Coffee is like wine. There’s the gas-station kind that taste like sludge, the critically-acclaimed kind that experts and hipsters alike hail as tasting like bouquets of flowers — and everything in between.
Similar to wine, coffee is made from fermented fruit (technically fermented seeds, in the case of coffee) that produce different flavors and aromas depending on the plant variety, how and where it is grown, and other factors. Professional tasters have their rubrics and definitions for what makes a delicious drink — and we’ll share some of their insights — but the only thing that really matters is finding a coffee you love. Here is some coffee vocabulary to help you identify what you’re tasting, so you can order coffee you like.
1. Intensity vs. strength
You know that groggy morning feeling — when your alarm goes off after a late night at a weeknight concert, or binging on a netflix series? Your first thought might be: I need a seriously strong coffee.
When people crave “strong” coffee, they often ask for a dark roast, which is commonly believed to be more caffeinated, and more intense in taste. This is, in fact, a myth. By volume, lighter roasts, not darker ones, are actually slightly higher in caffeine — beans lose density and aromatic complexity the longer they are roasted. Specialty coffees, like the ones we roast at Pergamino, are rarely bitter, due to their freshness and light roasting — but they are more intense in aroma, and also can be quite caffeinated.
2. Flavor & aroma
Given the incredible diversity of food we enjoy, from citrus fruits to savory steaks, it may seem like there are a million different possible flavors to taste. In reality, there are only 5 universal flavors: bitter, sour, sweet, salty, and umami (a brothy, meaty flavor). Everything else is fragrance and aroma — which is why things taste bland when you have a cold and can’t smell anything.
When you sip a cup of great coffee, aromatic compounds reach your nose, adding a burst of complexity to the relatively straight-forward flavors perceived by your taste buds: sweetness, light acidity, and subtle bitterness. When experts describe a coffee as having “notes of strawberry,” we’re referring to the aroma — not the fact that strawberries were added, or grown near the coffee plant. The strawberry sensation comes from a mix of aromatic compounds in the coffee similar to what you’d find in the actual fruit.
Bitterness is a small part of specialty coffee, but it shouldn’t be its overarching taste. In fact, specialty coffees always seem a bit sweet — even though the drink itself has zero calories. The perception of sweetness comes from aromatic compounds that bring to mind chocolate, caramel, or fruit, etc.
When a coffee is of poor quality, or is roasted at scorching temperatures to speed up the process and ensure homogeneity, a bitter (almost burnt) taste dulls any natural sweet notes. This is why many people got used to thinking of coffee as a naturally bitter drink that requires sugar. You might find that when drinking a specialty coffee, you won’t need it!
A final thought
If coffee is a language, we hope the vocabulary we’ve shared comes in handy — but you have the final word!—.
Express yourself as you like.
Get our Notas de Café booklet along with your fresh coffee.