By Ben Bowdoin
Taste notes? Flavor notes? Fruits you aren’t sure even exist? Wait, did they add this stuff to the coffee?
We understand….it’s a little confusing. A selection of three or four flavor associations are pretty standard nowadays on bags of specialty coffee. Though they are absolutely meant to be beneficial, we are of the belief that they are often times lost in translation and even a little misleading at times. The goal of a tasting note is to give a customer a little insight into what the team here at the roastery thinks the coffee tastes like. By giving three or four of them, the hope is that we can help the consumer be a little more informed as to what they are getting into when selecting a coffee. However, here's where it starts to get a little tricky for a few reasons:
(a) The tasting note is less an exact flavor match and much more of a “tastes similar to and reminds us a little bit of” note - this is confusing because everyone’s experiences and palates are completely different.
(b) We at 1000 Faces are tasting different coffees every day and keeping detailed logs of their differing flavor, acidity, mouthfeel, etc - it’s much easier to pick out these differences between coffees when you are tasting them very intentionally side by side.
(c) We are using grinders in our shop that allow us to achieve higher and more even extractions than would be possible if brewing at home.
Quite simply, we’re professionals, and consumers are not! Not at all to say that we're better than you or that you can’t be a casual consumer of coffee and have a great palate; the point is that this is our profession, so we have spent many hours specifically building our memory and vocabulary around describing coffee. It’s far too easy within our industry to accidentally operate in a vacuum; thus forgetting that the majority of casual consumers don’t work in the coffee field, aren’t tasting multiple different coffees every day, and certainly have never had star fruit marmalade.
All of this rambling is to say that we have decided to try and fix this problem - with our new taste note system! This has been on our minds and in development for the past few months. Our main goals here are to make the notes on our bags simple, approachable, and straight to the point. We are striving to give the consumer a complete idea of the coffees as a whole. They will be presented in three main categories:
(1) Main flavor - The intention of this category is to give the consumer a concrete, yet generalized, answer as to what the coffee tastes like. We think that each coffee has at least one common flavor characteristic that is present among all roasts and brew methods. The options for this category will be very basic and taken mostly from the coffee flavor wheel - dark chocolate, milk chocolate, caramel, nutty, citrus fruit, dried fruit, stone fruit, tropical fruit, berry, apple, melon, floral, earthy, or baking spices. Some of these are a little vague….but intentionally so. Again, the goal is to more give an overall feeling of the coffee instead of an extremely specific flavor. Dried fruit refers to fruit flavor that has a slightly deeper sweetness - think raisins, prunes, dates, figs. Stone fruit is a catch-all term for fleshy fruits that surround a single pit - think peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots. Tropical fruit here refers to the category of those distinctly sweet and tangy fruits grown in the tropics - think mango, papaya, pineapple. Baking spices simply encompasses the set of spices commonly used for baking - think brown sugar, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg.
(2) Acidity - This is a description for how the acidity is presented in coffee. Depending on the origin, processing, and roasting of the green seeds, each coffee will have higher or lower acid content. Acidity creates depth within a coffee, and it provides an intriguing spark in the cup. For example, the absence of acidity in a cup of coffee would give the taster a similar experience to tasting a flat soda - something would be missing. In the case of our new taste notes, we will have four options: vibrant, juicy, crisp, or smooth. Often times when tasting coffees, we like to relate the acidity to different types of fruit and how those fruits feel in your mouth because of their distinct acidities. Vibrant will be reserved for coffees with a tart and lively acidity, most similar to citric acid found in brighter citrus fruits like lemons and limes. Juicy is our term for describing an acidity that is decently high but a little more rounded and mouth coating, most similar to tartaric acid found in grapes or the milder citric acid found in berries. Crisp will be for coffees that exhibit a pleasant acidity that’s neither overly bright or necessarily mouth coating; it will be accompanied by more sweetness in comparison to being vibrant or juicy. This acidity is most similar to that of malic acid found predominantly in apples, pears, and stone fruits. Lastly, smooth will be our descriptor for coffees with a generally milder acidity level. The acidity in these coffees will be slightly downplayed and not a major standout in the cup.
(3) Body/overall feel - Our third category began as a body descriptor used to convey how the coffee feels in the mouth. For example - Is it thick and syrupy or light and more tea-like? However, and maybe most importantly to many consumers, we realized that it also serves as an easy way to decide whether the coffee will hold up well to the addition of milk or not. Coffees will, quite simply, either be delicate or rich. Delicate coffees will have a lighter mouthfeel. Because we usually try to roast these lighter bodied coffees to exhibit more vibrant, fruit-forward, floral characteristics, our delicate coffees generally will not pair the best with milk. This isn't to say we think adding milk would be wrong! They can definitely still taste great; however, because of the lighter body, these coffees are easily overpowered by any additions. Rich coffees will have a noticeable heft in the mouthfeel. Generally speaking, these coffees will have a more sticky sweetness that we think would easily be able to stand up to a few splashes of cream.
We truly hope that this new format will help to answer questions instead of create mystery when examining our bags. As always, you will find the most information about the coffees on our website - where we will still include a lengthier flavor description and more detailed notes on what we feel the coffees taste like. We are always open to feedback, so please reach out if you have any questions!