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Finding Your Personal Blends: Understanding the Basic Characteristics of Coffee

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When you start enjoying black coffee, it's not uncommon to find it difficult to articulate exactly what it is you like about it. Newbies usually identify their personal preferences based on what their favorite coffee shop or roaster calls their favorite blend, but these names aren't always an accurate representation of the coffee's content.

To understand what it is you're enjoying about each blend, you need to know the basic terminology used to articulate its fundamental flavor qualities. You'll see many terms out there being used to describe coffee flavor, but four of the most important are aciditybodynotes and sweetness. Once you know something about these characteristics, you'll better be able to recognize the blends that best suit your personal taste.


Of all the qualities of coffee, acidity is the most confusing. This is because it is commonly used to describe qualities of the coffee that actually have nothing to do with its pH balance.

Coffee is actually always pretty low in acid content regardless of how it is roasted. The highest the pH gets is about 5 to 5.5, and that's exclusively for lighter roasts. As the roast gets darker, the pH drops.

Coffee drinkers tend to use the term "acid" to instead describe a citrusy or tart taste common to lighter roasts of high quality. Some people will have digestive difficulty with coffee and they attribute these symptoms to the acid content, but the caffeine is actually the central culprit in causing overproduction of stomach acid and the infamous laxative effect.


Also sometimes called the "mouthfeel," the body of the coffee is primarily how thin or thick it is. The oiliness of the coffee is also generally regarded as part of its body. Adding milk and sweetener can have a significant effect on the body of a coffee.


Like wine, coffee flavor can contain subtle traces of the soil and conditions in which it was grown. Tastes and aromas that an experienced palate might recognize in different blends include soil or root vegetables (earthiness), flowers (floral), berries or citrus (fruity) or sweet spices like cloves and cinnamon (spicy).


In coffee terms, "sweetness" is more synonymous with a coffee being smooth or mild than it is with it actually containing significant amounts of natural sugars. The coffee does contain some small amount of sugars and sugar alcohols, but this will usually be noticeable much more in the aroma than as a sweet taste. Fruity citrus or berry notes in the coffee are also commonly referred to as "sweet." These tastes will be much more noticeable in the lighter roasts.

Still have questions about blends? Just contact us and we'll be more than happy to help.


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