Today we are going to discuss some coffee terminology. Coffee has been around since the tenth or eleventh century. Yet, regardless of coffee’s antiquity, many terms describing its taste and flavor profile are misunderstood.
Until recent decades, coffee was a utilitarian beverage. The bitter dark drink was consumed by adults only as caffeine fuel before a long work day. Sugar was added to coffee in order to quell astringency and bad taste.
Now, in specialty coffee circles, coffee is prepared in an almost culinary fashion: flavor additives aren’t encouraged, and the best ingredients are sought out for flavor and sustainability. The craft of specialty coffee has not been practiced for very long, so the terminology involved becomes confusing.
Here are few examples of misunderstood coffee terminology:
Today we will be focusing on acidity
Acidity in coffee sounds foreign to many. When many people think of acidity, they picture chemistry sets and sourness. We at Hook like to think about acidity as something that could be positive or negative.
Acidity is the juicy, sour, tart, sweet flavor and mouthfeel found in coffee. Instead of using acidity as a flavor descriptor, it’s best to examine the amount of acidity (intensity) found in a cup of coffee. When a cup of coffee is sour, certain acids in the coffee are overbearing. Even when coffee is bitter, acidity is still present in the coffee.
Acidity is your friend. A well-extracted cup with complex acidity is a maelstrom of sweetness, tartness, and clarity.
Coffee contains many acids. Here’s a list of some of them:
Acids contained in coffee
These acids effect the coffee in different ways. For instance, malic acid is a source for tartness. Quinic acid attributes to pleasant sharpness. Lactic acid promotes a mild taste and has many other effects that impact savoriness. The list goes on, and for the sake of brevity we will agree that coffee is very, very complex.
Debunking the Dark Roast
Dark roasted coffee became popular years ago before the advent of specialty, intentional coffee. Before the rise of specialty coffee, acidity was less understood. In response, roasters burnt the living daylight out of their coffee to kill the “bad taste.”
When observing a dark roast, you’ll notice greasy residue. You’ll also smell something akin to burnt fish and tree bark… that’s kind of what it tastes like.
If roasters are vigilant, they roast coffee without burning it. A careful roasting process preserves the potential acidity in the bean. Having well balanced acidity in coffee brings out a variety of flavors. Some coffees inherently taste chocolatey and nutty (El Salvador), while others taste fruity and sweet (Ethiopian).
All coffee contains acidity. It’s just a matter of how you shape the potential of each bean when brewing.
If you enjoy “dark” or “bold” cups of coffee, dark roasted coffee isn’t the best option. Certain brew methods paired with particular coffees can provide you with a much richer, in depth tasting cup of coffee than a dark roasted brew.
If a Colombian coffee (heavy in floral and dark chocolate notes) is brewed with an Eva Solo, an almost thick cup of coffee with a juicy mouthfeel and savory flavor will be the result. A dark roasted coffee will just taste simple, astringent, and burnt.
For a “heavier” cup of coffee:
- Try brewing with immersion brew methods.
- Make sure that the method you are using doesn’t employ a thick filter. This will make sure that more coffee particles (brew colloids) make it into the cup. This will make for a thicker and heavier bodied mouthfeel.
- Prepare the coffee in a balanced way. Don’t over extract and mask flavor.
- Experiment with different coffees to manipulate flavor.
Acidity in coffee is an extremely complex topic. For more information on the particular science behind particular acids in coffee, check out our coffee literature suggestions in our previous blog.
As always, happy brewing!
The Hook Coffee Team