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How To Properly Discuss Coffee Flavor and Aroma

Believe it or not, humans have extremely powerful senses of taste and smell. Often times we think of dogs and cats as those with the powerful senses of smell, that is until you hear that the human nose can distinguish at least 1 trillion different odors, according to Nature, the esteemed science journal.

Previously we thought we could only detect 10,000 scents.⁠ ⁠ With this powerful sense on our side, it is probably a contributing reason why coffee is so fascinating and enthralling once you dive into the coffee drinking experience. ⁠ ⁠

There are those who have even more powerful senses of taste and smell and are actually classified as supertasters. You can test if you’re a supertaster here.

That said, how would you go about explaining the difference between each of those 1 trillion scents? It will be a little difficult, so we want to help improve your sensory vocabular.

Every coffee bean has a rich history. The geography, soil, roast, preparation style, drying style, blend; everything has an impact on your sensory experience and we want to help you verbalize your experience.

Olfactory experts have created some common aroma descriptors for coffee (flowery, fruity, herby, nutty, caramelly, chocolatey, carbony, spicy, and resinous but we have included all the main tastes and sub tastes from the World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon.

 

MAIN TASTES

  • SWEET A fundamental taste factor of which sucrose is typical.
  • SOUR The fundamental taste factor associated with a citric acid solution.
  • BITTER The fundamental taste factor associated with a caffeine solution.
  • BITTER The fundamental taste factor associated with a caffeine solution.
  • SALTY A fundamental taste factor of which sodium chloride is typical.

FRUITY

  • FRUITY: A sweet, floral, aromatic blend of a variety of ripe fruits
  • BERRY: The sweet, sour, floral, sometimes heavy aromatic associated with a variety of berries such as blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries.
  • Strawberry: The somewhat sweet, slightly sour, floral, fruity, frequently winey aromatic associated with strawberry.
  • Raspberry: The lightly sweet, fruity, floral, slightly sour and musty aromatic associated with raspberries.
  • Blueberry: The slightly dark, fruity, sweet, slightly sour, musty, dusty, floral aromatic associated with blueberry.
  • Blackberry: The sweet, dark, fruity, floral, slightly sour, somewhat woody aromatic associated with blackberries.
  • DRIED FRUIT: An aromatic impression of dark fruit that is sweet and slightly brown and is associated with dried plums and raisins.
  • Raisin: The concentrated, sweet, somewhat sour, brown, fruity, floral aromatic characteristic of dried grapes.
  • Prune: The sweet, slightly brown, floral, musty and overripe aromatic impression of dark fruit associated with dried plums.
  • OTHER FRUIT: A sweet, light, fruity, somewhat floral, sour, or green aromatic that may include apples, grapes, peaches, pears, or cherries
  • Apple: A sweet, light, fruity, somewhat floral aromatic commonly associated with fresh or processed apples.
  • Pear: The sweet, slightly floral, musty, woody, fruity aromatic associated with pears.
  • Peach: The floral, perfuming, fruity, sweet, slightly sour aromatic associated with peaches.
  • Grape: The sweet, fruity, floral, slightly sour, musty aromatic commonly associated with grapes.
  • Cherry: The sour, fruity, slightly bitter, floral aromatic associated with cherries.
  • Pomegranate: A sour, sweet fruity aromatic that may be somewhat dark, musty and earthy, reminiscent of dark fruits and root vegetables such as beets and carrots; may also have an astringent mouthfeel.
  • Coconut: The slightly sweet, nutty, somewhat woody aromatic associated with coconut.
  • Pineapple: The sweet, slightly sharp, fruity aromatic associated with pineapple.
  • CITRUS FRUIT: A citric, sour, astringent, slightly sweet, peely, and somewhat floral aromatic that may include lemons, limes, grapefruits, or oranges.
  • Lemon: The citric, sour, astringent, slightly sweet, peely and somewhat floral aromatic associated with lemon.
  • Grapefruit: The citric, sour, bitter, astringent, peely, sharp, slightly sweet aromatic associated with grapefruit.
  • Orange: The citric, sweet, floral, slightly sour aromatic associated with oranges, which may include bitter, peely, and astringent notes.
  • Lime: The citric, sour, astringent, bitter, green, peely, sharp and somewhat floral aromatic associated with limes.

SOUR/ACID

  • SOUR AROMATICS: An aromatic associated with the impression of a sour product.
  • ACETIC ACID: A sour, astringent, slightly pungent aromatic associated with vinegar.
  • BUTYRIC ACID: A sour, fermented-dairy aromatic associated with certain aged cheeses such as Parmesan.
  • ISOVALERIC ACID: A pungent, sour aromatic associated with sweaty, perspiration-generated foot odor and certain aged cheeses such as Romano.
  • CITRIC ACID: A mild, clean, sour aromatic with slight citrus notes accompanied by astringency.
  • MALIC ACID: A sour, sharp, somewhat fruity aromatic accompanied by astringency.

ALCOHOL/FERMENTED

  • ALCOHOL: A colorless, pungent, chemical-like aromatic associated with distilled spirits or grain products.
  • WHISKEY: The aromatic associated with distilled products from fermented grain mash.
  • WINEY: The sharp, pungent, somewhat fruity, alcohol-like aromatic associated with wine.
  • FERMENTED: The pungent, sweet, slightly sour, sometimes yeasty, alcohol-like aromatic characteristic of fermented fruits or sugar or over-proofed dough.
  • OVERRIPE/NEAR FERMENTED: The sweet, slightly sour, damp, musty/earthy aromatic characteristic of fruit or vegetable past their optimum ripeness.

GREEN/VEGETATIVE

  • OLIVE OIL: A light, oily aromatic which may have buttery, green, peppery, bitter, and sweet notes
  • RA:W An aromatic associated with uncooked products.
  • UNDER–RIPE: An aromatic found in green/under-ripe fruit.
  • PEAPOD: Green aromatic that is sweet, beany, fresh, raw, and musty/earthy.
  • GREEN: An aromatic characteristic of fresh, plant-based material. Attributes may include leafy, viney, unripe, grassy, and peapod.
  • FRESH: A green aromatic associated with newly cut grass and leafy plants, characterized by a sweet and pungent character
  • DARK GREEN: The aromatic commonly associated with cooked green vegetables such as spinach, kale, or green beans that may include bitter, sweet, dusty, musty, or earthy elements, and may have a dark, heavy impression.
  • VEGETATIVE: Sharp, slightly pungent aromatic associated with green plant or vegetable matter such as parsley, spinach, or peapod.
  • HAY-LIKE: The lightly sweet, dry, dusty aromatic with slight green character associated with dry grasses.
  • HERB-LIKE: The aromatic commonly associated with green herbs that may be characterized as sweet, slightly pungent, and slightly bitter. May or may not include green or brown notes.
  • BEANY: An aromatic characteristic of beans and bean products that contains musty/earthy, musty/dusty, sour aromatic, bitter aromatic, starchy, and green/peapod, nutty or brown elements.

STALE/PAPERY

  • STALE: The aromatic characterized by a lack of freshness.
  • PAPERY: The aromatic associated with white paper cups.
  • CARDBOARD: The aromatic associated with cardboard or paper packaging.

EARTHY

  • WOODY: The sweet, brown, musty, dark aromatic associated with a bark of a tree
  • MUSTY/EARTHY: The somewhat sweet, heavy aromatic associated with decaying vegetation and damp, black soil.
  • MUSTY/DUSTY: The aromatic associated with dry, closed-air spaces such as attics and closets. May have elements of dry, musty, papery, dry soil, or grain.
  • MOLDY/DAMP: The aromatic associated with damp, closed spaces or basements. May be musty, sharp, and slightly green.
  • PHENOLIC: The aromatic described as damp, musty, and like animal hide. Reminiscent of a tack room.
  • ANIMALIC: A combination of the aromatics associated with farm animals and live-animal habitation.
  • MEATY/BROTHY: The aromatic associated with boiled meat, soup, or stock, with weak meaty notes.

CHEMICAL

  • MEDICINAL: A clean, sterile aromatic characteristic of antiseptic-like products such as Band-Aids, alcohol, and iodine.
  • RUBBER: A dark, heavy, slightly sharp, and pungent aromatic associated with rubber.
  • PETROLEUM: A specific chemical aromatic associated with crude oil and its refined products, which have heavy oil characteristics.
  • SKUNKY: A combination of aromatics associated with skunks.

ROASTED

  • TOBACCO: The brown, slightly sweet, slightly pungent aromatic associated with cured tobacco.
  • PIPE TOBACCO: The brown, sweet, slightly pungent, fruity, floral, spicy aromatic associated with cured tobacco
  • ACRID: The sharp, pungent, bitter, acidic aromatic associated with products that are excessively roasted or browned.
  • ASHY: The dry, dusty, dirty, smoky aromatic associated with the residual of burnt products.
  • BURNT: The dark brown impression of an over-cooked or over-roasted product that can be sharp, bitter, and sour
  • SMOKY: An acute, pungent aromatic that is a product of the combustion of wood, leaves, or a non-natural product.
  • ROASTED: Dark brown impression characteristic of products cooked to a high temperature by dry heat. Does not include bitter or burnt notes.
  • BROWN, ROAST: A rich, full, round aromatic impression always characterized as some degree of darkness, generally associated with attributes such as toasted, nutty, roasted, and sweet.
  • GRAIN: The light brown, dusty, musty, sweet aromatic associated with grains.
  • MALT: The light brown, dusty, musty, sweet, sour and or slightly fermented aromatic associated with grains.

SPICES

  • PUNGENT: A sharp, physically penetrating sensation in the nasal cavity
  • PEPPER: The spicy, pungent, musty, and woody aromatic characteristic of ground black pepper.
  • ANISE: A pungent, sweet, brown, caramelized aromatic that may contain petroleum, medicinal, and floral notes.
  • NUTMEG: A wet, brown, woody, pungent, petroleum-like, heavy aromatic with a slightly lemony impression.
  • BROWN SPICE: The sweet, brown aromatic associated with spices such as cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice
  • CINNAMON: A sweet, brown, slightly woody, slightly pungent, spicy aromatic.
  • CLOVE: A sweet, brown, spicy, pungent, floral, citrus, medicinal, and slightly minty aromatic

NUTTY

  • NUTTY: A slightly sweet, brown, woody, oily, musty, astringent, and bitter aromatic commonly associated with nuts, seeds, beans, and grains.
  • ALMOND: A sweet, light brown, woody, and buttery aromatic with floral and fruity notes that may include rose, cherry, and apricot. It is also astringent and may be slightly smoky.
  • HAZELNUT: A woody, brown, sweet, musty/earthy, slightly cedar aromatic. May include floral, beany, oily, astringent, and bitter flavor notes.
  • PEANUTS: A sweet, light brown, oily, somewhat musty/dusty, beany aromatic that may be slightly astringent

COCOA

  • CHOCOLATE: A blend of cocoa, including cocoa butter and dark roast aromatics at varying intensities.
  • COCOA: A brown, sweet, dusty, musty, often bitter aromatic associated with cocoa bean, powdered cocoa and chocolate bars.
  • DARK CHOCOLATE: A high-intensity blend of cocoa and cocoa butter that may include dark roast, spicy, burnt, and musty notes with increased astringency and bitterness.
  • MOLASSES: Dark, caramelized top notes that may include slightly sharp, acrid, and sulfur notes characteristic of molasses.
  • MAPLE SYRUP: A woody, sweet, caramelized, brown, slightly green aromatic associated with maple syrup
  • BROWN SUGAR: A rich, full, round, sweet aromatic impression characterized by some degree of darkness.
  • CARAMELIZED: A round, full-bodied, medium brown, sweet aromatic associated with cooked sugars and other carbohydrates. Does not include burnt or scorched notes.
  • HONEY: Sweet, light brown, slightly spicy aromatic associated with honey
  • VANILLA: A woody, slightly chemical aromatic associated with vanilla bean, which may include brown, beany, floral, and spicy notes.
  • VANILLIN: An extremely sweet, non-natural aromatic associated with vanilla, cotton candy, and marshmallows.
  • SWEET AROMATICS: An aromatic associated with the impression of a sweet substance.
  • OVERALL SWEET: The perception of a combination of sweet taste and aromatics.

FLORAL

  • FLORAL: A sweet, light, slightly fragrant aromatic associated with fresh flowers.
  • ROSE: A sweet, soft, slightly musty/dusty floral fragrance associated with fresh or dried roses
  • JASMINE: An intense, slightly pungent, sweet, floral aromatic with underlying green, musty/dusty notes.
  • CHAMOMILE: The sweet, slightly floral/fruity, somewhat woody green associated with chamomile.
  • BLACK TEA: A somewhat brown, musty, dried plant and dried bark aromatic associated with the oxidization of tea leaves.

AMPLITUDE

  • AMPLITUDE: Amplitude measures the overall impression of a product judged on the following aspects: overall impact, blended (the extent to which the flavors and aromas of the product blend together), longevity, and body/ fullness. The amplitude reflects the degree to which the characteristics of the product adhere together.
  • OVERALL IMPACT: The maximum overall sensory impression.
  • BLENDED: The melding of individual sensory notes such that the products present a unified overall sensory experience as opposed to spikes or individual notes.
  • LONGEVITY: The time that the full, integrated sensory experience sustains itself in the mouth and after swallowing.
  • FULLNESS: The foundation of flavor notes that gives substance to the product. The perception of robust flavor that is rounded with body.

MOUTHFEEL

  • MOUTH DRYING: A drying, puckering, or tingling sensation on the surface and/or edge of the tongue and mouth.
  • THICKNESS: The thick feel of the beverage as you press your tongue through it.
  • METALLIC: An aromatic and mouthfeel associated with tin cans or aluminum foil.
  • OILY: The amount of fat/oily film left on surfaces of mouth after swallowing or expectorating.