Updated: Jun 29, 2020
We all perceive senses differently because of our different backgrounds, education, culture...etc. Therefore, it is important to learn how to communicate what we sense to each other, in order to elaborate more about our experiences. Here are some of the main attributes that coffee professionals focus on when tasting.
The aroma is the aromatic scent from ground coffee or brewed coffee. It is perceived through the orthonasal and retronasal pathway in the nose and throat. Aroma attributes can be positive such as floral, clementine...etc., as well as negative such as mouldy and medicinal. Note that some flavour notes in different foods and beverages don’t indicate the same quality (it’s all about context). For example, in coffee, the flavour notes of “peaty” or “woody” would be perceived negatively, yet is desirable in many whiskies.
In coffee, the terminology of flavour refers to the gastronomic experience of combining the senses of smell and taste. It represents the character of the coffee. The sense of touch is separated as another attribute in coffee as “body”.
The aftertaste is the length of your gastronomic experience. It is the aroma or taste that remains in our mouths after drinking the coffee.
Acidity is the vibrancy of the overall gastronomic experience in coffee. Acidity can be a tricky word when describing the sensory experience. It can be perceived both negatively and positively.
People sometimes avoid coffee because they say that the coffee is too “sour.” Sourness refers to the intensity of the acidity. Imagining you take a big bite from a lemon, the acidity may be so intense that it makes you frown! The type of acidity that makes you frown is mostly negative. There are other negative descriptors such as tart or astringent.
Positive acidity descriptors include: refreshing, bright, crisp, lively and zesty, which relate to the liveliness of coffee, and are also a key factor of the balance of the coffee.
The body here is indicated by mouthfeel or the sensation of touch in the mouth. Mouthfeel includes the texture and weight of the experience. The experience of the weight of the coffee processes through your tongue and the top of your mouth. Sometimes, the weight of coffee can be very thick and structured. Other times it can be really delicate and thin. The texture of the coffee can be silky or dull. It is always fun to chew or swirl around the coffee while it is still in your mouth.
Balance is the harmony in the cup. The harmony of the overall experience of taste, smell, and body. For example, if the coffee has high acidity but the body is soft and flabby with little structure in it, it won’t be a good, balanced coffee.
In cleanliness, we are specifically looking for the transparency of the coffee's overall gastronomic experience. If the coffee tastes quite chalky, or murky, then either the quality of the bean is low, the water quality may be poor or the coffee is not roasted properly.
Above attributes are solely following SCA cupping protocol. It’s an industry standard for scoring coffee. You could discover more information through SCA website: https://sca.coffee/research/protocols-best-practices