Coffee aromas: where do they come from?

I maestri della tostatura media

We often drink coffee out of habit, because it tastes good and because it gives us an energy boost, but we underestimate fully appreciating its aroma and enjoying it carefully.

Coffee is an intensely aromatic hot beverage that can develop up to 800 volatiles during the roasting process.

Take a moment to pause and smell your cup of coffee.

Floral or spicy notes of chocolate, tobacco, hazelnuts and fruit will rise on 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 beverage, throughout the entire production process, from the plant to roasting to extraction.

As you well know, coffee travels a long journey between different continents and passing through different hands. All steps must be performed to the best of their ability, as they contribute to the creation of a quality coffee or not, and therefore aromatic or not.

Aromas develop according to:
  1. The variety of the coffee plant
  2. The environment and soil in which it grew up
  3. The technique of harvesting and processing the drupe, containing the grains
  4. Roasting
  5. The extraction method

Depends on the variety of the plant and the growing environment

There are two macro families in coffee: arabica and robusta. The former is the more fragrant and delicate, the latter is more intense and bitter.

How come they have such distinct characteristics?

Arabica grows at higher altitudes than the robusta plant and this directly affects the aromas.

Try a coffee firsthand:

And you immediately sense the taste differences!

In general, coffees growing up to 700 meters above sea level are more earthy and woody, while around 1200 meters or so they start to become sweeter. We then reach 1600 meters, a range in which fresher fruit and citrus aromas also take over, until we reach 2000 meters altitude, with very fragrant, delicate, fresh, fruity and floral coffees.

This is all due to the terroir : as the altitude increases, the soil changes composition and becomes increasingly rocky from time to time and rich in minerals and other substances that affect the taste of the cup. Other changes such as air composition and maximum and minimum temperatures then occur.

Here’s an example: if a coffee plant grows in volcanic soil, such as Hawaii may be, it will consequently produce a more savory and very flavorful coffee, compared to a Brazilian coffee, which grows around 1,000 meters above sea level and surrounded by numerous other fruit and cocoa plantations. The result? A sweeter, softer coffee.

Another example? African highland coffee, such as Ethiopian coffee can be, which grows at very high altitudes, is generally very fine, delicate, and has a wide range of aromas.

It depends on the technique of harvesting and processing the drupe.

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

  1. Manual , with which only drupes ripe at the right point are manually selected one by one. It can be guessed that the quality of raw coffee will be higher, but the cost will also be higher;
  2. Mechanical , by which machines shake the plant and drop all berries, both ripe and unripe. It will be a more economical method, but will bring less quality to the cup, as some unripe grains are also harvested, which will contribute herbaceous aromas, or overripe grains, which will attribute hints of fermented and alcoholic flavors.

The same is also true for the processing methods, among which we mention the two main methods:

  1. Natural , which gives the cup more body and sweetness;
  2. Washed , which gives greater aromatic finesse and acidity.

Already at this point we have seen how much a coffee can change, depending 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

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

In fact, if you raise the temperature too high, in order to be able to cook everything in less time, you will simply get a very dark-colored, almost burnt coffee with an undeveloped flavor profile, covered by the strong bitter taste.

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

In order to do this roasting, however, it is essential to start with high quality raw coffees, free of defects , otherwise, as the positive aromas are enhanced so are the negative ones, making the final cup unpleasant.

Finally, the aromas also depend on the extraction method

There are dozens and dozens of different extraction methods, each enhancing the drink we so love in a different way.

To mention the ones best known to us we talk about mocha, espresso and filter coffee:

  1. The mocha uses a higher water temperature than the other two methods, having to come to a boil, this results in a greater bitterness in the cup ;
  2. Espresso, on the other hand, presents a good aromatic range , filtering through the coffee panel for about 25 seconds. Although its main merit is to create cream and body in the cup due to the strong pressure attributed by the machine;
  3. The filter coffee instead is the method that manages to bring greater aromas to the beverage obtained, having a very slow extraction, of several minutes, with water at 94°C, thus lower than mocha, thus slowly extracting each fragrance from the ground coffee.

However, let us not underestimate the importance of the skill of the person who is performing the extraction.

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

For other advice or curiosities I am always available via email at [email protected] !

Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager
Coffee Lover


Martina Mazzoleni

Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager Coffee Lover

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