Do the fancy flavors used to describe coffee actually exist?

Discuss flavors, brew temperatures, blending, and cupping notes.
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nixter

#1: Post by nixter »

Ok this is probably a really silly question but here goes. Every time I buy a bag of beans the label on the bag usually reads something like the following... "sweet and delicately complex with nuances of fruits, florals, and chocolate". Now I could totally be wrong but based on my browsing of the home roasting forum I don't believe the roasting process involves a banana, a handful of daisies and a Mars bar. Where are these supposed flavors coming from? Personally I've tasted lots of different espresso from lots of different places and they all have a different flavors but I don't taste any of these fancy things except maybe a hint of chocolate occasionally and even then it's not quite chocolate. Are these just words to describe espresso or do the flavors actually exist in some way?

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espressme

#2: Post by espressme »

Just a quick note, yes! The most powerful I remember was the "Yirgacheffe" Korati. Totally "Blueberry!" That was noticeable in the roast and even accentuated by the grinding aroma, and the aroma from the cup and tasting. There are other coffees that have been, and are, very distinctive and with some flavors accentuated and very enjoyable.

It would depend upon where you have purchased your roasted beans, and their freshness, as to how much flavor and aroma there is remaining. The state of the roast and its timing are all important to your enjoyment of any given cup.

In my opinion, the best way to chase flavors would be a LaPeppina or Caravel, by which open kettle espresso brewing method you may change brew temps by small increments.
Cheers
-Richard
Edit: "Yirgacheffe" I was reminded of the correct spelling :D
richard penney LMWDP #090,

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nixter

#3: Post by nixter »

Thanks for the reply! Although maybe my question wasn't clear. I want to know if any of the ingredients used to describe espresso play a part in the making. So you're saying you smelled and tasted blueberries yet no actual blueberries were harmed in the making of this espresso?

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HB
Admin

#4: Post by HB »

nixter wrote:So you're saying you smelled and tasted blueberries yet no actual blueberries were harmed in the making of this espresso?
For some coffees, absolutely! Even one of my youngest sons immediately identified the blueberry smell in Yirgacheffe without prompting.
Dan Kehn

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another_jim
Team HB

#5: Post by another_jim »

Many, perhaps even most, professional cuppers are uncomfortable with these descriptions, and prefer to just score coffees on points, and to use very generic descriptors "sweet," "fruity," "carmel," "smoke," etc. These generic descriptors reflect actual chemicals in the cup -- a variety of fruit acids, caramels, sugars, and dry distillates (spice, tarry or smokey substances).

You can check out the coffee flavor wheel, and see how the more generic descriptors get subdivided into more specific ones. At this point you leave chemistry and enter into poetry. There are, for instance, a variety of fruit acids in light roasted coffees, but they are not the same as those in blueberries or peaches. They are merely somewhat reminiscent of those flavors. The same is true when caramels get broken down into dutch chocolate or vanilla, and dry distillates into turpenny and clove.

Try out coffees brewed, smell them, and let them cool to a lukewarm temperature before tasting. You will then taste these detailed flavors. Whether they remain, as for most tasters, flavors that are typical of certain regions, or whether they start talking to you in terms of regular food flavors, will have more to do with your personal psychology than with either any innate tasting skill or experience.

When it comes to writing coffees up for buyers, you want to have people who can describe them, as accurately as such descriptions can be, in terms of food flavors. This is much better than the gag inducing "bold" and "deep" crap favored by corporate coffee, and it probably tells regular customers more than saying this CR has "classic Central American profile emphasizing caramel and brown sugar tones" or that a Kenya a "is a high toned Kenyan with sparkling acidity." For coffee professionals these later descriptions may be more telling than saying the CR has nuts and apples, and that the Kenyan has tangerines and white wine. Either way of describing the coffees is perfectly legitimate.
Jim Schulman

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nixter

#6: Post by nixter »

Interesting! But I think you all are underestimating the stupidity of my question, thinking that I am somehow smarter than I actually am and therefore not quite answering it for me. So, I understand that the blueberry smell is present in the Yirgacheffe but there aren't actual blueberries somehow used in the growing or roasting process right? It's just a very happy coincidence correct?

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malachi

#7: Post by malachi »

To be clear.... there is a deep (DEEP) divide amongst professional cuppers on this exact topic.

The "old school" cuppers follow a somewhat rigid set of pre-defined descriptors that have been codified by a series of "old masters." These descriptors are largely around desirable flavor components which can be "graded" ("I would give this a score of 4 on sweetness"), some very generic flavor descriptors and a whole lot of very specific negative descriptors (defect).

The "new school" cuppers reject this model as limiting, politically motivated and largely driven by the old approach of scoring based on defect (as opposed to scoring based on a balance of positive and negative). They would argue that the old approach made sense when the very best coffees were those that would now score in the low 80s - where good coffee was largely defined as "free of defect."

When you get descriptors like "tropical flower" and "beef broth" you are hearing from one of the "new school" of cuppers -- or you are reading something written by a marketing person, not a cupper.

One of the key things, as a consumer, to realize about these "new school" cupping notes is that they are considered to be personal, subjective and suggestive - NOT authoritative. In other words... if a description reads:
Dominated by strong bittersweet chocolate with dried stonefruit - with singing sweet cherry and vanilla high notes
you can translate this in your head to mean
Our cuppers found tastes that reminded them of a bittersweet chocolate as well as flavors reminiscent of dried fruit (stonefruit?) as well as other flavors that reminded them of cherry (sweet) and spice (vanilla)
When you then taste the coffee, you can use these notes as a starting point for your own exploration. Consider the taste - does it remind of you a bittersweet chocolate in there? Can you get hints of a concentrated (dried) plum or peach or apricot? Is there anything that reminds you of how a cherry tastes - or what vanilla tastes like to you?

Cupping is a hard thing to learn.
At first - everything is in grayscale. It's all various shades of "coffee flavored."
Over time - one starts to learn to "separate out" the component flavors and taste past the generic "coffee" flavor to what's beyond that.
It takes time - and it's very hard to do on your own.

Finally... learning to do this by tasting espresso only would not only be incredibly time consuming but realistically probably somewhere between difficult and nearly impossible IMHO. You'd really need to actually cup if you want to learn this.
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

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malachi

#8: Post by malachi »

nixter wrote:Interesting! But I think you all are underestimating the stupidity of my question, thinking that I am somehow smarter than I actually am and therefore not quite answering it for me. So, I understand that the blueberry smell is present in the Yirgacheffe but there aren't actual blueberries somehow used in the growing or roasting process right? It's just a very happy coincidence correct?
No actual blueberries would be in the coffee - no blueberry flavoring - it's all just coffee.
But it's coffee that has a flavor component that reminds people of the taste (or more commonly aroma) of blueberries.
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

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HB
Admin

#9: Post by HB »

nixter wrote:It's just a very happy coincidence correct?
Indeed. I'm an amateur cupper, and that's being kind, but I've attended enough workshops to understand that flavor descriptors are analogies. Counter Culture's cupping labs encourage descriptors of any variety, so you'll hear odd ones like Fruit Loops and red licorice. I've tasted coffees that reminded me of Creamsicles, though I'm certain none were involved in the coffee production.
Dan Kehn

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another_jim
Team HB

#10: Post by another_jim »

nixter wrote:So, I understand that the blueberry smell is present in the Yirgacheffe but there aren't actual blueberries somehow used in the growing or roasting process right? It's just a very happy coincidence correct?
While blueberries are not involved in Yrgacheffe, the degree to which other fruits and vegetables can get involved in the coffee's flavor is complicated and mostly unknown. The coffee plant is a low tree or tall bush, 7 to 9 feet tall, and much prefers to grow in tropical forests under the shade of larger trees. This is how the best coffee is grown. These other trees can come from dozens of different varieties, and sometimes specific flavors in the coffee are ascribed to them. For instance, Indian coffees are grown among spice trees, and taste spicy; and some Central American farmers swear by a cover consisting of predominantly fruit trees.

Everything I've read on this so far has been anecdotal. But more and more farmers are preparing microlots of coffees that have been grown in just one stand of trees. It's likely that as this practice spreads, the contribution to the flavor of specific kinds of shade trees will become clearer.
Jim Schulman