Coffee Intensity: meaning and how to recognize it


There is a lot of talking about coffee "intensity". The more intense a coffee, the more perceived it is of greater value.

Is this association correct? Is it true that a quality coffee is necessarily intense? Is it a good method to define whether a coffee is valuable or not?

First let's define the term intensity!

The intensity of a coffee depends on the consistency of the body and the aromatic richness of the drink.

  1. This definition allows to take into account two elements: the body and the aroma.
  2. It is therefore a suitable method to define espresso coffees, as they are the only ones that have a greater body.

For example, a filter coffee or a moka pot coffee have a significantly lower body. The latter will be evaluated for other specific characteristics that we will evaluate in the next articles.

At this point it seems right to me to clarify also the concepts of body and aromatic intensity:

  • Coffee body: the human sense of touch is used in evaluating the consistency and structure of the liquid. To be clear, hot chocolate is full-bodied, oil has a medium consistency and the water has no body;
  • Aromatic intensity: it consists in the quantity of perfumes that are perceived by the sense of smell, after having brought a cup of coffee close to the nose. Note that I have mentioned only the "quantity" of contained aromas, not on the quality, of which we will speak shortly.

In general, a scale ranging from 1 (low aromatic coffee with almost zero body) to 10 (coffee with a very consistent body and a high aromatic charge) is used.

Having said that we are going to create general categories, which subdivide the coffees expressed by body and aroma. In this way, you can use them as reference points, within which you can insert your favorite coffee:

  • Intensity 1 to 4: light-bodied coffee with delicate aromas;
  • Intensity from 5 to 7: balanced coffee, with a round body and rich in flavors;
  • Intensity from 8 to 10: coffee with a consistent body and rich aromas.

Once you have established these abstract concepts, how can you understand the intensity of your coffee objectively?

Start by bringing the cup towards your chest and under your nose, about 15 cm away from the latter.

Once in position, breathe deeply and try to grasp if a large amount of aromatic comes to you or, on the contrary, you perceive almost nothing.

Now the time has come to taste the coffee: take a sip and move the drink around the tongue and on the palate and try to understand the viscosity of the liquid.

However, it is difficult to understand the aromatic charge and the body of my coffee, how can I do it?

The key word is always this: experiment!

The best way to fully understand these characteristics and to become an expert is to try!

Change coffee, taste different types, different blends with more or less Arabica and Robusta and compare them with each other.

If you want a little help, use the ratings of the coffees you have purchased as a starting point.

So the more intense a coffee, the more valuable it is?

This is not entirely true.

You can only take for granted that nobody should serve you dirty water with no aromas, absolutely not!

But for example the most full-bodied coffees are generally those having a high quantity of robusta beans, considered less valuable than arabica coffees. In fact, you will hardly find an arabica that will get a maximum score with reference to "body" in the evaluation grid.

Furthermore, the aromatic quality must also be considered together with the aromatic charge.

In fact, very often actually intense coffees are passed off as prized, because they have a very strong aroma. But if the aroma has an ash, burnt, rubber, mold and so on profile, is it still a positive note?

No! As well as being intense, the perfume must also be of quality!

In this sense, the aromas perceived in a cup of coffee are very vast.

The main positive aromas, among all the possible varieties, have been somehow codified, such as: hints of caramel, toast, chocolate, cocoa, fruity scents, citrus notes, aromas of dried fruit and many others.

On the contrary, the negative ones can be definitive such as burnt, mold, ash, rubber, jute, wet wood, earth, cement etc.

These latter scents, which we would never like to find inside our cup, derive from two different passages:

  • Some have a natural origin: for example if a coffee plantation grows close to a rubber plantation and share the soil, the beans will assimilate its scent. This problem is solved when the roaster selects the raw material he wants to buy, eliminating all those beans that have these olfactory defects;
  • Others instead derive from the roasting: with a dark roasting, you almost burn the coffee bean to hide some defects, however, it creates that hint of burnt and ash of which we spoke earlier. In addition, the coffee will become decidedly bitter, sometimes even excessively bitter. On the contrary, the medium roasting does not cover the natural aromas of the raw grains, rather it enhances them to the maximum!

This explains why an intense coffee is not necessarily valuable.

All the different factors must be considered: body, aromatic charge and aromatic quality.

When these are in balance with each other, as if to create a perfect and proportionate recipe, and make the tasting pleasant on all fronts, then the coffee is of quality!

Paolo Sangalli

Ernani Coffee Roaster

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