When smelling a coffee, its aroma will tell you a lot about the coffee itself, its quality, origin and roast. But what does aroma really mean?
Coffee flavour can be denoted by some primary coffee qualities, among body, sweetness, bitterness, acidity and aftertaste, there’s aroma.
Aroma is the release of flavourful compounds from coffee through the air from the moment it is roasted, basically, the smell of coffee is responsible for many of the flavour attributes not directly perceived by the tongue, so both our nose and tongue work together and when they do we call the result Flavour.
Our tongue distinguishes five different characteristics – salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami. These are also referred as tastes, but from the moment we roast coffee it releases its volatile components (vapor and gases) that come in contact with the olfactory membranes (Orthonasal). This release of compounds is most noticeable when the coffee is brewed and once swallowed the aromatic compounds drift up the nasal passage internally reaching the olfactory epithelium (Retronasal), all of these channels are rich in nerve ends with very sensitive smell receptors which detect an enormous range of compounds. Resuming, while a coffee can taste sweet, for instance, the coffee flavor goes beyond that sweetness denoting other compounds that may be very subtle, like fruity, flower or caramel notes, so if a coffee is very rich-flavored the aroma will also reflect that richness and if a coffee is acidic it will smell acidy, and because of that, naturally, fresh coffee will have a much stronger aroma that older coffee tasting also better in comparison.
Coffee beans vary a lot considering the green bean genetic predisposition, environmental conditions, its harvesting and roasting processes. Because coffee is a fruit seed it’s sensitive to humidity, temperature, altitude and sun exposition, these will influence the green bean components as they develop, so the roasted bean will denote its own origin. You can explore more in our website on how each single origin coffee is different as our Kenya Honeybush Bora, for example, which gains its distinct acidity by being grown in a rich volcanic area, or our Malawi Makoka Valley which benefits from soils that are a mixture of clay and alluvial contributing to its unique fruity taste and being grown at between 900 and 1000 meters high. Coffee processing can be kind of magical, the green bean gives no clue as to what they might become once roasted, they show no smell neither characteristics of their potential, this happens because the aroma develops during the roasting process. But even this development can be modulated by harvest practices and post-harvest treatments – the way the seed is taken from the cherry has a huge influence on the final product, the fruit can be dried (Dry Process), generally getting sweeter, smoother and heavy-bodied; soaked (Wet Process), typically getting cleaner, brighter and fruitier or half/half (Honey Process), so the final product will be kind of unique.
There is no right roasting process, coffee compounds changes as roast gets darker and the darker it gets the more compounds become detectable and the stronger the aroma gets but also eliminates gradually its unique characteristics and health benefits as it go, so in our opinion it’s all about balance and personal preferences.
After the roasting process, the coffee bean has not yet finished unlocking its full aroma, as it can change further by the way it is stored or transported afterwards. For instance, our Cuban Serrado Lavado gains a background of smokiness that can be attributed to sandalwood or tobacco by the way it is stored and the Indian Monsooned Malabar which its unusual processing method give this coffee its distinctive flavour, the beans are picked, dried and then left to age in open huts against the monsoon season in Indian weather resulting in a distinctive yellow colored bean.
On this search for balance and new kind of coffee sensations, over 800 different aromatics in coffee have been discovered so far thanks to advances in testing equipment and it doesn’t seem to be stopping there, that’s because everything has influence over the coffee bean, so you can say that coffee processing is an artisan art not achievable by industrial ways, by smelling your bag of coffee, without being an expert, you can tell if was made with art, for quality and freshness can’t be mass produced.
If unsure for any reason, simply Smell the Coffee.