Different types of coffees will have varying and distinct flavors, some which may surprise you, and each can elicit its own distinct experience in the person taking the sip.
Although in many peoples' minds, coffee is behind the wine, whiskey and craft beer when it comes to palette-pleasing notes, terroir and delicate flavor profiles, specialty coffee is quickly emerging as something to be debated over when it comes the finer points. With flavors ranging from intense blueberry and Fuji apple all the way down the chain to the darker profile coffees, where you begin tasting ashy and acrid notes.
In fact, coffee is amongst the most complex beverages you can ingest, with over 1,000 chemical compounds responsible for everything from aroma to flavor. And those blueberry or apple flavors? They come across because coffee's complexity contains similar, if not the exact same compounds found in these other organic products, they simply need to be expressed properly.
In general, truly great coffee is not a dark roast. The roasting process, if pushed too far, tends to char the delicate coffee bean, along with its natural sugars and organic materials, to create a bitter and harsh flavor that can only be drowned out with milk and sugar.
Pro Tip: The mark of an overly roasted coffee is when the surface of the bean is oily to the touch. This means that many of the flavor-containing compounds within the bean have been pushed to the surface during the roast process and immediately dull the natural and complex flavor potential of the bean itself. Generally, dark roasted coffees are simply poor-quality commodity coffees that are roasted to a crisp to hide their underwhelming quality.
When talking about coffee tasting notes, focus instead on lightly roasted coffee, which allows the true expression of the bean to shine through. With a light roast profile, the more delicate notes of well-grown and well-sourced coffee can express themselves in ways never possible in dark roasted coffee.
To keep all of the beautiful coffee tasting notes in check, many roasters and even the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) have developed widely-used coffee tasting wheels, like the one below. Often times, when tasting coffee it is extremely helpful to have some direction on hand to inspire your tastebuds. Below, you'll see SCAA's newest flavor wheel - released in 2016 - which is not only helpful, but beautiful.
By using a tasting wheel like the one above, you can search for flavors that you taste in your cup. And because everyone's flavor profile is different, there are a number of flavor wheels out there. Some include extremely granular or rare flavors, but others, such as Counter Culture's beautiful example, include far more fruit-forward and sweet notes than those expressed in darker coffees.
That can come across for many reasons, but generally Counter Culture coffees - as well as most other third wave coffees, are more lightly roasted and find themselves on the more complex and flavorful side of the spectrum.
In order to maintain a running record of the essence of each brew, many people employ physical coffee tasting notes, both for personal use and to share with others. These are often written into a notebook, or typed into an online database. Here at Joyride, we keep a fine eye on every coffee we taste in our Encyclopedia Arabica, which also helps inform us on which coffees to add to our office menu.
To try out some of these coffees in your New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles office, contact Joyride to talk coffee and try out some samples for yourself!