If you have never had coffee before or are trying to explain to someone who has never had coffee before what it tastes like, you know it can be quite challenging to nail down the flavor into simple terms. The many different brands and roasts can also add and take away several characteristics of the coffee taste, making it even more difficult to explain. Keep reading while we try to find the right words to describe the flavor of coffee and look at how the different roasting affects taste. We’ll also discuss the difference between inexpensive coffee and premium brands so you can be better informed.
What Is Coffee?
Enjoying a Cup of Coffee
When trying to learn the flavor of new food, including coffee, it’s best to start with the four main flavors sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Most people wouldn’t want salty coffee, and you may think the same about sour coffee. However, the sour flavor, caused by a small amount of acid in the bean, can be very subtle and enhance the flavor, like when you eat a slightly tart fruit. Most people think about lemons when they hear sour, but oranges are also sour, for example, and it can take time and practice to taste the difference and describe it.
Unfortunately, flavor is subjective, and many people who taste the same item will define it differently. However, most people would agree if the coffee is very sweet or very bitter.
What Does Coffee Taste Like?
Once you’ve gained some experience in the basic flavors beyond knowing if it’s bitter or sweet and can now taste the amount of sourness, you will start to notice other flavors as well. You might experience your coffee taste nutty, fruity, or even a little like chocolate. Some coffees will have an earthy flavor, while others may even taste burned.
How Does Roasting Affect Flavor?
Roasting has a huge effect on the flavor of coffee, and it’s why you see so many different types, including light, medium, and dark roast.
As the name suggests, you don’t roast light roasted coffee for a long time, and it creates a coffee that tastes earthy and fruity. Light roast is the least popular because its earthy, fruity flavor is often more like a tea, and it doesn’t have the strong flavor most of have come to expect from a coffee.
Medium roast coffee is likely the most popular. The slightly longer roast time creates a stronger drink with a traditional coffee flavor. Medium roast is what you’re likely to find at most restaurants, as well as the popular Dunkin (formerly Dunkin Donuts) coffee chain. It has a great flavor and will help get you going for your day.
Dark roast coffee is becoming much more popular in modern times than just a few decades ago. You bake the beans even longer for a dark roast than for a medium roast giving the beans a very strong flavor that can even taste burned. This strong coffee often looks oily if you buy it in whole bean form. While you may not think burnt coffee would taste good, many people love this acquired taste, and it’s the type you’ll find if you go to the popular coffee chain Starbucks.
How Does Brewing Affect Taste?
There are as many different ways to brew coffee as there are ways to roast it. It’s easy to buy pre-ground coffee in the grocery store to brew at home. However, purchasing coffee in the whole bean form will help it stay fresh much longer. Some experts suggest coffee can begin to lose its flavor only 30 minutes after you grind it, which means the pre-ground brand you buy in the grocery store is already stale. Vacuum sealing and other methods can help preserve the coffee, but it will never be as good as fresh ground.
Grinding them is a much better way to experience the true flavor. However, when you grind your coffee, you need to be careful with how finely you grind it. A finer grind will produce a stronger coffee because it will require less hot water to pull the flavor from the bean. This stronger coffee can also have more caffeine because it is easier to remove from the bean. Course beans will have a milder flavor because the larger chunks require more water. It can be fun to try out different grinds to see what works best. We recommend purchasing the beans whole and testing different bean grinds to see what your favorite is.
What is the Difference Between Premium and Budget Coffee?
Premium coffees will use higher quality beans that produce a better flavor, not unlike the difference between fine wines and budget brands. Some coffee beans come from places in the world well suited to growing the coffee bean, and these habitats are difficult to recreate elsewhere. For instance, you can only find Blue Mountain coffee beans in the mountains of Jamaica, where the high altitude and fast-draining soil is perfect for growing these plants.
However, many experts found that a large percentage of people prefer to drink budget coffee; While no one can be sure, the likely reason for it is that people get used to the coffee they have every day, good or bad, and are reluctant to change. Another reason could be that people don’t take the time to learn about the intricacies of coffee flavor, so some of the subtle qualities get lost on them. Many people are faster to pay higher prices for organic coffee and brands that ethically source the beans they use than they are for premium quality beans.
Coffee is often a sweet drink that can be light and nutty or dark with a burnt flavor. Each level of roasting brings out different qualities in the bean that can change the way it tastes. We highly recommend starting with a medium roast coffee if you have never had it before and to look for the subtle qualities of the bean flavor mixed with the roasting. Once you can taste these subtleties, start to try different brands, comparing them to the one you know well as you try to find an even better one.
We hope you have enjoyed this short guide and have found the answers you needed. If we have helped you understand flavor a little better, please share this guide to what coffee tastes like on Facebook and Twitter.
Featured Image Credit: Crystal Shaw, Unsplash