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Coffee Flavors Deconstructed – Flavor Terms

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Coffee Flavors Deconstructed – Flavor Terms

Carrie Masek

Coming soon to Coffee by the Roast, a page devoted to the what, where and how of coffee flavor. If you want to learn more about the flavors of coffee, or if you know the flavor you want, but need help finding the coffee that has it, Coffee Flavors Deconstructed is the page for you. Our web team is almost done polishing the page, but in the meantime, get a sneak peek with our new blog series, Coffee Flavors Deconstructed. First up, the what of coffee flavor, flavor terms.

“Lively!” “Bold!” “Rich!” Fun words, but what do they mean? English has more words than any other language, but it doesn't have enough words for flavors. Since coffee has more flavors than any other beverage, the coffee industry has had to come up with its own terms. Here's a quick guide to the most commonly used, along with some examples of coffees that share that quality.

Bold – A term popularized by modern coffee houses, bold has come to mean a flavor that combines bitter and sweet notes with a rich, heavy body. Think melted, bitter-sweet chocolate...only coffee. Most coffees from Indonesia are bold, particularly when roasted to a Vienna roast level (440 degrees F) or darker. If you're looking for a bold Single Origin coffee, try Sulawesi Pango Pango or Sumatra Harimau Tiger. For a bold blend, try Black Magic, Midnight Treat or a dark-roasted New Orleans 1803.

Lively – Basically, the opposite of bold. Caused by flavor acids, like the malic acid also found in apples, lively notes taste sour to some, where others enjoy the zest. Truly fine coffees have at least a hint of lively. In some, the lively notes act like a drop of lemon in a rich sauce. They contrast with and heighten other flavors. The coffees of Colombia are a good example of this. Other coffees are specifically sought after for their intense lively flavor. Roasting tends to turn lively notes sweet, so the liveliest coffees are light roasted. If you're looking for a lively Single Origin coffee, try Kenya Kichwa Tembo or Tanzania Ruvuma AA. If you're looking for a lively blend, try Easy Sunrise, Cowboy Coffee 1870, or Ile de France 1700 at a City roast level (420 degrees F).

Sweet – In the coffee business, sweet means...well, sweet, as if someone stirred a bit of sugar into your cup. Sometimes the sweet note tastes like pure sugar, other times like fruit, chocolate or honey. Many Central American and Island coffees are sweet. Kona and Panama Boquete are deservedly famous for their sweet notes. For a sweet blend, try Springtime Twist, Cotton Candy Coffee or Kona Coffee 1967.

Floral – This term shows how much aroma affects flavor. Basically, floral coffees smell like flowers. Some common floral scents are jasmine, rose, lavender and coffee blossom. Think jasmine tea...only coffee. The coffees of Ethiopia are known for their floral notes, particularly washed Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Lake Abaya. Panama Geisha is another coffee famous for its floral quality. For a floral blend try Springtime Twist, Easy Sunrise or Espresso Kyoto 2010.

Rich – Another term that combines mouth feel with flavor. A rich coffee pairs a smooth, buttery texture with a balance of sweet, lively and bold flavors to create a full, rounded experience most Americans think of as “good coffee.” Colombian coffees, like Colombia San Agustin, are the quintessential rich coffee, as are the coffees of Brazil, like Organic Brazil de Fatima, particularly when roasted to a medium, Full City, roast level (430 degrees F). For a different take on rich, try an Indonesian coffee, like Organic Dragon, or an African coffee, like Organic Rwanda Gishamwana, at a Full City roast level. If you're looking for a rich blend, try Morning Mist, Chicago Cup 1925 or our newest custom blend, ReNew Roast.

Complex – Some coffees have many intense flavor notes vying for attention with every sip. Instead of smoothing into a seamless whole, the flavor hits your tongue with a lively spark that can blossom into a floral nose, broaden into smooth richness and/or mellow into sweetness. Often there's a hint of bold bitterness followed by a delicious, lingering finish. We love complex Single Origin coffees like Organic Bali Kintamani, Ecuador Cotopaxi or Ethiopia Harrar, but it's even more fun to mix flavors into a complex blend. If you want a truly complex coffee try Espresso Trieste 1948, Mokha Java 1790, or San Francisco Foglifter 1950.

Next time on Coffee Flavors Deconstructed, the where of coffee flavor. How geography affects coffee's flavor.

~ Carrie, Paul and the coffee geeks at