Creating and sharing cupping notes is a tricky business. It is rare that all the people drinking the same coffee end up describing it identically. Moreover, when someone writes some descriptors that are put on a package, far-away drinkers often end up shaking their heads in confusion and speculate whether they are drinking the same beverage as the purveyor or expert! Nonetheless, those descriptors still have value; after all, some communication about the flavor of the coffee, even if it is imperfect, is usually better than no communication at all! The truth is, sometimes there is no easy and efficient way of translating the experience of a cup of coffee. If you’re interested in learning more about why there are discrepancies in the taste experience, read this brief explanation.
Below are some comments on some of the potentially confusing terms that we use. If you have questions or comments about what we say or do, please, don’t hesitate to contact our Chief Science Officer, Shawn Steiman.
Core characteristics: these terms can be used to describe any cup of coffee.
Coffee – Sometimes, coffee just tastes like coffee and not much else. We feel the best way to convey that is to use “coffee” as a descriptor, rather than stretch for esoteric, inaccurate words. (Note, this is referred to as flavor on the cupping table.)
Sweet – Even without the addition of sugar, coffee can have a measure of sweetness.
Acidity – This is the bright, lively, tingly sensation of an acid. When we can, we’ll tell you what kind of acid experience we’re reminded of, e.g., lemon or apple.
Body – All coffee has a texture and viscosity. Whether it is thin or thick, we’re describing how viscous we think it is.
Unusual descriptors: these terms help describe flavors that are a bit more unusual than terms like “chocolate” or “tangerine”.
Floral – If you could taste the smell of unidentifiable flower, it would be this.
Spicy – This makes us think of the contents of our spice cabinet but we can’t nail down which spices.
Herby – Fresh greens or herbs
Tomato – Like the lingering aftertaste of a fresh, ripe tomato
Stone fruit – Typically reminiscent of apricot, peach, or nectarine (not cherries or plums)
Connections: these terms evoke memories of other experiences or sensations
Juicy – The explosion of juice and flavor from a fresh, ripe fruit, like a peach; often associated with high body
Syrupy – It feels like a smooth, viscous texture, even though it flows just like any cup of coffee
Earthy – Conjures images of soil, forest, the outdoors…
Edgy – If the coffee were geometrical, you’d think of distinct edges and asymmetric shapes
Piquant – Some flavors are intense in their occurrence but are very brief; think of a tall peak rather than a hump
Delicate – The flavor seems ephemeral or so fragile that if you shake the cup too hard, it will disappear.
Refreshing – You feel cool and energized like drinking cold lemonade on a dry, hot day
Meditative – A coffee that makes you want to slow down and ponder some idea or feeling