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Coffee 101: Basic Flavor Profiles

If you’re a coffee aficionado, or aspiring to be one, there are plenty of tasting notes to focus on. Here's where to start.

We don’t blame you if you’re too tired and grumpy to give much thought to how your morning cup of coffee tastes, so long as it delivers that much-needed shot of caffeine.

But if you want to dive deep into the flavor details of your brew, there’s plenty to focus on beyond knowing the basics.

Coffee flavor sounds simple, but can actually be broken down a lot — like into the basic categories below. If you want to get obsessive in finding out what flavors suit you best, read up on these first and figure out to what degree you like or dislike each category.

Acidity

A nicely tangy, sharp, wine-like note that’s more prevalent in lighter roasts. Despite the name, it doesn’t have anything to do with actual pH levels, which always hover around 5 or 6 in coffee.


Bitterness

Generally undesirable in coffee, except in low doses. Extra dark or over-extracted roasts will usually have this note.


Sweetness

Indicates the amount of sucrose or fructose in the coffee, which taste like chocolate, fruit, or caramel.


Sourness

Similar to, but not quite the same as acidity. Acidity is a good thing, but sour notes are more harsh and biting, like tasting vinegar.


Body

How the coffee feels in your mouth — thick like whole milk, or thin like water — plus any aftertaste it leaves. If your mouth feels uncomfortably dry after a couple sips, that coffee is called astringent, which is a bad thing.


Breaking down the details

Find out where your favorite blend lies in a hyper-detailed flavor wheel like this, and you'll be able to better pick out what you like to drink.
Find out where your favorite blend lies in a hyper-detailed flavor wheel like this, and you'll be able to better pick out what you like to drink.
Got that down? Now you can brave one of these hyper-detailed flavor wheels and pick out specific notes.

Brew a cup of your favorite blend, then try to pick out the specific flavors. Get the basic categories above first, then try to nail down the specific notes that the flavor reminds you of.

Apricot? Tobacco? Pecans? It's all a bit subjective, sure, but concentrating on the detailed tasting notes will let you appreciate your blend all the better.

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