Tasting Coffee Like A Pro: Sweetness, Bitterness, and Acidity

Coffee tasting can be a rich and rewarding experience for those willing to put in the time and effort to learn about its complexities. In part three of our Tasting Coffee Like A Pro series our Coffee Education Lead, Ryan Bledsoe talks in-depth about sweetness, bitterness, acidity, and how we perceive each in our coffee. We’ll explore what these terms mean and how you can use them to better taste coffee like a pro!

Today we’re going to discuss how to perceive the sweetness, bitterness, and acidity as you drink your coffee. To start, high-quality coffee from a reputable coffee roaster is necessary to perceive these attributes, as they are inherent to the coffee beans.

For sweetness, sugars in the coffee can be manipulated during the roasting process to create caramelized sugar notes, but the level of sweetness depends on personal preference. For example, chocolate is a common taste associated with sweetness in coffee, and different types of chocolate (milk, semi-sweet, dark) have varying sugar contents that affect your sweetness perception.

When it comes to bitterness, it is a subjective taste that folks either love or hate. Quality coffee should have minimal bitterness, but darker roasts enhance bitter notes, and cheap, low-grade coffee tends to be roasted darker to mask unpleasant notes. Over-extraction during brewing can also increase bitterness, resulting in a drying mouthfeel and watery body. To avoid this, check out our Frothy Monkey Coffee Brewing Guides for optimal brewing methods.

Finally, acidity is an inherent attribute of coffee that can be manipulated during roasting. Lighter roasts highlight acidity, whereas medium to darker roasts reduce it. Different types of fruit and acid (citrus, malic, tartaric) can be associated with acidity. Balancing sweetness, bitterness, and acidity depends on personal preference and the inherent qualities of the coffee beans being roasted.

Overall, tasting coffee like a pro involves building experience through experimentation with different flavors and smells. For more information, check out World Coffee Research and their Sensory Lexicon.

What is a coffee cupping?

Cupping coffee is the process coffee professionals use to evaluate the quality and consistency of coffees. Coffees are brewed using exactly the same method at the same time and presented side by side to be graded. Flavor notes are determined referencing a flavor wheel similar to the aroma/flavor wheels used in tasting wines. While the idea of coffee cuppings might feel intimidating, this ritual can be fun and educational for anyone!

Check out parts one and two below!