Nothing beats that perfect cup of coffee in the morning.
But did you know that most of what we taste in a cup of coffee actually comes not from our sense of taste, but our sense of smell?
Coffee doesn’t have the high-brow reputation that wine does, but like wine, it’s flavors are heavily influenced by its aromas, which can change at every stage of roasting and brewing. In the wrong hands, the best beans can create a sub-par cup of coffee.
But in the right hands, you can bring out the unique aromas of your coffee, and learn to truly enjoy your morning ritual.
If you’ve ever tried to eat a favorite meal while you had a cold, you already know the effect that sense of smell has on your taste buds.
Brewed coffee has over 800 aromatic compounds, more than any other kind of beverage, which can also help explain why many people find the taste of coffee too bitter but love the coffee smell or coffee-flavored sweets.
Types of Aromas – Enzymatic AromasThere are four three types of aromas in coffee. Just as good wine starts with the grape, good coffee starts with the bean. The first type of aroma is called the Enzymatic aromas. They take place inside the bean during growing. Depending on weather conditions, soil topography, and type of bean, you’ll get a variety of aromas like:
Getting to know your beans is the first step in learning how to appreciate coffee. Fruity beans may contain blueberry, apple, and apricot aromas, while citrus might be more acidic, like a lemon or lime.
Floral may contain tea rose, cardamom, or lavender, and herbaceous blends might smell more like cucumber, basil, or other herbs, giving them an earthier flavor.
Ethiopian coffee is well-known for being the best in the world. Naturally processed Ethiopian coffees are ripened with a fruity sweetness that makes them some of the most prized beans in the world.
Sugar Browning Aromas
Sugar browning is the next stage in the process and occurs during roasting.
Depending on the methods of roasting, the length of time, and other factors, browning occurs when the natural sugars are browned. Roasters can help the process along to create a more chocolaty, rich flavor, or a more caramelized flavor, like caramel, honey or hazelnut.
The more toasted the beans, may und up with “toasty” aromas, like roasted peanut, walnuts, or even toast! Honduras produces crisp caramel and honey aromas that are perfectly suited to the natural sweetness found in their coffee beans.
Dry Distillation Aromas
Not everyone chooses to burn plant fibers during roasting, as it can be a temperamental and exacting process. But some roasters love to get those extra aromatics in to create a unique dark blend.
This can add exciting scents like cedar or pine wood, spicy flavors like anise, clove or pepper, and even give your coffee the smoky flavors of tobacco! Sumatran coffee is well-known for its deep, dark woodsy flavor, and a hint of spice.
Bad AromasIt’s possible for aromatic taints to get into the coffee beans during the growing or roasting process. Diseased coffee beans can sometimes smell fermented, like bad wine or spoiled fruit. They may also turn leathery, like rubber, or even beef, or grassy, like straw or potato, depending which enzymatic aromas the original beans had.
Brewing the Best Coffee
When it comes to coffee, timing is everything. It can take months for ground coffee to go bad, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good. Ideally, you want to buy beans that are freshly roasted, and grind them at home.
You’ll want to brew them right before you grind them. Coffee only has 20-30 minutes after grinding, if you really want to hit that peak freshness! But you can keep it in a cool, dry place for a month. Put it in the freezer for maximum freshness.
How To Taste Coffee Aromas
To start, get a good whiff of your coffee.
What do you smell? Can you smell something floral? Maybe fruity?
Learn to discern these flavors. Some coffees will have very distinct aromas. But some aromas will blend with flavors. That makes it difficult to separate from the coffee’s flavor. With practice, you'll learn how to discern the flavors.
Next, take a sip. Take the time to savor the coffee in your mouth. Notice the flavors as you swallow. When you swallow, the aromas rise to your retronasal passage. It sounds strange, but scientifically, it actually makes the flavor more distinct.
You don’t need to be a coffee snob to appreciate that first cup of coffee in the morning.
But if you’re a person who really loves your coffee, learning to truly appreciate coffee aromas and flavors can really up your roasting game.
Once you’ve learned how to choose the beans you like based on their enzymatic aromas, and roasting techniques, getting the right grind, and storing for maximum freshness is the easy part.
And you’ll be able to impress friends and family with your great taste, too!