Coffee Knowledge

Art to Tasting Coffee

Art to Tasting Coffee

Tasting coffee is an art form.  Experience will enable you to detect the different flavours from the coffee bean – differences between different roasts, origins, and flavours of coffee. Much like wine tasting, it has special terms to describe the taste of coffee and to find the perfect balance.  An experienced taster is able to detect even the smallest hint of flavour and body in each cup of coffee.

With a little practice you can too.  After awhile, you will find that you are better able to work out the differences between each cup of coffee that you drink pointing out different aspects of what makes that cup of coffee special from all the rest.

A simplified version of the main terms below are used to describe certain characteristics of coffee.

5 Main Terms in Tasting Coffee

  • is a desirable quality and not to be confused with sour (which is a bad quality)
  • Darker roasted coffee has less acidity.
  • Dryness in the back and under the edges of your mouth.
  • A ‘lively’, ‘bright’, ‘sharp taste’, ‘bite’, ‘snap’ or ‘tingle’ (Similar to dry white wine) The opposite being ‘flat’ taste.
  • Excessive long lingering bitterness can result from improper grinding, wrong extraction and brewing of coffee.
  • Acids can sometimes result from organic compounds of coffee being overexposed to heat and water (a coffee pots sits on a heated surface for too long) causing the coffee to ‘cook’ resulting in a term called ‘quinic acidulation’.
  • Separate from flavour.
  • How does the coffee smell
  • Words like ‘floral’, ‘nutty’ or ‘fruity’.
  • The way the coffee feels in your mouth or tongue
  • How does this the coffee sit in my mouth?
  • How much weight is there to the coffee?
  • Does the coffee fill my entire palate with its presence?
  • One way to describe it is the comparison to how whole milk feels in on your tongue compared to water.
  • Try tasting the difference between full cream & reduced fat milk.
  • This exercise will help you notice the sublet differences between a full body and medium bodied coffee.
  • Word like thin, light and heavy are great descriptors
  • A full bodied coffee has a richness of flavour. A coffee that tastes thin and watery without flavour is said to lack body.
  • Above all, brewing methods that extract more oils such as an espresso or a coffee press will result in a more full bodied coffee. Conventional drip produces a coffee with less body as the paper filter tends to remove more of the desirable flavour oils.

– The overall perception of the 3 terms above.


  • “winy” is a desirable flavour that suggests a hint of red wine. “caramel” taste or a “bitter” component. Some coffees may have a “fruity” quality with a subtle taste of “berry” or “citrus”.
  • When the basic characteristics of acidity, body and aroma complement each other, and no single component overwhelms the other, the coffee is said to have good balance.
Finish – a term brought over from the wine tasting world.


  • Describes the sensation in the palette after you’ve swallowed the coffee (or spit it out as cuppers do after every taste).
  • Some coffees will develop in the finish by leaving a pleasurable taste and/or feel in your mouth that lingers.

The Make-up of the Tongue

The tongue is able to discriminate among the many subtle flavours of coffee along different parts of the tongue that detect different flavours.

The tongue plays a crucial role in the process of tasting flavors, as it contains specialized receptors that detect different taste sensations. Here’s a brief overview of the anatomy of the tongue and its role in tasting coffee flavours:

Taste Buds:

The tongue is covered with tiny structures called papillae, which house clusters of taste buds. These taste buds contain taste receptor cells that detect the five primary tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (savory).

Distribution of Taste Receptors:

Taste receptors are not uniformly distributed across the tongue. Different areas of the tongue are more sensitive to certain tastes:

  • The tip of the tongue is most sensitive to sweet tastes.
  • The sides of the tongue are more sensitive to sour and salty tastes.
  • The back of the tongue is most sensitive to bitter tastes.
  • Umami tastes are particularly concentrated at the back tongue.

Taste Sensations:

With every sip of coffee, compounds in the liquid stimulate the taste receptors on your tongue. The combination of flavours, acidity, bitterness, sweetness, and umami creates a complex taste profile that you perceive as the flavor of the coffee.

Texture and Mouthfeel:

Texture and mouthfeel of the coffee is detected by the tongue. As does thickness, viscosity, and smoothness of the liquid, as well as any physical sensations such as heat or cold.

Interplay with Aroma:

Above all, taste works in with smell to create the overall flavour experience. As you sip coffee, aromatic compounds released from the brew travel through the back of the throat to the olfactory receptors in the nose, enhancing the perception of flavor.

Understanding the anatomy of the tongue and its role in tasting flavors can help coffee enthusiasts appreciate the nuances of different coffees and develop a more discerning palate.

Cirelli Coffee Roatery & Cafe

Pop into Cirelli Roastery & Cafe and pick up some tasting cards so that you can start practicing your tasting skills.

Our easy specialty coffee variety selection guide:  How to choose the beans that are right for me? explains our different coffees and provides a tasting profile of each coffee. Click on the link to select your favourite type of coffee.

Coffee Taste Wheel

Try out the link to the Specialty Coffee Association of America. They have developed a coffee taste wheel, which can help you describe how each cup of coffee tastes.

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