beans and the roasting and brewing processes. There are 25 major coffee bean species, and the most common cultivated species for commercial use include the following:
- Arabian coffee – This coffee is from the Coffea arabica species cultivated in Ethiopia and Yemen. It has multiple flavor layers with a highly complex aroma.
- Robusta coffee – This coffee is from the Coffea canephora species cultivated in Vietnam and Ethiopia. It is usually used in manufacturing instant coffee mix and low-grade coffee blends. It has distinct chocolate notes. The caffeine is double that of Arabica coffee.
- Liberica coffee – his coffee is from the Coffea arnoldiana De Wild species cultivated in the Philippines. It has a “woody” flavor with a nutty and smoky aroma.
You’ll also find the Tradecraft’s coffee guide helpful if you want to know more about the best coffee beans today.
Coffee beans are green upon harvesting, and they have little or no taste at all. They need to undergo a roasting process to unlock their flavor. The types of coffee roast include light roast, medium roast, and dark roast. The length of roast and temperature play crucial roles in the aroma and flavor of coffee.
- Light roast. One example of this type of roast is cinnamon roast, which involves roasting coffee beans at 196 °C (385 °F), resulting in a grassy flavor, little sweetness, and sharp acidity. Another type of light roast is the New England roast, which heats the coffee beans at 205 °C (401 °F). The higher temperature brings complex acidity, which opens up the natural origin flavor of the coffee beans.
- Medium roast. The body of the coffee starts to develop with a medium roast. It balances the acidity and origin flavor of the coffee beans with the roasted flavor and the body from roasting. It’s common in the USA with the famous American roast (210 °C or 410 °F) and the city roast (219 °C or 426 °F).
- Dark roast. The temperatures for dark roast are above 225 °C (437 °F). The coffee beans start to turn from green and brownish to black. With this type of roast, the origin flavor is barely noticeable. Almost none of the inherent flavor and aromas of the coffee beans are left. Espressos are usually dark roasts. The taste profile can be described as strong roast and full-bodied flavor with minimal acidity.
Parameters Used in Coffee Testing
A stimulating black coffee starts a good conversation. To appreciate its real beauty, you have to evaluate several aspects, including the aroma, body, acidity, and flavor. You can also check online resources, such as coffee 101 guide, to find out more how these parameters affect the overall quality of coffee as well as some quick coffee trivia. For now, here’s a quick summary:
- Aroma – The olfactory or sense of smell is related to the sense of taste, which enhances coffee flavor upon the first smell. It’s a good practice taking a moment to put your nose and get a good whiff of the aromatic-rich flavor of coffee before you sip. You’d be surprised by the full range of aromas available, including nutty, spicy, fruit, caramel, and smoky.
- Body – This is the measure of a coffee’s texture or how the flavor settles in your tongue and throat from the first gulp. The body is usually described as heavy bodied (viscous and thick) or light bodied (less viscous).
- Acidity – The acidity refers to the dry and sparkling sensation, giving coffee its unique taste. It is a distinguishing factor associated with high-quality coffee beans that are usually grown at higher elevations. It can be described as a fruit-like flavor (malic acid) or citric acid level of acidity found in Arabica coffee. Coffee beans that were brewed or roasted a long time ago usually have high levels of quinic acid.
- Flavor – The flavor pertains to the taste of the coffee. The primary flavors include sweet, roasted, floral, spices, fruity, nutty (cocoa), green (vegetative), sour (fermented), and skunky.
Step-by-Step Guide to Coffee Testing
1. Approach a cup of coffee like you normally would with any fine wine. Focus on both the aroma (scent) and the flavor (taste) just like how you notice your favorite pizza ingredients. What are the aromas that hit your nose whenever you grind the beans? Does any new scent emerge when you smell that freshly brewed cup of coffee? To determine the flavors that emerge, swirl the first sip of coffee inside your mouth.
2. Describe the first layer of flavors. Is it sweet, nutty, sour, or skunky?
3. Describe the second and third layers of flavor. Does it taste like vanilla? Does it have a sweet aroma? How about cinnamon, nutmeg, or anise? Some coffee has a peppery or pungent flavor profile, whereas others have berry flavors (e.g., strawberry, blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry). Some people prefer more roasted and darker varieties. Others like their coffee with a burnt flavor (e.g., ashy, smoky, or acrid).
4. Distinguish the good from the bad coffee characteristics.
- Bad – Coffee with a green floral scent (means underripe) or poorly prepared coffee (tastes bitter, salty, rubbery, skunky, or like gasoline).
- Good – Tastes fresh, haylike, or herby.
5. Practice testing at home. Try tasting different sweeteners, such as honey, molasses, white sugar, and brown sugar. Taste them in sequence and find out their differences. They’re all sweet, but in different ways. By doing so, you’ll be able to detect the sweetener used in a particular coffee served. Let your imagination explore and run wild by tasting chocolates and wines. While doing so, take note of the memories each flavor create within you, such as an unforgettable childhood memory. You can use this skill in tasting coffee.
Use this guide to be more confident in coffee testing. So, the next time you visit your favorite coffee shop, be sure to get ready and try to use all your senses to determine the quality of coffee served to you. Enjoy the aroma and flavor of your favorite coffee, and don’t hesitate to try different varieties for a wonderful coffee experience.