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And we will tell you what it means !
A coffee's flavour often does not describe the overall and combined sensations and perceptions of the coffee's distinctive aromatic and taste characteristics. As a result, the fusion of body, acidity, aroma, bitterness, sweetness, acidity and aftertaste. A well-balanced coffee is one that has not just one characteristic which dominates and/or overpowers/overwhelms the others. One would argue that many of the best coffees in the world are actually well-balanced, though some highly rated coffees are specifically sought after for their unique (not well balanced) flavours.
Some general coffee flavour descriptions include complex (multi-flavoured) and rich (full-bodied coffee).
Bitterness is not always a bad thing. In fact, if your coffee had no bitterness in it all then one might find it too acidic or sweet. The key is balance. A small amount of bitterness will help to ensure complexity and complement other flavors – without being too overwhelming.
And that, in reality, is the problem. For most of us, throughout our lives, we’ve been more likely to be served a brew that’s far too bitter rather than one that’s too sour. This trend was led from our days when one would typically patronise a Kopitiam or mamak. It has been embedded in our minds that a stronger, more bitter cup of coffee is associated with a better cup of coffee with the added strength or gao-ness of each cup. But in fact that is what one would typically find from a cup of coffee made from Robusta beans and not from a typical cup of Arabica and even Liberica beans.
However, there’s no doubt that excessively bitter brews are a bad thing, as it would then overshadow the delicate flavours one would associate from an African or Latin American origin coffee.
Everyone can remember tasting something bitter. However, in many cases, that “bitter” food or drink might not have tasted bitter to someone else. This trait is a perceived taste, meaning it will change from person to person as it is an amalgamation of experiences, smell, emotion, music, and altitude. However, that’s a topic for another article; for now, we will be focussing on taste.
Lively, tangy, sharp, bright, fruity, sparkling… these are some of the different words that one would use to describe acidity. But while we have plenty of adjectives we can use to describe acidity, to be honest it isn't necessarily accurate.
As it is, Acidity isn’t easy to define.
This is because it comes in so many different forms. A coffee that is acidic affects the flavour and the aroma, which often takes on the characteristics of stone fruits, nectarines, or even the more commonly known fruit, apples.
It is often understood as a mouthfeel – Acidity may also be defined by the sharpness the coffee leaves in one’s mouth. It is because of this, to draw the line and to say one would understand what acidity is is a blurred one. Because of this blurred line, some would characterise the coffee to have no sharpness: no acidity or very low acidity.
To be scientific, acidity is also a chemical compound, and the exact type of compound will affect the coffee’s taste – for better or for worse. Understanding a little bit of coffee chemistry can help roasters (and even brewers) to get the best possible flavours in the cup. but , that would be a whole other topic altogether.
As acidity can either complement or throw a cup of coffee out of balance within a cup, people are either going to either enjoy the brew or not like it altogether. However, without acidity, the brewed cup will taste flat to some as there will not be any sort of complexity of enjoyment with each sip.
WHAT IS COFFEE "SWEETNESS"?
Sweetness is a mild, smooth coffee flavour characteristic (a basic taste descriptor) without any harsh tastes or flavour defects or off flavours. This sweet quality is often perceived as a palatable and/or fruity taste that is sensed primarily at the tip of the tongue.
Within the coffee industry, we focus more on sweetness within a defined range - typically by cupping with guidelines so that results can be more easily compared - but most of the time people will think of sweetness in more concrete terms such as sugar, but you can be pleasantly surprised by the natural sweetness of some coffees without adding any sugar!
The term sweet is used by cuppers (coffee tasters) to describe the intensity of the sugary qualities of the coffee when it is swooshed around in the mouth. While cupping coffee is done with relative consistency - the same brewing method, timing and roast - making coffee at home gives you more leniency to bring out sweet flavours.
Coffee can be made to naturally taste "sweeter" by choosing a different roast - as certain coffees contain higher levels of sugars that are more prominent at lower roasts, while the roasting process may caramelise sugars in other origins.
Generally, lighter roasts will have more of a fruity sweetness. Roasting a coffee to darker levels continues the caramelising process, transforming the flavour to more of a caramelly, chocolatey sweetness.
At the end of the day, coffee is very much a subjective matter as people’s palettes are wired a certain way due to either one's emotions, memories, experience and sensorial sensitivity. As not everyone is able to discern flavours the same way, we can only encourage you to keep drinking as many new and different coffees as possible.