Choosing the best coffee can often be a process as touchy-feely as a fashionista attempting to pick out her favourite trend of the best current style trends in the latest edition of Vogue. On one hand, a person may love the sharp and bright acidity of a Kenyan SL26 yet despise the chocolaty and nuttiness of a celebrated South American Bourbon without ever considering that both these coffees are amazing in their own way.
Our preferences for coffee can be highly attributed to our taste buds, though not exclusively; and if only it was that simple. The human anatomy ensures most humans share commonalities (i.e. two arms, ten fingers, two eyes, one nose, one tongue, etc.) and yet, regardless of the commonalities, we are altogether different and unique. Just like how our skin and eye colours differ from person to person, so it is with our tongues. Each tongue has a different dispersion of lingual pappilae or better known as taste buds. Our tongue, being the primary organ for taste (gustation), along with the secondary influence of our cultural environment, ensures each individual would have a favourite flavour.
To make it even more interesting, the vast variety of coffees only means we have to deal with a vast variety of available flavours, further highlighting our differences. However, picking a favourite coffee is really not the same as picking the best coffee, and therefore the Q Grading system was invented as a guideline in order for people to collectively come to agreement on picking the best coffees.
But we’re not here to talk about the Q Grading system; instead we’d like to offer you some guidelines on how to select your favourite coffee based on your favourite flavours. Here are some key things to look out for when choosing a coffee:
Our ability to smell greatly influences our ability to taste. If a coffee smells delicious, it’s very likely to translate to the flavours in the cup. Look out for aromas of nuts, chocolate, berries and even fruits.
Most taste profiles these days include a measure of or a synonym for sweetness. Sweetness is in the cup and is an inherent flavour of high grade coffees. From sugar cane sweetness, to toffee, or even molasses; either way, sweetness is a great indicator.
As the name suggests, this is an indicator of the level of acidity that you can taste in a coffee. Acidity should not be confused with sourness. Citric acidity is often associated with mostly citrusy fruits such as lemon, lime, grapefruits and other citrusy fruits, commonly described as tart or sharp. If you do not enjoy such flavours of acidity, you may instead prefer the pleasant form of Malic acidity. Malic acidity is commonly associated to fruits like green apples, grapes, and rhubarb. It is generally a much sought after attribute in coffee as it is mellow in comparison to citric acidity. Besides Citric and Malic acidity, Phosphoric acidity is perhaps the most sought after and highly prized as it is often found in the most celebrated coffees in the world. The common association with phosphoric acid is that it provides a more tactile mouth-feel instead of the association with sourness that is found in citric and malic acidity. Words such as bright and lively are some of the words used to describe Phosphoric acidity. However, it’s really a combination of Phosphoric and other organic acids presented in the coffee itself which ultimately results in delectable flavours.
Much like wine, coffee has a tactile feel when it hits your mouth. It is a very distinguishable feeling. Some may prefer a heavier body, almost syrupy-like, where some others may enjoy a lighter mouth-feel.
A balanced cup is highly desirable in a coffee, yet it is probably the most subjective matters when describing coffee. In layman terms, it generally describes whether or not the other key attributes in the coffee work together to present itself as a ‘whole’ package in the one cup of coffee.
Last, but not least, one should look for aftertaste. With close to a thousand chemical compounds found in coffee1, the cup is bound to leave some form of aftertaste in your mouth. Great coffees generally leave a pleasant, lingering aftertaste. This being said, not every great tasting coffee has a pleasant aftertaste but it is an ideal attribute to look out for.
In conclusion, these are just some of the words you may find in the descriptions on a bag of coffee, or on a coffee menu, as a guide to help you select your next purchase of coffee. At Coffex Coffee, we celebrate the diversity that coffee brings to our taste palates. We roast our Classic Range to suit those who prefer more traditional flavours in their coffee; however, our Single Origin Range is a lot more diverse. Much like anything else in this world that is worth knowing, we can only come to our own conclusions of what’s best when we have actually tried it.
Happy exploring, caffeine lovers!