Scientists have identified around 900 volatile flavor compounds in coffee. To give you some perspective, they’ve only identified around 500 in wine. So there’s a ton going on in your cup, and it can be overwhelming to talk about. Because of this, anything that hits you while tasting is probably worth noting. There's no real right or wrong, so we urge you to have fun with it and not put too much pressure on yourself. Here are a few tasting terms that will help you break down the coffee that's breakdancing on your tongue.
Fragrance / Aroma
Fragrance is the smell of dry coffee grounds. Aroma is the smell of coffee when infused with water. It is the first important sensorial experience when evaluating a coffee. Some terms that could apply are: floral, fruity, nutty, sugar browning, caramel, and chocolate.
Acidity is the perceived brightness of a coffee when tasted. It's a term that describes flavor and is felt on the tongue, not in the stomach. The overall pH of coffee is fairly neutral. Acidity defines the character of a coffee: bright, round, winey, and fruity are terms that apply.
Flavor is possibly the most important part of evaluating coffee. Origin, elevation, processing, roast profile, and brew method all contribute to a coffee's flavor. It develops after aroma and acidity, and before the finish. Use terms like: berries, fruits, flowers, chocolate, spice.
Balance refers to the overall harmony within the cup from start to finish. Acidity, sweetness, body, and finish are working perfectly together so no one part defines the cup more than the other. It is the sense that nothing is lacking nor overpowering the cup.
Body refers to the mouthfeel of coffee. It's the thickness when you roll the coffee around in your mouth; the tactile sensation -- the viscosity of coffee. Imagine drinking a glass of water versus a glass of juice or milk. Use terms like light, juicy, syrupy, creamy, or heavy.
The finish refers to the aftertaste of brewed coffee. It's the immediate taste sensation that lingers on your palate after swallowing. Some coffees continue to develop after swallowing, while others finish quickly. Use terms like quick, clean, pleasant, chocolatey, or resonant.