Coffee Tasting 101 – Understanding the Aftertaste

Coffee Tasting 101 – Understanding the Aftertaste

You’ve picked out the distinctive flavors and finally got to grips with coffee’s acidic side.

Hopefully, you’re now feeling like a confident taster who is capable of discovering subtle flavors and picking apart intoxicating aromas.

The very last thing most professional tasters learn is how to understand coffee aftertastes.

In this article, we’re discussing aftertaste.

Yet, let’s be clear, aftertaste is no afterthought. Coffee’s aftertaste is its final gift. It’s what your taste buds remember and the reason your mornings won’t feel complete until you find that amazing blend you tried last week.

As aftertaste is greatly influenced by acidity, sweetness and bitterness, it makes sense to investigate it now we’ve got a handle on all of them.

If you missed the other posts in our coffee tasting series, you can always go back and learn the basics.

Step 1 – The Basics of Coffee Tasting

Step 2 – Tasting Acidity

Step 3 – Tasting Sweetness

Step 4 – Tasting Bitterness

Step 5 – Understanding Aftertaste

Step 6 – Getting to Grips with Mouthfeel

Step 7 – Enjoying Coffee Aromas

What Is Aftertaste? Why Is It Important?

It won’t come as a surprise to know coffee’s aftertaste is a sensory combination of all the flavors, notes and aromas that make blends unique.

With every swallow, these aromatic elements – made up of bitterness, acidity and sweetness – are joining together to create a lasting impression in your throat and mouth.

Acidity present in a coffee’s aftertaste may be smooth and silky satisfying or more tart and crisp. Sometimes, it’s a fleeting experience. Other times, it creates a lingering aftertaste that luxuriates on the tongue. If accompanied by a gentle but perceptible throat burn, the blend may be very acidic or you might have poured the coffee too quickly.

Sweetness often leads to a very pleasant, almost floral coffee aftertaste. It’s an easy experience to delight in because it’s akin to taking a bite of soft, springy sponge cake. The sweetness is undeniable without being cloying.

Bitterness, while crucial to a coffee’s flavor profile, is not really conducive to a great aftertaste. Ideally, you want most or all of the bitter flavors to contribute to a coffee’s characteristic blend without lingering. Usually, strong bitterness in the aftertaste is a consequence of over roasting or over extracting. So, pay attention to how you prepare your coffee too.

Aromas, as we discussed previously, are often mistaken for coffee flavors. In truth, they’re not far off. When you sip coffee with strong aromas, these smells enter the retro nasal passages and get processed as different flavors. So, essentially, you’re tasting with your nose. When a coffee’s aftertaste contains one or two distinct flavors, they’re usually being picked up in aromas and interpreted like flavors.

Mouthfeel is the least important element on our list in regards to aftertaste. From this perspective, it’s less impactful simply because it doesn’t affect the throat in the same way it influences the taste buds. Some exceptions include extremely rich, creamy coffees and robustly fruity, juicy ones.

When you next sit down for a coffee tasting session, focus on all of these key factors separately first.

Just like you normally would. Then, as you continue to drink, start to concentrate on aftertaste and the role these elements are playing. Depending on the type of coffee, they may not all be relevant.

Some coffee aftertastes are defined by just one or a couple of factors.

Making Observations About Coffee Aftertaste

To get the full experience and create an aftertaste to be enjoyed and investigated, use this simple technique.

As you swallow, try to breathe out very slowly. This enables the coffee to wash over the tongue and throat at a steady pace. It prevents esophagus muscles from over-responding and cutting the experience short.

Plus, it makes extra time for the coffee’s aromas to fill your mouth and nose.

After swallowing, ask yourself the jackpot question. Yes, you know the one. What does this remind me of?

Experiencing coffee’s aftertaste on the tongue and then converting the experience into pro-style observations can be tricky at first.

You may need to use trigger questions to get your brain pondering the right sensations. There are several questions I ask myself when coffee tasting because I know they’ll spark ideas.

I’ll share them with you and, hopefully, they’ll help you too.

1. Which of the sensory elements/flavors is strongest in the aftertaste?

Think about whether acidy, sweet or bitter flavors are most prevalent in the coffee’s aftertaste. There are no wrong answers. Swallow slowly. Then, sit back and think about the experience. Is the aftertaste overly bitter? Is it very tart like citrus fruit? Perhaps its wonderfully sweet and aromatic.

Don’t forget, you can jot your observations down as notes. I found this really useful when starting out as a coffee taster.

2. Is the aftertaste uniform and even? Does it change?

Many blends produce a shifting, almost transitional aftertaste that starts one way and transforms into something a little bit different. As if coffee tasting weren’t interesting enough, right?

This isn’t the case for all blends and varieties. However, it’s worth taking your time to meticulously taste and determine if your coffee’s aftertaste starts sweet and becomes tangier or vice versa.

This is most distinctive when an aftertaste begins moderately acidy but transitions into a brighter, tangier experience.

As the coffee moves further into your mouth and throat, it encounters softer tissues and this can generate a zingy, freshness.

3. Does the aftertaste linger or dissipate quickly?

Needless to say, the highest quality coffee blends usually produce the most satisfying aftertastes.

There’s a reason so much hard work goes into growing, roasting and brewing coffee beans. It’s worth it. Premium coffees leave you with a lingering aftertaste that is powerful without being offensive.

One clear sign of poor quality coffee - or coffee which hasn’t been extracted skilfully – is a flash in the pan aftertaste. Blink and you’ll miss it. It’s there and it’s gone.

The Final Word On Understanding Coffee’s Aftertaste

This is the final stop on our coffee tasting journey.

However, it’s just the start of your adventures as a newly trained coffee taster and enthusiast.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these articles and that they’ve helped you develop an even greater appreciation for the coolest beverage on the planet (well, I think so).

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