Donaldina is a coffee lover and freelance writer from Tanzania. Coffee runs deep in her family - tracing its roots to her grandmother’s running of their first coffee farm in the mid-70s. She enjoys spending her time writing and co-running her grandmother's small robusta coffee farm with her sister in northwest Tanzania during the summer seasons.
What Are The Three Key Fundamentals of Tasting Coffee?
Coffee flavors can be characterized by three key descriptive terms, i.e. flavor, body, and acidity. Flavor refers to the overall combination of the body, acidity, and aroma of the coffee. When describing flavors, you will hear terms such as sweet, fruity, nutty, and chocolatey, to mention a few.
On the other hand, the body describes how the coffee feels on your mouth and palate – its weight and texture. The body can be described using terms such as full, light, mild, buttery, creamy, smooth, etc. Acidity describes the quality of the coffee – is it dry, bright, tangy, etc?
Taste & Aroma
When it comes to the flavor profile of coffee, the aroma is an essential part. After all, most of what we sense when we take a sip is picked by the nose. Like the flavor, terms used to describe the aroma of coffee include floral, fruity, chocolatey, spicy, etc.
What Affects The Flavor Profile of Different Coffees
According to coffeeandhealth.org, several factors, including the geographical origin, coffee bean type, and even roasting method determine the flavor profile. This explains why there are over 500 different flavor profiles of coffee when you consider these factors.
There are four common types of coffee beans grown in the world, each with individual flavors. These four types include Arabica, robusta, liberica, and excelsa. All types of coffee contain caffeine, a component that makes you active and alert. Yet, it also accounts for the coffee bean’s bitterness.
Coffee beans also contain chlorogenic acid which helps to reduce sugar. The most popular and consumed type of coffee, Arabica beans are popular for their more balanced and smoother profile with added sweetness.
Arabica coffee beans also produce subtle hints of fruit, floral, chocolate, and nutty finish. But, their acidity can be high. The second most consumed coffee bean is Robusta. This variety contains more caffeine and chlorogenic acid than Arabica.
With less sucrose, robusta tends to have a fuller body with more bitterness and a somewhat harsh profile. You will also get grainy hints from robusta. In addition to their physical and flavor difference, Arabica and robusta also differ in their geographical origins (in terms of growth) – which takes us to the next point.
Arabica coffee is more delicate and requires extra care to cultivate (climate and altitude) – explaining its higher cost. Arabica coffee typically grows at high altitudes around 500 to 2500m (1640 to 8200 feet). On the other hand, Robusta coffee is generally cultivated on lower ground. In addition to the altitude and climate, different regions will also have extra uniqueness.
For example, coffee from the Kilimanjaro region is grown on acidic soil (Mt. Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano, with the last activity happening about 200 years ago) on the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro. So, in addition to the climate and altitude, the flavor of Kilimanjaro coffee is also impacted by the acidity of the soil.
The roasting method affects the aroma and flavor as well. Here’s how you should generally expect roasting to affect flavors;
- Light roast: Retains the fruit and herb notes of the bean with a more mild profile
- Medium roast: balanced sweetness and acidity
- Medium-dark roast: less acidity with a faint chocolate-like taste
- Dark roast: Develops a heavy mouthfeel with a smoky aroma with a faint acidity
Coffee processing generally involves removing the outer skin layer and drying it before export or further ruse. Coffee is typically processed through a selection of three main processes. Here’s how each process affects the flavor;
- Washed process: This process involves soaking and fermenting the seeds in water for half a day to remove the outer skin layer. Seeds are then sundried or dried in mechanical drying for up to 10 days. this process increases the coffee’s crispy clean taste and acidity. The coffee also boasts stone fruit and citrusy-tasting notes with a sweet floral aroma.
- Natural process: This process leaves the outer skin on and involves sun drying for weeks. The flavor of his process helps develop a very fruity and dark berry-like taste with less acidity and accentuated brightness.
- Honey process: The honey process involves the removal of the seeds while the outer honey-like layer remains attached to the beans. The bean is then dried to produce a honey-like sweetness with broader tasting notes and aroma.
Coffee From Different Regions: Flavor Profiles
Here is a summary of favor profiles for coffees from various regions across the globe;
Coffee from this region tends to have a more fruit-centered taste profile with fine-tuned acidity.
- Ethiopian Arabica: distinct flavors with sweeter, juicier berry-like or citrusy taste with mild acidity
- Kenyan Arabica: sweet grape and blueberry notes married with acidic tomato-like flavors
- Tanzanian robusta: smooth and sift body with low acidity, mild bittersweet chocolate taste, and faint herbal-earthy notes.
- Tanzanian Arabica: sweet berry notes with chocolate and nutty hints
Asian coffee is pretty popular on the market too. As expected, the different conditions also give Asian coffee its own distinctive characteristic flavor profiles.
- Indonesian robusta: Meaty earthy notes with faint smoky hints
- Sumatran robusta: Savory profile with berry-like notes, crisp acidity, and a heavy body
In the Americas, coffee is grown in north, central, and South America. With such a vast area covered, coffee from the Americas has a wide range of flavor profiles.
- Panama: Among the best coffee producer in the world, Panamanian coffee packs decadent fruity, floral, and juicy flavor notes.
- Costa Rica: Costa Rican coffee has a more balanced aroma with crisp fruit notes and cool acidity.
- Guatemalan: Guatemalan coffee offers a more complex and full body with raw cacao notes
- Brazilian: More balanced notes with hints of sweetness, caramel, and chocolate
- Colombia: Crispier taste notes with acidity and mild maple-like sweetness.