Coffee Flavour Descriptions

You see a lot of terms frequently used to describe coffee, much like wines, and distinguish one origin from another. What do they mean? How can you apply these characteristics to figure out what type of coffee you like? Here's a start:

Positive Connotations

  • Balanced: well rounded, with no flavour being overpowering
  • Caramelly: a caramelized taste, almost like melted sugar
  • Chocolaty: hints of cocoa flavour
  • Complex: a mixture of sensations and flavours, sometimes only discovered after a couple cups (over a few days)
  • Dry: some coffees will leave a "dry" sensation in the back of your mouth/throat due to the acidity
  • Delicate: not overpowering, smooth on the palate
  • Floral: hints of flowers, an almost aromatic quality
  • Full-bodied: a weighty mouth feel and flavour, the coffee mixes well when brewed
  • Fruity: either sweet or citrusy notes
  • Mellow: smooth, with low acidity
  • Nutty: hints of roasted nuts present in the flavour
  • Rich: intense and flavourful, with a prominent taste
  • Spicy: an exotic flavour, sometimes with earthy characteristics
  • Sweet: smooth drinking with low acidity
  • The goal of a coffee roaster is to bring out all the possible flavours in the coffee - not all coffees will have a floral aroma for example, but a bean that can be strongly floral needs to be carefully crafted. Even with over 40 years of roasting experience, a roasting company needs to constantly accommodate for the changes between shipments.

    Negative Connotations

  • Astringency: a slightly chemical-taste, quite dry
  • Carbony, Charcoaly: void of flavour, overly smokey
  • Chemical: distinctly chemical, more overpowering than astringent
  • Dirty: similar to earthy, but overwhelming to the palate
  • Flat: typically stale, without much flavour or complexity
  • Harsh: usually used to describe a flavour that doesn't belong, or stands out in a bad way
  • Muddy: overdone, the flavours are indistinguishable from one another
  • Rubbery: a sensation of burnt rubber, more common to Robusta beans
  • Sour: sour or acrid flavour
  • Thin, Watery: doesn't have body, or texture; watered-down
  • A lot of the terms associated negatively with a coffee's flavour are due to over-roasting, or improper storage of the coffee beans. We avoid these aspects in our coffees through proper storage off the ground, in our climate-controlled facility.

    Depends on Personal Tastes:

  • Bitter: a commonly mild characteristic of coffee, some people like this aspect stronger than others
  • Earthy: a hint of dirt, this generally isn't negative unless overpowering - adds good contrast to other flavours in a cup because it's distinguishable
  • Gamey: a bit of a wild flavour, more common with African coffees
  • Smokey: a very deep undertone to the coffee with flavour from heavy caramelizing, literally tasting like smoke
  • The 4 above are highly individual, with some people really enjoying distinctive flavours. Tastes also change over time, so don't be afraid to try something new, or re-try a coffee that you haven't had in some time. You can find even more terms and coffee-specific definitions on our Coffee Terms Page.

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