The aromas of coffee: where do they come from?


We often drink coffee out of habit, because it is good and because it gives us an energy boost, but we underestimate to fully appreciate its aroma and taste it carefully.

Coffee is an intensely aromatic hot drink, capable of developing up to 800 volatile substances during the roasting phase.

Take a moment to smell your cup of coffee.

Floral or spicy notes of chocolate, tobacco, hazelnuts and fruit will rise to the nose.

But all these natural flavors, where do they come from?

First of all, I want to emphasize the term "natural": they are in fact delicate aromatic nuances, naturally developed within our drink, throughout the production process, from the plant to the roasting, up to the extraction.

As you well know, coffee travels a long journey between different continents and passing through different hands. All the steps must be performed in the best possible way, as they combine to create a coffee of quality or not, and therefore aromatic or not.

The aromas develop on the basis of:

  1. The variety of the coffee plant
  2. The environment and the land in which it grew
  3. The technique of harvesting and processing the drupe, containing the grains
  4. Roasting
  5. The method of extraction

It depends on the variety of the plant and the growing environment

There are two macro families in coffee: Arabica and Robusta. The first is the most fragrant and delicate, the second is more intense and bitter.

Read the article to learn more about the differences between Arabica and Robusta >>  

Why do they have such distinct characteristics?

The Arabica grows at higher altitudes than the Robusta plant, this directly affects the aromas.

In fact, in general, the coffees that grow up to 700 meters in height are more earthy and woody, while at around 1200 meters the coffees begin to become sweeter. We then arrive at 1600 meters, a range in which even fresher aromas of fruit and citrus take over, up to 2000 meters above sea level, with very fragrant, delicate, fresh, fruity and floral coffees.

All this is due to the terroir: as the altitude increases, the soil changes composition and becomes increasingly rocky and rich in mineral salts and other substances that affect the taste of the cup.

Here is an example: if a coffee plant grows in volcanic soil, such as the Hawaiian one, it will consequently produce a more savory and very tasty coffee, compared to a Brazilian coffee, which grows around 1000 meters above sea level, surrounded from numerous other fruit and cocoa plantations, thus producing a sweeter and softer coffee. Or an African coffee, especially Ethiopian, which grows at very high altitudes, is generally very fine, delicate and with a wide range of aromas.

It depends on the drupe harvesting and processing technique

We have already dealt with the different methods of coffee harvesting in a previous article, If you want to know more about it, click here >>  

In summary, there are two main methods of harvesting drupes:

  • Manual, with which the ripe drupes are selected manually one by one at the right point. It can be understood that the quality will be higher than raw coffee, but the cost will be equally higher due to the labor;
  • Mechanic, with which machines shake the plant and drop all the berries, collecting everything. It will be a cheaper method, but it will bring less quality, also harvesting unripe beans, which will bring herbaceous aromas, or overripe beans, which will give hints of fermentation and alcohol.

The same also applies to processing methods, among which we mention the two main methods:

  • Natural, which gives the cup greater body and sweetness;
  • Washed, which gives a greater aromatic finesse and acidity.

Already at this point we have seen how much coffee can change, based on whether it is Arabica or Robusta and where it grows, whether it is harvested manually or mechanically and whether it is washed or natural.

It depends on the roasting of the raw coffee

We have already explained roasting and the different techniques and methods in another article, Find out more >>

To fully develop all the aromas, coffee needs time, which is why roasting must respect precise times and maximum temperatures.

In fact, if you raise the temperature too much, to be able to cook everything in a shorter time, you will simply get a coffee with a very dark color, almost burnt and with an undeveloped aromatic profile, covered by a strong bitter taste.

This is why we at Caffè Ernani have opted for a medium roast, which allows us to enhance all the aromas of our carefully selected raw coffee to the maximum.

To be able to do this roasting, however, it is essential to start with high quality raw coffees, free from defects, otherwise, as the positive aromas are enhanced, the negative ones are also enhanced, making the final cup unpleasant.

Finally, the aromas also depend on the extraction method

There are decides and decides on different extraction methods, each one enhances the drink that we love so much in a different way.

To mention the best known ones, let's talk about mocha, espresso and filter coffee:

  • The mocha pot uses a higher water temperature than the other two methods, having to boil, this leads to greater bitterness in the cup;
  • The espresso, on the other hand, has a good aromatic range, filtering through the coffee panel for about 25 seconds. Even if its main advantage is to create cream and body in the cup, thanks to the strong pressure given by the machine;
  • Filter coffee, on the other hand, is the method that manages to bring greater aromas to the drink obtained, having a very slow extraction, lasting several minutes, with water at 94 ° C, therefore lower than the mocha, thus gradually extracting every substance from the ground.

However, we do not underestimate the importance of the skill of whoever is carrying out the extraction.

If the temperature, the time, or the coffee grinding is wrong, you risk compromising all the work done so far.

For other advice or curiosities I am always available via email on !

Paolo Sangalli

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