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The Complexity of Coffee: Aroma profiling isn’t just for wine

Proper Aroma Flavor profiling is all too often neglected in Coffee. Coffee Aromas Flavors are essential to understanding and appreciating coffee. As in wine, coffee gets its aromas or flavors from the soil and the climatic environment in which the coffee plant grows. The coffee variety (genetic) and the method in which the green coffee was processed also contribute to the aromas flavors.

Like wine, coffee has many variables which can affect its quality. Coffee crops can be harmed by insects, freeze and poor storage conditions during harvest, which may lead to moldy and sour flavors. It can also be contaminated during its processing such as in the deputing and washing of the coffee cherries, and lastly, during the final storage conditions where once again several defects can develop on the beans. These problems are not exactly the same but similar to those which occur during wine production. Coffee has different varieties, as does wine, which get their characteristics from the soil (terroir). The core aromatic profile of the end product (in the cup) is defined by these characteristics and by the roasters. The coffee blender creates the finishing touch by assembling different roasts. This is very similar to what consulting winemakers do during the wine blending process.

We talk about taste, aromas, flavors, acidity and body in coffee as we do in wine. The main difference between coffee and wine, taste aside, is that coffee is not rated by vintage. Unlike certain wines, roasted coffee does not keep for years. The fresher the roast, the more aromatic the coffee beverage will be. Let it age and you will create unpleasant tastes and aromas; this is especially true for the volatile aromas. The consumer also has an important hand in the outcome of her/his coffee experience as does the wine consumer. In wine, serving temperature, wine glass shape and proper food pairing play an important role in properly enjoying a wine. In coffee this process is a little different. The important factors are the grinding, blending and brewing process. The grinding size and the water temperature play major roles in the proper extraction of coffee aromas flavors, as well as the quantity and quality of water used to prepare a good cup of coffee. Ultimately, the coffee drinker puts her/his final touch to the coffee beverage.

In coffee, over 850 volatile aromatic compounds have been cataloged to date. That said, most aromatic descriptions have been simplified or regrouped in terms of flavors and taste. Common flavors found in coffee are fruity, floral, earthy, buttery, caramel, nutty, spicy, smoky, etc. The classification of taste includes acid, bitter, body (thin, watery to thick, heavy). This simplification helps coffee drinkers express their preferences in a basic way. If one wants to gain further knowledge of coffee tasting, then it is imperative to recognize key aromas and flavors in coffee. Especially if you wish to narrow down the country of origin, variety and profile. One would then be able to differentiate between a Robust a from South East Asia with one from Brazil.

This is something we have been doing for years with wine and which has been available to every wine aficionados for more than 30 years through le nez du vin (Wine Aroma Kits). Using the same methodology, Jean Lenoir, creator of the famous Wine Aroma kits, created two le nez du café (or make scents of coffee) kits.

The first kit is an introduction that includes the 6 most commonly found coffee aromas:

Le Nez du Café Temptation Kit

1) Garden peas 2) Blackcurrant-like 3) Butter
4) Caramel 5) Roasted peanuts 6) Roasted coffee

The second, a more advanced and complete kit, contains the 36 most commonly found coffee aromas:

Le Nez du Café Revelation Kit

01) Earth 02) Potato 03) Garden peas
04) Cucumber 05) Straw 06) Cedar
07) Clove-like 08) Pepper 09) Coriander seeds
10) Vanilla 11) Tea-roses/Redcurrant jelly 12) Coffee blossom
13) Coffee pulp 14) Blackcurrant-like 15) Lemon
16) Apricot 17) Apple 18) Butter
19) Honeyed 20) Leather 21) Basmati Rice
22) Toast 23) Malt 24) Maple Syrup
25) Caramel 26) Dark chocolate 27) Roasted almonds
28) Roasted peanuts 29) Roasted hazelnuts 30) Walnuts
31) Cooked beef 32) Smoke 33) Pipe Tobacco
34) Roasted coffee 35) Medicinal 36) Rubber

This unique and extensive collection of aromas will help you train your sense of smell and improve your enjoyment of coffee. The le nez du café (make scents of coffee) kits provide a common vocabulary to describe coffee aromas, taste and flavors because coffee deserves the same attention as wine.

It is no surprise that most coffee roasters and specialists from the world over use le nez du café to train their sense of smell and better understand the aromatics behind coffee.

So if you or someone you know is passionate about coffee and would like to become a better taster, understand where aromas and flavors originate and how they are associated with the varieties, le nez du café (make scents of coffee) kits are fundamental to the development of your coffee expertise.