Like when we are asked whether the halzelnut notes in our latest single origin will trigger a reaction in someone allergic to nuts. Or whether the chocolate notes are fattening. Or the fruity notes will induce hives.
As with wine and perfume, coffee has a whole vocabulary of descriptors for its various aromas. Between ‘animal-like’ and ‘woody’, the alphabet offers 18 different terms for aroma alone, including ‘rubber-like’ and ‘tobacco’. These are all desirable, by the way.
Our illustration shows the international Specialty Coffee Association's Flavour Wheel.
Taste has a smaller palate of terms – acidity, bitterness, sweetness, saltiness and sourness. Ranged beneath these are recognisable tastes such as blackberry, citrus, honey, hazelnut, malt, nutmeg, vanilla and pepper.
So for example, our single-origin Brazil Perano Verde has ‘lots of red fruit and refined sweetness, with a silky walnut finish’, our Ethiopia Edido is ‘floral and fruity’ and our Sumatra Wahana – Sidikalang has ‘fruity acidity … notes of berries and a long, lingering cocoa aftertaste’.
Meanwhile our popular The Dark Horse blend has notes of ‘dry roasted peanuts and an earthy chocolate finish’.
These tasting notes don’t arrive with the raw green beans. We roast and blend these beans, tasting as we go, until we achieve what we are after or get lucky along the way. We then use the accepted industry terms to describe the resulting aromas and flavours.
Coffee tasting, or cupping, is an exacting blend of art and science. Those dedicated to it lead a monastic life without alcohol, perfume, spicy food, smoke or anything else that might dull their highly trained senses.
You don’t have to go that hard to get a sense of what is involved, though. If you would like to learn more, contact the Switch roastery and find out when we’re next doing a cupping session.