Tasting Notes

Oftentimes, coffees come with florid and melodramatic "tasting notes" - listing tastes and flavours supposedly present in a cup that ... you just don't find.  We're probably just as guilty of this as everyone else, to be fair.  

Those notes are, of course, not to be taken literally.  Much like tasting wine, there's a culture and conventions surrounding tasting and describing the taste of coffee; the only thing an expert won't say a wine tastes like is grapes.  Describing coffee as "tasting like coffee" is largely meaningless given the range of tastes that a coffee might have, so we look for other ways to describe what we do get.  

A coffee described as "caramel-y" will of course have far more in common with any other coffee than it will with actual caramel - but compared to a different cup, some portion of the taste that is different from the other will taste similar to caramel, or be different in a way that reminds you of caramel.  

To explore these on your own or get starting picking up on them, the best way is comparatively - have more than one kind of coffee, side by side, and focus on noticing how they're different from one another.  Generally, if you try to describe what you taste to someone else, you'll find yourself comparing bits and pieces to other, non-coffee, things you've tasted, just the same as the coffee industry does when trying to describe what our products taste like with more information than just "tastes like coffee".

It's worth noting that some confusion comes from "flavoured" coffee, which is coffee beans that have been coated, soaked, or treated somehow with a flavouring agent.  A caramel flavoured coffee will taste far more like caramels than my prized Classic Espresso might; despite it's caramel notes - but a lot less like coffee.  I've never met a flavouring that doesn't drown out large amounts of desirable "coffee flavour" alongside whatever it is bringing in its own right.

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