By Jonathan Parent

On the bag - The profile of a coffee before you even taste it

2 of 4 - Being for many the most telling indicator to make their choice of coffee, the tasting notes listed by the roasters do indeed give a good overview of the bean profile. These notes obviously qualify the aromas and taste of the coffee, but also a whole different spectrum of sensations that appear when you take a sip (the acidity, the sweetness or the texture of the coffee). This second article in the seriesOn the bag will allow you to discover the range of possibilities offered by the coffee bean once roasted.

It happens that some people, going through the tasting notes on the bags, wonder if the coffees are in fact flavored. We understand that many people may be surprised to read that coffee tastes like spices, papaya or strawberry jam. Yet, it is indeed the grain alone that can yield an amazing variety of flavors per cup, as the wheel below indicates.1. With a few exceptions, this is not an addition from coffee growers or roasters. The notes are rather tasting impressions. Coffee can have the acidity of a green apple, the sweetness of milk chocolate, the bitterness of cocoa bean, or the juiciness of red berries. At the base, the green coffee bean has primarily vegetal notes. But it already contains all the components (sugar, other carbohydrates and nitrogen) necessary for the development of flavors during roasting.2. In fact, roasting initiates a series of chemical processes within the coffee beans, which will produce volatile compounds. At this stage, carbohydrates, fats and amino acids can break down and come together in endless combinations, giving the cup different flavor profiles.3. It is estimated that he there are no less than 850 aromatic molecules that can make up a coffee 4 . This makes it a drink certainly developed, as the aromas and flavors are multiple.

SCAA Flavor Wheel 

The profile of a coffee also depends on other factors, such as the variety of cherries, the region in which they are grown, the environmental conditions (altitude, temperature, soil, shade, etc.) as well as the grain processing method. Decisions made throughout the process will help orient the coffee profile to the desired characteristics and avoid the intrusion of unwanted notes. Among the shortcomings, the green grains can soak up the odors of the damp burlap sack in which they are stored and thus develop a moldy taste. Or, when the beans absorb organic material from the soil during harvest, the coffee can appear earthy and stale. To prevent the appearance of such notes, the beans are inspected and tested several times: by the producers to see if there are any defects, by the roaster when buying, by the experts for grading the beans, by the roaster again for quality checks during roasting before the consumer himself tastes it. By taking such precautions, the coffee growers, and then the roasters, ensure that no defects will appear at the very end of the process.


From traditional to adventurous

Many tend to classify cafe profiles on a scale from traditional to adventurous. We ourselves, at Société des Cafés, occasionally use this typology– from traditional to modern, to adventurous to identify your preferences and more easily provide you with a few coffee options..

  • Traditional : dark and milk chocolate, molasses and toasted side
  • Modern : caramel, nuts, brown sugar, subtle fruits and honey
  • Adventurous : very fruity, floral, smoky,winey and spicy

So-called traditional coffees remain in the palette of flavors that we intuitively associate with coffee (the famous phrase a coffee that tastes like coffee expresses it very well). Adventurous cafes tend to think outside the box and what is expected in terms of flavors per se. This classification is actually a first step in order to whet the curiosity of coffee lovers and thus lead them to learn more about the aromatic potential of coffee beans through tasting..

Some ideas for tasting

One thing is certain, we often drink our cup of coffee in a few quick sips, without worrying about its aromas (olfactory perceptions) and its flavors (taste perceptions). However, it is pleasant to take the time to analyze its profile. To appreciate a coffee, the Specialty Coffee Association provides ten criteria on which to base yourself. They are also those used by experts to give the grain its grade (Q Grader) on a scale of up to 100. The coffees we offer at Société des Cafés are rated between 80 and 100: they are called specialty coffees. Here are the criteria that professionals use to assign a rating to cafes:

  1. Odors / aromas
  2. Flavors
  3. Aftertaste
  4. Acidity
  5. Body
  6. Uniformity
  7. Balance
  8. Clarity
  9. Candy
  10. General impression

Breaking down the profile of a coffee is not an easy exercise in itself. There are many things to consider. A simplified and user-friendly way to enjoy a coffee would be to look in turn at the senses monopolized during a tasting: sight, smell, touch and taste.

At the eye :By opening the bag, it is possible to take a moment to observe the coffee beans. The appearance of these can reveal a lot about the coffee, whether it is their size (the smallness of the peaberries or the size of the maragogypes), their homogeneity (the quality of the batch and of the roast) or their color (of light to dark). Then, after the coffee is extracted or brewed, you can also look at the visual appearance of the liquid. The variations in brown that cover the espresso or the clarity and golden reflections of a filter are indicative of a good cup result.

At nose
:Smelling the freshly ground bean and sniffing the brewed coffee are two ways to identify the aromas of a coffee. From direct olfaction then comes retro-olfaction. In other words, by taking a sip, the volatile compounds of the coffee move up into the nasal cavity, which allows you to have a different perception of coffee. As Gloria Montenegro and Christina Chirouze indicate inCoffeeology, the retro-olfaction has a considerable impact during the tasting5. It is likely to spontaneously transport us elsewhere through our taste memories. We can then ask ourselves what are the smells that coffee recalls and how to qualify their presence on the nose (subtle, pleasant, intense, off-putting, etc.).

Touch :The body of a coffee is linked to the physical perception of liquid. Its body develops thanks to the lipids which migrate to the surface of the grain, to the caramelized components which increase the thickness effect and to the vegetable wall of the grain which becomes soluble6. As you move the liquid around your mouth, you can tell if it is syrupy, enveloping, velvety, or thin and light.

To taste :From the attack on the palate to the finish, several flavors can obviously be noticeable. The attack on the palate is more particularly related to the acidity: a fleeting sensation of freshness is a good sign, while a sustained astringency or an absence of any sensation is less well regarded. As for the sweetness of a coffee, it is associated with the presence of sweet, floral, honeyed or fruity notes. The last notes in the mouth have a considerable influence on our appreciation. These accompany us preferably long after having swallowed the coffee.

By itself, it is not impossible that you will detect different notes than those suggested on the bag. Tasting a coffee is a multiple and above all subjective sensory experience. Each has its own benchmarks in terms of aromas and flavors. Indeed, how to detect apricot or cascara notes if you have never tasted them The perceived characteristics are therefore linked to taste and olfactory memory, but also to the physiological statee6. Identifying the sensations of coffee is a skill that develops over time and which, we want to stress, is within everyone's reach.

Why does coffee taste vary with temperature?

Taste a coffee while it is still hot, after it has cooled down and even cooled: you will see how its profile changes as the temperature of the drink changes. For many, the ideal temperature for a coffee is between 82C and 85C (179F and 185F). Without a doubt, at this temperature, it is easy to perceive the aromas of a coffee, while there is a significant part of the volatile components released. To the taste, however, the coffee turns out to be a little less interesting, since its temperature exceeds our tolerance threshold for heat. Our attention is directed more towards the heat of the coffee (and the steps you are going to take to avoid burning yourself) than its flavors.s .

A study by Karel Talavera and colleagues at the Laboratory of Ion Channel Research has shown that our taste receptors are simply more sensitive when subjected to a certain temperature range.7. Although this is not fully explained, Talavera hypothesizes that our receptors perceive the nuances of coffee more effectively at temperatures to which we are usually exposed. This is why a coffee expresses its qualities more markedly (as well as its faults) in the range of 20C up to 35C (68F to 95F). If the smells are less defined at these temperatures, the acidity of the coffee as well as its sweetness will come out more clearly. You will then be able to more clearly see the variations of fruits, flowers or even nuts in the coffee.afé.

The tasting notes on the bags are a taste of what will end up in your mug at home. Learning to distinguish sensations, aromas and flavors is the best way to get to know our preferences better. To make the exercise easier, you can enjoy two coffees whose profiles differ considerably side by side, just to have points of comparison. You can also keep the flavor wheel nearby to associate what you taste with qualifiers. Also, take a moment to identify the variety of cherries you drink from Bourbon to Geisha to Pacamara, as they will be the focus of our next article in the On the Bag series. In the end, the coffee itself offers so many variations that we must, in our opinion, remain curious and above all multiply the tasting experiences.n.

1 Specialty Coffee Association,Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel.
2 Coffee and Health, Aroma and flavor: composition of coffee.
3 Anne Caron and Mélody Denturck, Cafégraphie, p. 72.
4. Gloria Montenegro and Christina Chirouze,Coffeeology, p. 166.
5. Gloria Montenegro and Christina Chirouze, Caféologie, p. 172.
6. Anne Caron and Mélody Denturck, Cafégraphie, p. 76.
7. For the summary: K. Talavera, Y. Ninomiya, C. Winkel, T. Voets and B. Nilius, Influence of Temperature on Taste Perception, Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences.s.


Research and writing by Chloé Pouliot