Are the taste profiles of coffee a fabrication?
With specialty and increasingly commonly with commodity coffees, we encounter a taste profile. It is a description of aromas and tastes that we could feel in a given coffee, according to the roaster.
In this article, we will look at what it is like.
People often think that we only feel the taste in coffee with our tongue (Gustatory system). This is not entirely true. Many "flavors" are scented with the Olfactory system.
For example, cinnamon. Cinnamon cannot be tasted on the tongue. There's a test for that: Cinnamon candy. You ask the test person to have a candy and hold the the breath while tasting the candy. In addition, she writes down taste sensations. If she can not hold her breath, she can inhale. On paper you can see how she writes down: a sweet, slightly sour taste. Until she inhales. Then you see the surprise on her face, and as she says, "Cinnamon!"
In Slovakia we have the words smell and taste. The English have the corresponding words smell and taste. But they have one more word: Flavor. It is a combination of taste and smell and provides a better description of the coffee experience.
The Specialty Coffee Association, the world's leading coffee organization, published the Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel in 2016:
The wheel defines the groups, subgroups and individual flavors that we can find in coffee. Gaps between groups and items are also important. If the gap is large, it means that the tastes are not related, if they are side by side, it means that they are similar to each other.
The basic aromas that we can recognize in coffee were first brought to the world in the form of perfumes by Jean Lenoir. He brought it to the world Le Nez Du Cafe. 36 tiny vials containing fragrances and their verbal description.
Fragrances are not imitations, but contain specific chemicals that are in coffee and in the substances described. For example, the smell of lemon is a specific chemical compound found in lemon, and the same is found in coffee (in some coffees). His set has become part of the SCA certification of Sensory Skills as well as the Q grader certification. Q Grader is the highest certification allowing to award SCA scores (see below).
Another invaluable contribution to the world of coffee is the organization World Coffee Research. They have several amazing publications on his account, such as The genome of Arabia, Arab Varieties and last but not least Sensory Lexicon.
Sensory Lexicon describes 110 flavors, aromas and textures. Amazingly, it also provides references for measuring them.
An example of how to prepare a sample for "Citrus Fruit". For aroma at level 4.5, take 0.5g lemon peel and 0.5g lime and place them in a medium cognac glass (a very suitable scenting cup). The sample is covered. The disadvantage is that some samples come from e.g. from jams that are not easy to buy here in Slovakia.
World Coffee Research is also working on crossing new varieties to make them more disease-resistant, for example. Lexicon Sensory is an excellent tool in evaluating the potential of these new coffee tree varieties.
The Specialty Coffee Association has introduced a points system to evaluate coffees. The description of the system is quite complex. At this point, we can get away with simplification. Coffee gets points from zero to 100.
From 80 points we talk about SPECIALTY coffee. A 100 is like a mythical beast - something unattainable.
Coffee with a score of 90-100 is referred to as Outstanding.
Coffee with a score of 85-89.99 is referred to as Excellent.
Coffee with a score of 80-84.99 is called Very Good.
World competitions like the Cup of Excellence win coffees with a score of 92. The biggest fun happens around 87-89 points. The coffees in this zone are really amazing and at the same time you don't have to spend your house mortgage on them.
What does the score tell us?
Coffee with points 80 will not excel in any intense aromas and flavors. At the same time, however, it will not have significant defects and that is great. Coffee below 80 points - typically commodities can and often do contain some of the defects that roasters try to cover with darker roasting.
But if you want to smell the amazing scent of apricots, you need to reach higher into the 88plus group, such as our incredible Samuel Diego Bermudez Y05.
The higher the score, the more intense and interesting the flavors you can find in coffee. Sometimes these are scents that are nicely separated and at a score of 88plus they are easily identified even by a beginner such as cinnamon at . At other times, they form a complex mix and resemble fruit jam, which is amazing, but the individual flavors cannot be easily separated in it.
The most intense aromas and flavors are reflected in the light roasts. The darker the roast, the more the aromatic substances in the coffee decompose and mask their roasting flavors and bitterness. This does not mean that they will disappear completely, but their intensity will be significantly reduced. At the same time, even a wizard will not roast coffee from a green beans that is below 80 points, which will smell like apricots and the taste will be strawberries.