All fine foods like wine, chocolate, smoked salmon and truffle please the palate with their complex flavour profiles. Sometimes it hard to understand, pinpoint or even explain the flavours that give us "that" great taste experience. A good quality coffee can be considered a fine food as it stimulates the palate with its unique balance of bitter, sweet, sour, salt and umami. All the major coffee regions of the world have their own unique flavour characteristics to be enjoyed.
An experienced Coffee taster or "Cupper" will sniff the aroma first and then slurp the coffee, into the mouth. The coffee is then swirled around the mouth and tongue for maximum coverage. The taster finally experiences the mouth feel, the aromas and a full tasting experience of the flavours.
Often the tasting expert will concentrate on the body, the balance, the sweetness and the acidity. The body can be described as the heaviness of the mouth feel and the potency of the base flavours. The balance is how harmonised the flavours are and how well they work together. The acidity refers to the bright fresh zingy characteristic of the coffee.
Professional coffee tasters use the "Coffee wheel". The Coffee wheel is actually an adaptation of the "Wine wheel", that wine tasters used, to chart flavour characteristic profiles.
Here are some of the flavour characteristics commonly used to describe how coffee tastes.
Bright - light, acidic, fresh and fruity.
Earthy - wholesome, spicy, natural and reminiscent of earth. Typical of Sumatran coffee.
Caramel - a syrupy sweetness typical of Columbian coffee.
Chocolate - rich chocolaty flavour usually in the finish.
Smokey - a flavour enhanced by roasting in Indian and Indonesian coffee.
Citrus - citrus fruity notes. Winey - a deep rich flavour of wine common to Kenyan coffee.
Spicy - notes reminiscent of coriander, cumin and pepper in Indian coffee.
Nutty - a flavour of nuts in south American coffee.
Fragrant - floral, spicy earthy aroma from bolder coffees of Africa Indian and Indonesia.
Clean - no undesirable flavours or aromas.
Complex - having many layers of flavour and aroma.
Crisp - a pleasant acidity.