has many practical uses beyond its role as a training tool for coffee roasters, cuppers and buyers of green beans. Perhaps its greatest contribution is that of a useful standardized lexicon for describing the intensity of a source coffee’s flavor nuances. Using the Kit’s fine-tuned nomenclature allows cuppers to develop meaningful flavor profile fingerprints for a coffee, thereby easing the process of description, replication or standardization of a coffee product.
When a specific roaster analyzes the same source coffee over time using similar roasting methods, they hope that the “fingerprints” of the flavor remains consistent – after all, he wants his consumer to be enjoying a product of reliable flavor and quality. Using the Kit’s standardized nomenclature, these fingerprints can be identified and then used to analyze changes in styles and conditions that accentuate desirable traits while weeding out those that accentuate negative traits.
Certain characteristics of source coffees are enhanced or subdued through roasting styles and levels. Therefore, it is not the specific characters that are important so much as the ability to compare these levels between sources. Even if one roaster gets a specific profile, another might get a completely different result. Further, the crop, equipment used and innumerable other factors can come into play and substantially alter a final cup’s fingerprint. It is in the art of coffee roasting that each individual cup’s result is made so unique and enjoyable, but it is also in this art’s detachment from scientific analysis and uniformity where quality control and flavor standardization are often sacrificed.
For the purpose of this article, I assembled my company’s sensory specialists for a round of coffee flavor evaluation. Let’s explore how the description of various coffees’ flavors is done using Flavor Dynamics’ Coffee Cupper’s Kit’s standardized nomenclature.
To begin the process of flavor description, we collect a selection of different source coffees that were roasted under identical conditions and in identical styles, all from the same season’s coffee crop. While there are many others we could have used, we selected these for the purpose of this study: Colombian Popayan, Costa Rican Tarrazu, Guatemalan Antigua, Hawaiian Kona, Mexican Maragogype and Zimbabwe Chipinge.
These coffees were all ground, cupped and analyzed at our R&D lab. The attributes that the kit describes were each rated and averaged, then plotted on the radial graphs of the kit. We will explore each individually.
The radial graph describes the flavor profile of the Colombian Popayan coffee from our survey. Each spoke of the flavor wheel represents a different flavor note, with points towards the center of the wheel indicating a lower intensity than points on the circle’s edge.
Our Colombian Popayan brew exhibited a relatively high intensity of the Winey character, which is typical of a Colombian Coffee’s flavor profile.
Although the roasting of each coffee was kept as consistent as possible throughout this exercise, other characters, such as Caramelly notes, seem to have been accentuated to a greater degree than the rest. This is a typical result known in the flavor world as “flavor synergy,” where trace characters accentuate the apparent strength of other characteristics.
On the radial graph for the flavor profile of the Costa Rican Tarrazu, we again find a higher impact of Caramelly notes than expected as well as a strong reading of Chocolatey and Earthy characters.
The flavor profile of Guatemalan Antigua is interesting because it is a type of coffee known for its Chocolatey character. It is well known that Nuttiness, being a characteristic flavor artifact of the Maillard reaction, can make a Chocolatey character more bold and pleasing. As we would expect, then, our graph showed accentuated Chocolatey and Nutty notes, in addition to relatively high sweet notes. You may also notice that the Earthy character, in contrast, is not as pronounced as in other varieties.
The Hawaiian Kona variety that we evaluated demonstrated an overall enhancement of the Bitter, Burnt, Caramelly, Chocolatey and Earthy nuances. When we did an evaluation of the available coffees throughout the five coffee growing islands – Oahu, Kuaia, Molakai, Maui and Hawaii – the three flavor characters that were most represented were Floral, Earthy and Winey, regardless each coffee’s roasting conditions.
In the lot used in our study, Mexican Maragogype coffee exhibited a decidedly Sour, Acid character. Since many who enjoy coffee value the beverage’s acidity, this attribute was immediate, obvious and not necessarily undesirable. The profile is also countered by a balance of Earthy, Caramelly and Sweet notes.
Finally, the Chipinge coffee in our survey demonstrated a Chocolatey, Nutty profile similar to the Antigua, but with an accentuated Sour acid attribute, much like that of the Maragogype.
While the charts from this survey demonstrated quite a bit of diversity just between different regional beans, nearly infinite diversity is available when other variables – like time and temperature in roasting – are brought into play. Internal analysis of a roasting company’s coffees can only be accomplished by minimizing these variables so that the true reasons behind flavor types can be accurately measured. For instance, when measuring the effect of roasting practices on a type of bean, the same crop of beans should be used at all the variations. When testing for the differences between beans, however, the same roasting process should be used across all samples.
While charts like these should not replace the timeless art of creating delicious cups of coffee, they should act as a complement to that much-loved practice. Using flavor fingerprinting in the R&D process can help a company explore the many ways that attributes can be enhanced, subdued and balanced through the use of different varieties of beans, roasting processes and blends.
The variability of the coffee drinking experience is what makes the practice so gratifying. Hopefully this article has shed some light on the process of maintaining consistent flavor and the development of new coffee products through flavor fingerprinting. I look forward to future articles related to this subject.
About the Author: Dolf DeRovira is president and c.e.o. of Flavor Dynamics, Inc., a flavor manufacturer located in South Plainfield, New Jersey. Tel: +(1) 908 822-8855, Web: www.flavordynamics.com. DeRovira is a certified active member and past president and chairman of the board of The Society of Flavor Chemists, the Chemical Sources Association and past board member and past treasurer of the Research Chefs Association. He is a board member of the National Association of Fruits Flavors and Syrups and is also a founding board of trustee for the Flavor Heritage Society.