The coffee world researches every day to add more information on the magical bean and its ever increasing numbers of attributes, from flavors to aromas. There, between those two things is the most difficult part of coffee tasting. We agree, it might not be the easiest thing to tell the difference between its aroma and taste when you are lazily sipping on your morning brew. Hence, let us make an attempt at decoding coffee aromas for you.
To begin with, the aroma and the flavor of your coffee are not the same things. An aroma or fragrance is a something that is emitted or released from your drink and perceived by your olfactory senses, whereas the flavor of your coffee remains entirely inside the drink and can only be felt by your tongue. However, yes these two overlap and coincide a lot and sometimes there is hardly any difference. Much like the flavors do, sensory experts claim that particular aromas and taste profiles also help differentiate the many types of coffees and its roasts.
So what makes coffee aroma?
Aroma is basically like an odor which is captured and sensed through the receptors in the nose as well as the back of the mouth where the nasal and cavity meet. The aroma is chemically built up in the form of flavor compounds which release into the air. Therefore the fresher your coffee, the stronger the aroma will be. Also it becomes easier for you to deduce it.
Believe it or not, there are approximately 800 coffee aromatics officially registered and the number keeps increasing, thanks to the developments and advancements in the coffee tasting science.
Some of the most primary aromas include the ones easily coinciding with flavors like herby, fruity, nutty, smoky, flowery etc.
Once we understand how aroma is perceived and created, our decisions on brewing can become more informed and also identity how and why various different levels of extractions can end up smelling so unique.
Where is this aroma originating?
Green coffee hardly has any smell. As in, raw coffee that has not been roasted does not possess much of odors or scents. The chemical compounds that are dormant inside these green raw beans come out later when the coffee is roasted. Yes, roasting brings out the aroma from coffee beans. This happens because the body of the bean goes through immense pressure during the entire roasting process.
This makes them emit all their volatile compounds in the form of aroma. The more complex the chemical compounds of the green and raw coffee bean, the more complex the aroma profile of the same bean is going to be after it has been roasted. Now, these precursors of volatile compounds have certain criteria and concentrations that is responsible and reactive to many factors like the type of bean, the weather conditions, amount of roasting, level of maturation, conditions during origin and few others…
How is aroma different from Taste?
The sense of taste is a factor that involves the tongue and has nothing to do with the nasal passage. Hence in coffee, taste will be responsible for sensations such as bitterness, saltiness, sweetness, sourness, acidity, mellowness among others. For example, fruit like coffees are pretty sought after tastes. There are divisions such as berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries), citruses (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit), and stone fruit (peach, apricot, nectarine.) These are all taste attributes of coffee. Therefore, coffee taste focuses on the tongue as a medium unlike aroma which focuses on nasal cavity and the nose. Coffee taste indicated to attributes like bitterness, sweetness, etc, whereas coffee aroma indicated odors like flowery, nutty, smoky, and herby.
Any idea we make on original coffee notes or aromas today, has its reference from the SCAA Flavor Wheel. The Specialty Coffee Association of America first created this flavor wheel in 1995, calling it the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel. This is one of the most iconic resources in the coffee industry at present. Any research on the beans and its aromas in the industry has come from here for over two decades. The foundation of this work is a result of dozens of professional sensory panelists, coffee buyers, scientists, and roasting companies collaborating with SCAA and WCR.
A good tasting coffee should be having a perfect balance of bitterness, acidity and sweetness in its first sip. Followed with a smooth and strong aroma and no off notes. Then accompanied by a pleasant mouth feel and remaining with a lingering after-taste.
Is a refined palette important?
Absolutely yes! And here is the sad truth… some human beings automatically have a more alert, active and refined palette than the others. So it might be easier for them to tell the difference between notes, aromas and flavors. It might come to them naturally… However, let us not lose hope! The best part is that this art skill can be developed easily! So if you are a coffee enthusiast with a not so refined palette, it is fine. You will learn to identify sooner than you know!
Refining your palette helps you enjoy your brews more. It tells if what you are drinking is genuine, and point a flaw by simply smelling it. The very first thing to do to become a pro, will require you to consume lots of different types of coffees. Preferably go for the ones from all around the world.
Honing your palette is a must to identify coffee aromas and flavors. Some of the things other than coffee tasting that you can practice are consuming a lot of fruits! Yes, since most of the flavors and aromas are fruity in branches, knowing the notes of fruits are important. Also, definitely try and smell different candies. Both fruity and heavy built, sniff and then eat and remember the different tastes.
How to decode coffee aromas?
The art of Coffee Tasting is complex and highly intriguing. Of course if you want a more professional experience and a detailed study on aromas, flavors, go for a coffee tasting session! There are so many of them now that will help you with practical examples.
Go for coffee tasting sessions and workshops, read. Read a lot, bring home different varieties of coffee from different origins. Whenever trying at home try with a freshly roasted bean or just roast the whole beans by you. Try tasting different fruits and organic veggies, candies and observed the odors and aromas, refer them to the flavor wheel. Keep practicing these and before you can tell you will be a coffee aroma expert! Flavor is therefore a mixture of taste and aroma, whereas aroma stands for itself.
And we can vouch that once you begin losing yourself in those flowery and fruity scents, there is no coming back!