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Coffee flavour profiles, Part 2: Nutty, caramely, chocolately. Our recommendations

In our last article, we spoke about fruity, floral and berry-flavoured coffees. This time, we’re throwing caution to the wind and turning to an altogether more indulgent part of the flavour wheel: step forward nuts, rich chocolate and sweet caramel.

These flavours are warm, deep and sensual, and within the three segments there are further subdivisions – do you taste milk or dark chocolate? Almonds or hazelnuts? Salted caramel or maple syrup? With a beverage as nuanced as coffee, you can really get down to the quantum level – and eventually, you’ll find there are as many flavour profiles as you care to count.

For that reason, it’s handy to think of the flavour wheel as a rough guide, rather than a definitive classification system. DR Wakefield’s resident Coffee Catalyst, Henry Clifford, explains: ‘The purpose of the wheel is to equip the cupper with a standardised set of flavour descriptors. Some companies make up their own flavour wheels, and it can get as specific as you like’.

A matter of taste

Coffee is prized for its depth and complexity of flavour, so no origin will fall entirely into one segment of the flavour wheel – and if it did, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as interesting to drink. ‘It’s important to note that a lot of coffees will have flavour descriptors that come from different parts of the flavour wheel,’ Henry explains. That said, South American coffees are generally renowned for having nutty, toffee flavours, and coffees from Indonesia tend to be rich and spicey.

So what about roasting? Well, of course, the way in which a coffee is roasted has a huge impact on flavour – but that’s really a story for another article. The great coffee roasting debate rages on, and there are as many schools of thought on the matter as there are coffees to roast. As a general rule, a lightly roasted coffee will retain more of its fruity acidity, a medium roast brings out the sweeter flavours, while a dark roast tends to bring out more of the bitterness.

Like any organic crop, coffee is subject to a multitude of seasonal and environmental influences, so there are bound to be flavour variations between harvests – but broadly speaking, certain origins are associated with certain flavour characteristics. ‘When we buy certain coffees,’ Henry says, ‘we expect them to taste a certain way. If we receive a pre-shipment sample of a Guatemalan SHB and it doesn’t have a chocolate and nutty cup profile, we send it back’.

Our top choices

With that in mind, here’s our pick of three luxurious, full-bodied coffees that are guaranteed to delight lovers of caramel, chocolate and nuts:

Nicaragua SHG Santa Maria is great value for money and a classic cup profile of the area. The Santa Maria has a rounded body with a gently acidity, coupled with sweet chocolate and almond flavours.

If you’re feeling decadent, treat yourself to a bag of Palencia San Guayaba. This special microlot from Guatemala has rich cocoa and orange peel flavour notes, with a lovely hazelnut aftertaste.

Our personal favourite? SHG Santa Rita is a fantastic washed coffee from El Salvador. Well-balanced with a creamy body, it’s packed with deep, chocolatey flavours and has a sweet caramel finish.

Finally, do coffees from the nut/caramel/chocolate side of the flavour wheel lend themselves to a particular brewing method? Henry says that’s a difficult question. ‘I would perhaps say that chocolatey, nutty flavours are a classic component in espresso. That said, they work very well with a pour-over method, too.’

It should also go without saying that a shot of rich, chocolatey espresso will be right at home in a cup of velvety steamed milk. But remember, whether you like your coffee zesty and floral or full-bodied and rich, there’s a blend out there to suit every palate – and DR Wakefield can help you find it.