Coffee tasting for the very first time can be a roller coaster ride of unexpected sensations.
When you taste coffee – really taste coffee – it becomes so much more than a drink to be chugged in the morning. The same can be said of any culinary experience. It is true coffee tasting can be a serious and professional skill.
However, its basic principles apply to many circumstances.
Coffee tasting principles are largely based on mindfulness which teaches the importance of fully appreciating physical experiences.
It believes enjoyment in and satisfaction from food and beverages can be increased by simply slowing down and focusing intently on their flavors. What’s more, a greater appreciation of culinary experiences can lead to improved awareness of other experiences and sensations too.
This is why I love coffee tasting and relish every opportunity to help other people love and learn it too.
In this article, I discuss the important role of acidity and give you some tips on identifying and enjoying these flavors in coffee.
A Quick Primer On Acidity In Coffee
Those with little or no knowledge of coffee tasting may balk at the idea of acids found in coffee.
Truthfully, they can be a complex addition. Acidity is often to blame for poor tasting coffees.
Yet, it’s also a reason why many of the world’s best varieties are so intoxicating. If this sounds illogical, stick with me. I’ll try to explain the contradiction.
It seems obvious to say an over-acidic coffee can be unpleasant. When beans are over-roasted, for example, coffee is ashy, bitter and rarely worth a second cup.
It doesn’t mean acidic flavors don’t deserve a place in coffee though. They just need to be developed correctly. This is something master coffee makers know how to do.
If you drink high-quality beans and blends, there’s no need to fear acids found in coffee. Account for personal taste, of course. Even the best coffee on the planet won’t please everybody. We all like different things, but assuming you’ve got an open mind for flavor combinations, acidity can be a revelation.
We know it’s important because coffee without any acidity at all normally tastes bland and uninspiring.
Brazilian coffees tend to have low acidity levels. Many are very pleasant with distinctly chocolatey undertones.
For the coffee connoisseur, however, they are rarely a preference when compared with sharper, bolder Central American varieties.
When acidity is done correctly, it offers crispness, vibrance and balance. One secret to identifying a good coffee is whether it makes the front section of your tongue feel fizzy.
Acidity: Is It a Flavor or Something Else?
According to professional coffee tasters, acidity is categorized as a flavor of coffee.
Nevertheless, it’s one of the hardest ones to identify. So difficult in fact that many prefer to think of it as a flavor enhancer. Acidity boosts other existing flavors and creates a memorable, satisfying mouthfeel.
In some coffees, acidic notes amplify citrus flavors and bring their taste to the brink of sourness without also becoming bitter.
For others, they provide a zingy brightness similar to tart apples. I should point out – and you may already know this if you’ve tried coffee tasting before – that an ‘acidic orange’ flavor in a coffee doesn’t necessarily mean it tastes like oranges. It’s more likely to be a descriptor for the perceived level of acidity.
So, the coffee has a similar degree of acidity to an orange.
If you truly want to learn how to taste coffee, this distinction is important. The flavor observation ‘acidic orange’ can mean a coffee tastes like oranges and has a similar level of acidity to an orange OR it can only mean the latter.
Types of Acids Found In Coffee
There are many types of acids found in coffee. Dozens, in fact. Unless you’re planning to master coffee tasting, you don’t need to know all of them. For now, let’s discuss a handful of the most common.
Citric acid is very common. We experience it in everything from tomatoes to cheese, blueberries, even potato chips. Contrary to popular belief then, it is not reserved for citrus fruits. Citric acid is rich in both lemons and limes, but it is also found in foods that are very different from these fruits.
Malic acid is not dissimilar to citric acid. They are common substitutes in baking recipes. To imagine how malic acid tastes, think of a crisp green apple. It is tangy and sour but not unpleasant.
This type of acid is most commonly found in soft drinks. It is noticeably sweeter than both malic and citric acid. If added to a lemon half, for example, phosphoric acid will reduce its tartness and cause it to taste less sour. It may seem strange for an acid to be considered sweet, but it is routinely used to add zingy, fruity notes to African coffees.
Aectic acid isn’t often enjoyed on its own or for its own flavor merits because it is sour, pungent and earthy. It has a very powerful smell almost like kimchi. Yet, when acetic acid is added to coffee, something magic happens. It generates a rich and full-bodied flavor many believe is comparable to champagne or white wine.
The Final Word On Acidity In Coffee
Acidity is one of the hardest challenges for amateur coffee tasters to master. Even some professional tasters speak about it only in relation to accompanying flavors and how it enhances them. That’s fine. You should feel free to taste in this way.
Those hoping to turn a love for coffee into a profession, however, should know acidity is its own distinct flavor. To hone your ability to taste and isolate it, replicate the tasting experience with acidic fruits.
Approach it in the same way you would if you were comparing multiple cups of coffee. Taste, then drink a little water. Taste, then drink again.
Make notes on your observations and don’t forget to have fun.