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7 Factors That Affect The Taste Of Coffee | Above Average Coffee

Every coffee drinker knows that not all cups are created equal. Cups of joe run the gamut of flavors from floral to fruity, to nutty and everything in between. That’s why so many of us have preferred blends or a favorite coffee shop that never lets us down.

The question is, what makes the coffee you love taste so good?

coffee bean grower inspecting roasted beans under a magnifying glass

We’ve revealed the answer to this question by exploring 7 factors that influence the taste of coffee:

The Type Of Coffee Bean

It’s not as cut and dry as Arabica vs. Robusta.

Although the Robusta plant produces more cherries, they’re of a lower grade and a lot of people dislike their flavor profile as it has a rubbery bitterness. The upside is that Robusta has a higher caffeine content, but due to its less-than-desirable taste, it’s far better in a blend or instant coffee than on its own.

Arabica beans are more challenging to grow but the payoff is worth it. Arabica has a smoother, sweeter flavor profile that leans toward chocolate, sugar, and cherry. It also has a lower caffeine content, making it more commercially popular.

The Type Of Roast

A good way to think of coffee roast levels is in terms of roasting marshmallows. From light to dark, there are three main categories.

Lighter roasts taste less toasted and roast-y and retain more of the flavors and aromas of raw coffee beans. These roasts are also less toasted.

Due to the prolonged heat exposure, a darker roast has fewer natural taste compounds and more roast-y flavor qualities.

Medium roasts strike a compromise between having some roast-y qualities and preserving some of the natural flavor notes.

The Freshness Of The Beans

While the question of when roasted coffee beans are old is debatable, there are several crucial rules to keep in mind.

Generally, coffee beans shouldn’t get roasted more than four weeks ahead of time as their flavor will quickly deteriorate and become stale.

Because it helps to maintain the distinctive flavors and smells that are inherent in the coffee, freshly roasted coffee is the best.

Age has an impact on the beans’ texture as well. Older beans may become brittle and challenging to grind. To brew the ideal tasting cup of coffee, it’s crucial to guarantee that the coffee beans are high-quality and freshly roasted.

The Grind Size

The amount of time spent brewing coffee and how rapidly water can extract flavor from the grounds both have an impact on the taste. Coffee grinds that are bigger and more coarsely ground have less surface area. This means that they don’t lose their flavor as quickly and they allow water to flow more freely.

In the same way that water moves through sand far slower when navigating massive boulders, finer grounds have more surface area and impede the flow of water. Water contacts the coffee grinds more when it moves more slowly. Faster extraction results from greater contact and slower flow.

For finer grounds, quicker brewing techniques are crucial as coffee will turn bitter if brewing goes on too long after extraction.

Tamping Technique

The process of using warm water to properly extract the coffee’s oils is the essence of making espresso. To ensure proper extraction, a tamp is needed, and the right tamping technique is required.

A tamp is a tool that compresses the coffee grinds and distributes the coffee evenly in the filter basket of an espresso maker. It creates an even layer of coffee that ensures the water flows through it at the same pace, with the same distribution.

Tamping is an important and required step in the preparation of espresso. Without proper tamping technique, coffee can turn bitter due to over-extraction or taste weak and watered down.

Tamps come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, and while most are hand held, some are sometimes found attached to coffee grinders. Although they’re typically constructed of metal, some economical tamps are made of plastic. The better the quality of the tamp and the tamping technique, the smoother and more flavorful the coffee.

The Brewing Method

The sensation of flavor can vary depending on the brewing process. When compared to pour-over procedures, French press or full immersion techniques may result in richer and heavier-tasting coffee. When brewed in a pour-over rather than a French press, coffee will likely taste cleaner and brighter. Different types of coffee also require different brewing methods to make the most of their extraction.

Your brewing variables need to match the coffee you’re making as well as the brew method. You might even need to adjust them when making espresso to account for environmental factors like temperature, humidity, and altitude. Changes in brewing factors can make a difference between a passable and a great cup, even with a straightforward manual brew method.

The Water & Milk

Coffee may have its own strong flavor, but the water used in a cup of joe can greatly affect the taste. Hard or high alkaline water makes coffee taste bitter, while soft or acidic water doesn’t allow for great extraction, leaving you with an underdeveloped, weak cup.

Using properly filtered water or mineral water is the best way to get the most from every cup, as it has few (if any) impurities and won’t leave a metallic or acidic taste.

The milk you use also plays a major role. Full-fat milk makes coffee taste sweeter as it has fat globules that coat the tongue. 2% or skim milk won’t have the same effect but it will make the coffee taste less bitter and a little weaker—in a good way.

The temperature of milk affects the taste too. If the milk is frothed for a latte, cappucino or flat white, it adds sweetness. This is due to the lactose becoming soluble and melting when the milk gets warmed up, giving off a sweeter flavor.

Oat, soy, almond and other non-dairy milks affect the flavor, too, but not as much as dairy does. These kinds of milk can add everything from bitterness to sweetness, depending on their composition and whether they’re sweetened or not. They may also taste nuttier or enhance the flavor profile of the coffee rather than detract from it.

Graphic of a coffee bean that is showing the key factors that affect the taste of your coffee.

Final Thoughts

Coffee flavor boils down to personal preference. What one person likes another may loathe.

The trick to enjoying coffee is to know what you like and why. Understanding what affects the flavor profile puts you at an advantage and ensures that every cup you enjoy is above average.

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