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Around aromas: The many flavours of coffee

At DR Wakefield, we take great pride in our quality control processes, which see us meticulously check and test – and recheck and retest – the green coffee beans that come through our door.

Once the green beans have been subjected to our rigorous testing and quality control, they will be roasted, cupped and tasted in order to have their flavour profile and aromas carefully evaluated.

There is a seemingly endless list of flavours and smells to be tuned into in order to carry out this process adequately – some that may seem more conventional than others, from chocolatey, sweet aromas through to cereal and earthy tones.

Often an indication to coffee tasters of the degree to which a bean has been roasted will be a slightly ashy or even burnt or smoky aroma. While this isn't necessarily a negative attribute by definition, it may be a pointer that a bean has been over-roasted. It can also signal to a well-honed palette a dark-roasted or perhaps oven-roasted coffee.

A chocolatey aroma with overtones of cocoa powder may also be referred to more simply as having a 'sweeter' aroma, similar to a coffee with caramel overtones. This is not the sort of caramel that perhaps you find lining the inside of a chocolate bar, but rather the flavour of caremalised sugar. To this end, it can be easy to confuse a caremalised aroma with a burning or smoky note – highlighting the subtle differences between the possible profiles.

Another popular one is that of cereal and malt. This grainy quality is so much so that it is often broken down into subcategories by tasters, looking out for aromas that are reminiscent of freshly baked bread, malt and wheat, for example. The aroma of nuts also comes through with some coffees, as can woody, oak-like tones.

In a similar vein, some coffees ooze earthy qualities and body – common among coffees from Asia, for example – which, while the notion of earthy flavours coming from your coffee cup may not seem preferable, can in fact lend itself to a deeply rich and pleasantly complex flavour.

And now looking beyond what comes out of the soil – floral and fruity aromas are often prevalent characteristics when cupping. Particularly for a more acidic coffee, citrus notes may be detected. Berries are also commonly picked up when formulating flavour profiles, as may a more herbal, grassy overtone.

Many tasters will pick up hints of spices too, such as cloves and cinnamon. This branch of aromas could also be extended to include peppery overtones and even ones suggesting herbs such as oregano, which may combine with a slightly herbal quality to the coffee, as mentioned above.

As would be expected, some aromas may be indicative of certain countries. For example, it may come as little surprise that the aroma of tobacco can sometimes be detected in Cuban coffees. Again, this mustn't be confused with a burnt aroma, further illustrating the unquestionable delicacy of the cupping and profiling process.

This is just a brief overview of the wide range of aromas and flavours, many of which can be detected from cupping just one single variety of bean. It is also worth noting that the water which is used to carry out the cupping can have an affect on the flavour – for example, if the water is too acidic or too alkaline, or was not fully boiled to 100 degrees C, this may adversely affect outcomes.

Other factors such as the degree of roast, the fineness of the grind and the extraction method also play their own parts, further illustrating how producing the 'perfect' cup of coffee is such a meticulous and skilled task.