We talk a lot about the health benefits of coffee on this website, and the stimulating effects caffeine has on our bodies. But one important thing we’ve neglected is flavour. If the effects of drinking coffee were all that mattered then we’d all be drinking the cheapest coffee available to us or taking caffeine tablets with a glass of water over breakfast. But the flavour does matter. It matters a lot. This guide takes a closer look at the flavour of coffee, exploring what we like about it, which coffee is the most bitter, and the two main methods of brewing coffee.
What does coffee taste like?
The taste of different coffees varies greatly, and this is before you even add milk, sugar, or any other fancy stuff. However, broadly speaking you can split coffee into two main taste camps: Arabica coffee and Robusta coffee.
Robusta coffee comes from the Coffea Robusta bean. It is easy to care for, produces big yields, and makes up about 30% of the world’s coffee. There is a lot more caffeine in Robusta coffee and it is very bitter, a flavour some people enjoy (especially the Italians!).
Arabica coffee comes from the Coffea Arabica bean. It produces smaller yields and is harder to care for as it usually requires higher altitudes and is more susceptible to disease than Robusta. However, many coffee enthusiasts prefer Arabica and refuse to drink Robusta. The flavour of a well-roasted, well-brewed cup of Arabica coffee is slightly sweet, almost fruity, or in some varieties can be better described as smooth, almost chocolatey. There is a bitterness in the background, but it should not be overpowering (as it can be with Robusta).
But which coffee flavour is right for you?
Although Arabica is widely considered to be the superior bean, you might prefer Robusta’s bitter, powerful taste. It’s a good idea to experiment buy drinking a cup of both kinds of coffee and writing down your experience. Taste isn’t a prescriptive thing, so just allow yourself to like what you like!
What does it mean if your coffee is very bitter?
If your coffee is incredibly bitter or sour then the coffee beans were probably burnt during the roasting process. To add flavour and depth, coffee beans are roasted to different temperatures and for varying lengths of time. The darker the roast the richer and more bitter the taste. This is usually a good thing and die-hard coffee drinkers usually actively seek out highly roasted, bitter coffee. However, a good coffee will also have little notes of sweetness and subtle aromas alongside the bitterness. If there is nothing but bitterness in your mug of joe, then it has almost certainly been burnt during the roasting process.
The bitterness also has to do with how much of the coffee grounds can dissolve into the hot water during the brewing process. The warmer water is, the more soluble substances can dissolve in it. This is sometimes called extraction yield, and it’s the amount of chemicals from the ground coffee beans that have dissolved in water. There is an ideal extraction range of 18–22% and to achieve this the ideal water temperature is 93°C. At 93°C the all of the tastiest oils and components are dissolved. Past this temperature, bitter elements of the bean continue to dissolve, taking the extraction range past 22%. Also, the longer your coffee brews, the greater the extraction yield is. Making good coffee is as much a science as it is an art, and it’s why good baristas and good coffee machines are valued throughout the world!
What coffee has less acid?
Many people ask about coffee’s acidity and are looking for less acidic coffee. Some people are more sensitive to acid, such as people with stomach ulcers or other digestive system issues. No coffee is free from acid. In fact, it’s these acids that give coffee much of its distinctive flavour. And on top of that, it’s actually many of these acids that contain the antioxidants that give coffee some of its health benefits. However, some coffees are less acidic than others. Several companies specialise in low-acid coffees, so a quick Google search will get you to where you need to be. And dark roasts have less acid than other, less roasted coffee. This may seem counter intuitive, but it’s true. A coffee bean’s acidity level is reduced by roasting it until it is very dark. The heat changes many of the chemicals within the bean, making it tastier, slightly more bitter, and slightly less acidic.
French Press and Espresso: different ways to brew coffee
Now that we’ve worked out how acidic we want our beans to be, how much we’d like to roast them, and how hot the water should be when we brew them, let’s look at the two different styles of brewing coffee: the noble cafetiere and the espresso. There are, of course, many methods of brewing coffee from all over the world, but these are the two big ones, widely considered to produce the tastiest, most flavoursome coffee.
French Press / Cafetiere
This method was devised by the French to turn the receptacle you prepare your coffee in into a handy jug for serving it. Cafetieres work by mixing ground coffee and hot water (93°C if you’re a perfectionist) and setting the lid on top to insulate it. If your coffee is a fine grind, then it’ll dissolve faster, so it’ll only take around 3–4 minutes to brew. If your coffee is ground a little courser, give it 5–6 minutes. When it’s ready, press the handle on the top and a fine wire filter will press all of the remaining coffee solids to the bottom of the jug. One of the cheapest, easiest ways of making beautiful tasting coffee, the French press is popular all around the world. And, the only heat that’s applied is from the hot water, you cannot burn your coffee (though you can brew it too long!).
Espresso has pretty much become the default coffee brewing method for coffee shops and restaurants all around the world. This is because it produces an intense, rich coffee in much less time than a cafetiere. It works by passing boiling water, pressurised by steam, through densely packed coffee grounds. As the water passes through the coffee, it dissolves the various soluble compounds that give coffee its distinctive taste. If you want to make your own espresso and you don’t want to buy a huge machine, then an espresso pot is what you’re after. It uses a similar effect to the machine, but the water is pushed upwards through the coffee as the water is heated from below, on the hob. As there is much more heat involved in the production of espresso coffee, there is a chance of burning your coffee grounds — especially if the parts of your espresso machine or pot are too hot before the water is introduced. Badly brewed, burnt espresso coffee is very common, but many people don’t know what to expect or to complain if their barista has botched their beverage! But when it’s prepared well, espresso coffee is a powerful, sweet, bitter beverage than can be ready in as little as thirty seconds!
That’s all we have time for in this article. We hope you’ve found it interesting and that you learned a few things. We’re absolutely obsessed with coffee, and we’re passionate about the science, history and culture behind the world’s favourite beverage. Please get in touch with us if you’d like to ask us a question about our range of deluxe coffee machines or our coffee machine rental service!