Flavor can be difficult to describe. On our tongue we have thousands of taste buds, all working in combination to send off the relative information to our brains. Our nervous system interprets what we are experiencing with the tongue and in that process our minds attribute adjectives. Wether it be English or Chinese we have thousands of adjectives that can ascribe meaning to those tastes; but when we actually think about it those tastes are all relative to our own memories. When we start to talk about and describe flavors we are actually comparing what we presently taste with past experiences. We rifle through past memories in search of similarity.
Since flavor is linked to your memories your mind actually paints on adjectives to what you're experiencing. Be it your mothers cooking or that great vacation that you once had, flavors memories can be very long-lasting. If you enjoyed the food the last time you had it or had a good experience with it in the past then you will probably enjoy that flavor in the future. For some, their diets are simple and perhaps their life has not been filled with a broad gastronomic survey, thus leaving them with many flavors simply not yet experienced.
Flavor then is a topic quite difficult for humans to agree upon. This is because few people have shared the same flavor-experiences. Speaking then in generalities, coffee is an industry that attempts to lay down some standards. These standards are rooted in other industries as well (tobacco, wine, perfume to name a few.)
Many of us we grew up and learned that coffee is synonymous with the word bitter. Part of that is true as bitter is one of the four main categories that coffee can fall under. That bitterness primarily is the "taste" of caffeine. However, we've already learning that coffee is a fruit and that describing all coffees as "bitter" is similar to calling all candies "sweet". There are many distinct flavors which can be found in coffee by it's origins, quality and preparation.
Researchers have identified over two hundred different distinct flavors in present in raw/green coffee alone. Ted Lingle, and our friends at the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), developed a diagram aptly called The Flavor Wheel. It is split in half; with the left side representing tastes and the right side, aromas.
The flavor wheel is split into a left and a right hemisphere which captures the taste and the aroma of coffee. But "Wait!" you might say. "Flavor is captured through your mouth, why is half of the wheel devoted to my nose?" The gist of the answer is that your body uses the same nerve sensor in the back of your mouth to understand both smell and taste.
Like any language, learning to talk about coffee requires practice and little bit of work to fully grasp some of the intricate details. After a few simple introductions, it's actually quite an easy and rewarding experience. We'll study The Flavor Wheel in future posts. For now, just familiarize yourself a bit with the chart and start practicing the art of attentiveness to the food and drink that pass to your nose and mouth. Make some associations and see what aromas and flavors you can discover in the coming days - especially if you have some fresh ROCC Coffee on hand.