• Shlomo Krudo

How Do Coffee Beans Get Their Flavor?

Updated: Oct 26

Are you curious about how coffee beans get their flavor? Sweetness and bitterness. Are you interested in optimizing your cup of Joe? How Does Coffee Get Its Flavor to suit your individual preferences?

You should have a basic understanding of why coffee tastes the way it does.

There are five basic tastes: acidity (sourness), sweetness, bitterness, saltiness, and umami (savoriness). Saltiness and umami aren’t present in coffee.

In this post, I will focus on sweetness and bitterness and explain how both affect your cup of Joe. And give these tips to those who want to refine their brew-tasting palate.

How Do Coffee Beans Get Their Flavor? Sweetness

With coffee, sweetness is not a simple concept to comprehend.

Coffee is bitter; otherwise, there will not be so many of us rushing to sweeten our daily cup.

Yet, it is not uncommon to find a coffee bag labeled with flavor notes such as chocolate, strawberry, caramel, and other sweet-sounding items.

When coffee pros refer to sweetness, they are not talking about added sugar or sucrose found in coffee beans.

A chocolate flavor note on a bag does not mean they add chocolate to the coffee.

Combining the flavor molecules in the roasted coffee beans can leave you with a chocolate flavor on your tongue.

There is a decent amount of sugar in green arabica beans. Not the white stuff, but sucrose and glucose make up a smaller percentage than other components, destroying much of it during roasting.

Coffee will always be a bitter drink and will never be sweet. Like, for example, hot chocolate. Instead, coffee has a subtle, perceived sweetness based on the balance of its flavor compounds.

We can perceive sweetness in coffee through its ability to add definition to flavors. Like, the sweetness can take coffee from tasting acidic to having clear flavors of red apple.

What creates sweet notes

Like many coffee-related things, the jury is still out on what creates sweet notes.

Some individuals believe sweet aromatics, fewer caramelized sugars from roasting, and trace amounts of natural sugars lead to coffee’s sweetness.

Flavor compounds remind us of sweet things (e.g., strawberries), causing the amount of perceptible sweetness in coffee. Some folk thinks a heavier mouthfeel can enhance or contribute to sweetness.

Sweetness can be elusive to a tasting novice. It’s subtle, but it will become easier to distinguish the more coffee you taste.


How Do Coffee Beans Get Their Flavor? Bitterness

Coffee is bitter, and many individuals point to bitterness as to why coffee is gross or a particular cup is off.

People often say coffee is too bitter when they mean it’s too sour or dries out their mouth, neither of which is the fault of bitterness.

Human tongues are very sensitive to bitterness. (for self-preservation; many toxic substances are bitter), so its demonization is understandable.

The definition is often characterized as unpleasant bitterness, and it is on its own or in large amounts.

Bitterness can add dimension and complexity to the coffee

But in concert with other flavor elements, such as sweetness and acidity, bitterness can add dimension and complexity to coffee.

Bitterness also balances perceived acidity, which makes it an essential component of a well-balanced cup.


I think several elements contribute to bitterness in coffee, some of which include:

•Quinic acid

•Trigonelline, a bitter plant alkaloid

•Furfuryl (alcohol)

•Caffeine

Carbon dioxide


If you roast coffee for a long time, it often delivers more bitterness to a cup than coffee roasted for a short time.


This is partial because quinic acid continues to build as coffee beans roast.

In addition, when you roast coffee for a short period, it has fewer soluble solids and more acidity and aroma. Which means it tastes less bitter than coffee that is roasted longer.

While many bitter compounds take longer to extract than sweet and acidic compounds, because bitterness is so potent to our senses, its compounds can dominate a cup if given a chance.


Bitterness is a sign of over-extraction. It’s also important to remember that robusta coffee is more bitter than arabica coffee, regardless of all other factors.


How Do Coffee Beans Get Their Flavor? | Coffee taster | Brewing Java | Take control of your home brewing

Mouthfeel

Many people find the word mouthfeel elitist, but I think it’s very practical.

It describes how the coffee feels in your mouth. Does coffee feel like anything? Of course, it does. If you pay close attention, you’ll realize it has heft, texture, and viscosity.


Mouthfeel is not one of the five primary tastes. But it contributes to how you experience a cup of coffee, and it may even work its magic to influence certain flavors.

One way to think about mouthfeel is to break it out into its components: body, oiliness, and astringency.


How Do Coffee Beans Get Their Flavor? Body

The body in coffee characterizes strength, which we define by levels of tDCS in a cup,

Strong coffee can feel muddy and leave a film on your tongue. Weak coffee feels almost like water; it’s thin, and there is little to no feeling that lingers on your tongue.

If insoluble particles are not filtered out during brewing can also contribute to the body, making it thicker.

People use various kinds of milk to describe the body because milk is familiar. The feel of whole milk is comparable to a heavier, thicker-bodied coffee. At the same time, skim milk is analogous to a lighter, thinner-bodied coffee.

When describing the body, the terms thick and thin can have negative connotations—they both imply that something went wrong during the brewing process.

Heavy and Light

Instead, professionals use two other words to describe the body: heavy and light.

Stay with me now—heavy and light may seem just as bad as thick and thin, but in describing the body, neither is better nor worse than the other.


Origins and processing methods can greatly influence the body of a cup of coffee, which means fresh coffees have other bodies.


For example, Sumatran coffees have heavy bodies, while Mexican coffees have lighter bodies.


Natural Coffees Have More Body Than Washed Coffees.

Heavy body, light body, and everything in between can be desirable depending on the coffee, so coffee professionals need a neutral way to talk about them.


When we analyze coffee, professionals judge the body based on what we expect from the beans. Not some universal ideal. So if a natural coffee has a light body, we might consider this a flaw if we expect the coffee to have a heavy body.


According to some professionals, another potential benefit of the body is that it will influence how we perceive flavors. For example, the body might contribute to a perceived sense of sweetness in a cup.

The body can help balance acidity. I recommend trying fresh coffees and different brewing methods to figure out what kind of body you like.

One straightforward way to test your preference is to compare French press coffee with filter coffee.


French press coffee has more body because it does not filter to remove the brew’s sediments.

How Filters Affect Body Strength only measures the soluble (dissolved) coffee solids in a cup, not the insoluble (undissolved) solids mentioned earlier, but both contribute to the body.

That means a cup with a paper filter traps insoluble solids, and a cup with a metal filter doesn’t trap as many insoluble solids.


The results could have the same strength, but the metal-filter coffee might have more body because it contains more insoluble solids.


Oiliness Lipids (fats, oils, and waxes) can also affect how the coffee feels on your tongue.

The quantity of lipids in a finished cup of coffee relates to the cell amount found in the coffee beans.


Arabica beans have about 60 percent more lipids than robusta beans.

Unlike many other compounds in coffee, lipids are unchanged after roasting.

But, most coffee bean oil is behind sturdy cell walls. As these cells’ walls break down during roasting, the oil is free to escape, making the outside of the beans appear shiny.


In my experience, the oil on the beans doesn’t contribute to the cup’s oiliness.

What contributes to oiliness is the filter you use. Paper filters trap most coffee oil, so not much makes the cup.


Cloth filters also trap a lot of oil, but not as much as paper filters do.

Metal filters let through the most oil of any filter. The more oil in your cup, the thicker and more “buttery” your coffee will feel on your tongue.


What’s Astringency

Astringency is a term that describes a drying or puckering sensation in your mouth.

People perceive this sensation as bitterness, but the two are distinct. When you experience astringency, specific molecules bind to your tongue, making it feel dry.


You may be more familiar with the astringency in red wine and tea caused by compounds called polyphenols (tannins are well-recognized polyphenol compounds in tea and wine).

Coffee also contains polyphenols, which likely contribute to its astringency.


Two polyphenols often linked to astringency in coffee are chlorogenic acids and decaf- caffeoylquinic acid.

Caffeine may also play a role. Too much astringency in coffee is unpleasant and may signify over-extraction.


How Do Coffee Beans Get Their Flavor? Aroma

Ah, the smell of brewed coffee. So distinct! So beloved! Even people who don’t drink coffee often enjoy the warm, comforting embrace of its aroma.

Aroma is the counterpart to taste. This is essential to coffee’s flavor; you can’t have flavor without aroma.


As anyone who has had a stuffed-up nose can attest. Our senses of smell and taste are linked, which means aroma plays a vital role in the character of our coffee.

When you bend down and take a big whiff of your steaming cuppa joe, aroma isn't just what the smell is.


Retronasal olfaction, which happens from inside your mouth, is important with taste flavors in coffee (or flavors in anything).

Nasal congestion diminishes this kind of smell, which is why food often tastes bland when you have a cold.


A sip of coffee sends hundreds of volatile aromatics to the back of your throat and nose.

Once your olfactory system detects the aroma, taste, and mouthfeel helps your brain discern and log flavors.

You may notice that coffee professionals often slurp their coffee when they taste it.

This aerates coffee hits the entire palate, and involves the nose.

Without slurping, coffee hits the front part of the tongue and then hits the back on its way down. Is slurping necessary for you?


Not, but it’s fun to try! They often train Professional baristas to detect aroma nuances at different stages of the coffee life cycle, from when the beans are ground to after they swallow the coffee.

When training employees and wholesale customers, they use Le Nez Du café, which has 36 unmarked vials of distinct aromas found in coffee.


You smell each vial and try to identify its aroma to use it. The goal is to introduce you to the aroma most often found in coffee and train your nose to determine those aromas.

Why? Well, it’s challenging to find a scent or flavor in coffee if you’ve never smelled or tasted it before!

Retronasal Olfaction Action

One fun way to better understand how Retronasal olfaction works is to exhale through your nose after swallowing coffee and compare what you taste to what you taste after inhaling.

The difference should be pretty distinct. Volatile aromatics create aroma. They have identified over 800 in coffee.


Although it’s unlikely that all volatile aromatics contribute to that distinct coffee smell, a few categories to help you understand the origins of coffee aromas:


Enzymatic. These aromas originate in the coffee plant. They are often described as floral, fruity, or herbal. This makes sense because coffee beans are the seeds of the fruit.


Browning. Browning aromas result from the Maillard reaction and the caramelization of sugars, both of which happen during roasting.

Maillard reactions, those responsible for the delicious smell of baking bread. They often describe these sweet aromas as nutty, caramel, chocolaty, or malty, and they likely contribute to the perceived sweetness in the cup.


Dry distillation. Their parts will burn if coffee beans get along enough in roasting.

They often describe the aromas of this burning as wood, clove, pepper, or tobacco.

The longer the beans roast, the more present these aromas will be.

How coffee beans are grown, processed, and roasted can all affect how aromatics present themselves in the cup, and there is no right or wrong combination.

It’s worth emphasizing the volatile nature of coffee’s aromatic compounds: they disappear at room temperature, which is a significant reason coffee can go stale so fast.

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