Tasting a coffee and recognizing all its aromatic notes, with Ernani

I maestri della tostatura media
Foto di Paolo, il nostro tostatore, che annusa un lotto di prova di caffè tostato, per controllo qualità.

We often drink coffee out of habit, because it tastes good and because it gives us an energy boost.

But have we ever tasted it carefully?
What flavors can a coffee have?
What aromatic notes can it express?
How do I recognize them?

With today’s article we will answer those very questions!

On what does the aroma of coffee depend?

Coffee is an intensely aromatic hot beverage that can develop and release up to 800 volatile substances during the roasting process, which contribute to the creation of the aroma we all know and appreciate.

The final aroma of a coffee can be influenced by multiple factors, just to name a few:
  • The species and botanical variety of the plant. Example: tomatoes are not all the same, there are datterini, pachino, oxheart, auburn, etc. Even for coffee there are different species (the best known and most commercialized are Arabica and Robusta), and hundreds of different varieties. Each produces beans with unique characteristics, from shape, to chemical components, to the organoleptic profile in the cup.
  • Terroir, then the environment in which the plant is grown, thus the composition of the soil, the amount of wind, water and sunshine felt throughout the year, the botanical and faunal biodiversity. Even if you took two identical plants, but planted in two different parts of the world, the final taste would therefore be different.
  • The quality of the grains themselves. From the same harvest there may be the most selected and best-processed grains, which will give the cup unprecedented, fine, fine aromas. Then there are the production rejects, full of defects and often tasting sour, stale, unripe, rotten or even musty.
  • Toasting. You can get the best coffee in the world, but if it is roasted badly, the final taste in the cup will be bitter and with empyreumatic (burnt) hints; if it is roasted properly, however, it will give the drink the most valuable aromatic notes;
  • The extraction follows the same argument as roasting: I have obtained up to this stage selected and quality coffee beans, however, then in the end I get the grind, the dose, the temperature or some other step in the preparation of the coffee wrong, making it become a poor quality product: either bitter or acetic and astringent.

These are just a few of the variables that create the flavor profile of a coffee, however, they already make us realize how varied and broad this can be, moving from aromas of fruit, citrus, flowers, chocolate, ripe fruit, nuts, caramel, honey, toast, sugar, etc.


Everything we have mentioned so far indicates natural flavors and aromatic notes!

Yes because raw beans contain these flavors within themselves and there is no need to add flasks, drops or artificial food fragrances if the coffee is quality coffee!

The main flavors of a coffee

The main flavors you can find inside a coffee shop are:

  • Bitterness
  • Acidity
  • Sweetness
Coffee does not simply have to be bitter, on the contrary!

When coffee is really a lot of bitterness and little else, it is a symptom of poor and unselected beans.

On the contrary, when you can perceive a balance between acidity, sweetness and a delicate bitterness, then that is good coffee!

Learn more about bitterness in the video below:

Coffee results bitter under the following conditions:

  • If it is of Robusta species: robusta is in fact generally more bitter than Arabica, as it contains about twice as much caffeine and this substance if taken alone is really bitter!
  • Poor grains: if the grains are not of the best quality, they are often rotten, moldy or have negative hints of burnt wood, ash, tar, rubber, etc. All this makes the final beverage more bitter.
  • Roasting defects: if the beans are roasted poorly, creating defects such as scorching, facing, baking, etc., the bitterness gradually becomes more and more intense, persistent, and most of all annoying.
  • Dark Toast: without going into too much detail…is a pizza cooked just right or a burnt pizza with a completely black base better? Here’s the same thing with coffee: hard roasting that burns the surface of the beans makes the drink uncomfortably bitter!
  • Over-extraction: that is, when we get the preparation of the drink wrong and literally go to extract too much from our mince. But like, the more substances I bring into the cup, the more intense the drink will be, right? No, unfortunately it doesn’t work that way! Everything must be balanced, because if too much is extracted the drink will not be more intense, but only more bitter, with hints of ash, rotten and burned!

If you want to find out how to best brew coffee with any extraction method, check out our column below!

Sourness is unfortunately often equated with a flaw, whereas it is one of the best qualities we can find in a coffee!

Of course, it should never be exaggerated and annoying-after all, we are drinking coffee not lemon juice.

But to sense it in a crisp and enveloping way-well, you can’t wish for anything better!

This is a typical characteristic of the finest and highest-quality highland Arabica coffees processed by the washed method.

To learn about each individual characteristic of acidity in detail, click below:

In summary: without acidity we would not feel the aromatic complexity of a coffee and everything would become “flat,” without emotion. It succeeds in providing freshness, with which it is easier to perceive any other aroma.


Sweetness is perhaps the most difficult taste to recognize, perhaps because our brains are not used to thinking of a coffee as sweet, and therefore do not even pay much attention to it when tasting.

However, there are coffees that are extremely sweet, with hints of milk chocolate and/or ripe fruit, in which you can detect the sugary component.

This is a characteristic of Arabica coffees, grown between 1,000 and 1,350 meters above sea level and processed by the natural method.

The art of balancing lies in the hands of the roaster, who tests and performs tests for each specific single-origin to arrive at the perfect roasting curve for those specific grains and be able to bring out all the flavors to the fullest.

However, this is only feasible with a medium roast, as a light roast brings out more of the sour notes, while a dark roast only makes the coffee bitter, going to hide all the positive aromas.

Coffee aromas

In part we have already talked about them above, so where they come from and what they are influenced by.

To help us identify and categorize them, we can use the “Coffee Aroma Wheel,” visible below:

Ruota aromatica del caffè: un cerchio segmentato con indicati tutti gli aromi possibili del caffè tra positivi e negativi

In this one we can see first the central ring, which segments the different aromas by macro-groups, both positive and negative.

Let’s read it together, the positive ones are:
  • Citrus – lemon, lime, pink grapefruit, orange, etc.
  • Fruity-apple, pineapple, banana, red fruits, cherry, coconut, plum, etc.
  • Florals – rose, jasmine, tea, etc.
  • Sweets – vanilla, sugar, honey, etc.
  • Chocolate or nuts – walnut, hazelnut, almond, milk or dark chocolate, etc.
  • Spicy – pepper, cinnamon, anise, etc.
  • Toasted – toast, malt, pipe tobacco, etc.
The negative ones are instead:
  • Vegetables – olive, grass, wet meadow, peas, etc.
  • Other-chemicals, mold, wood, soil, ash, tar, garbage, oil, rubber, medicinal, etc.

Recognizing them is not always easy, because very often they are very delicate and light. Moreover, if our brains are not used to analyzing smells and tastes in a timely manner, the work is complicated and often tiring.

But all you have to do is practice!
When you cook, eat, drink or smell any food, scent, drink try to concentrate, savor it slowly, smell it and try to remember what you felt, what emotions you felt and what memory you associated it with.

How do you taste a coffee?

Have you ever wondered how to taste coffee as a real expert?

N.B. We will now discuss coffee tasting in a general way, while if specifically you want to know how to taste an espresso, then click below:

But back to us.

  1. Start by buying quality coffee and brewing it to perfection, if you want to for this step just rely on experts like us or at your local coffee shop. So ask for coffee and let them tell you what it is all about.
  2. Then drink a glass of water, so that your mouth is well cleansed and better prepared to welcome the coffee with its aromatic explosion!
  3. Bring the cup to your nose and take a sniff: do you detect bad smells, which immediately make you wince and turn up your nose? Or would you like that scent to last forever? Even if you don’t recognize the exact scent that’s okay, the important thing is that what you smell is positive!
  4. Now taste it. You drink in small sips and possibly with a suck, the same as it makes you rude if you do it with soup. So: what tastes do you hear? Do you feel some acidity, sweetness and bitterness? Or does one completely override the other? What aromatic notes do you detect? Can you identify any specifically? Overall, is the drink pleasant or would you like to have a glass of water immediately afterwards and make that bad aftertaste go away?
  5. Finally, the aftertaste: do you feel it pleasant or unpleasant? How persistent is it over time? Does it continue to be pleasant even after 10 to 15 minutes?
These are precisely the questions you need to ask yourself while drinking coffee carefully!

In time everything will become automatic and simple! You no longer have to stand there concentrating on recognizing the flavors, from the very first sip you will immediately know what you are drinking, how it was processed, how it was roasted, and most importantly whether it is quality or not!

And if you want to learn even more, we are waiting for you at the “Espresso Tasting” course at Ernani Academy!

We are waiting for you!

Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager
Coffee Lover


Martina Mazzoleni

Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager Coffee Lover

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Ciao 👋
sono Martina, come ti possiamo aiutare?
Risponderò a qualsiasi tua domanda dal lunedì al venerdì, dalle 9.00 alle 18.00! ☕️💛