Coffee Flavours Explained

You don’t need to be a coffee connoisseur to know that not all coffee tastes the same. In fact, you can get over 800 potential flavour compounds from coffee, approximately four times what you could find in a glass of wine!

This is because there are over 800 aromatic compounds that can affect the flavour of a coffee — and it’s the way that the beans are produced that will take these to your tastebuds. Coffee making is an art, and like any form of creation, it requires a deep level of practice, skill and knowledge to master. Luckily for us, plenty of roasters dedicate their lives to bringing out the best of the best coffee flavours.

So, what is it that makes those flavours so different?

Let’s take a closer look at the many different coffee tasting notes and the science that goes into finding your flavour.

Why do coffees taste different?

Each step in the coffee production process affects how your favourite brew will taste. This includes:

Where the coffee is grown

There are three key coffee growing regions found across the planet’s ‘bean belt’, each with slightly different climates and terrains that will affect the flavour of the beans.

The type of coffee bean

There are several different types of coffee bean that you’ll get from the coffee cherry, known as Arabica, Robusta, Excelsa and Liberica. The bulk of the beans that we use to brew coffee are either Arabica or Robusta, and each have tremendously different flavour profiles. Generally, Arabica coffee is thought to have superior taste and quality to Robusta.

The variety of coffee plant

Different species of coffee plant are grown all over the world. While they each produce one of the main types of bean, each group within these categories has its own distinct flavour characteristics. Some of the most popular are Bourbon, Castillo and Geisha.

The processing method

The technique used to remove the coffee beans from the cherry will affect the flavour profile of the final brew. The main methods used are natural processing, washed processing, honey processing and wet-hulled processing.

The roasting style

When coffee beans are roasted, a type of chemical change known as the Maillard reaction takes place and ‘browns’ the bean, producing flavour and aroma compounds that affect how it tastes. The roasting style used affects this reaction, and produces a light, medium or dark roast.

The brewing style

We all have our preferences when it comes to how we brew our coffee, and even this final step will affect how your cup tastes. You might prefer a pour over, while a friend favours an aeropress — and depending on which you go with, your coffee will end up taking on different tasting notes.

How is coffee flavour defined?

To understand what it is that makes up a coffee’s flavour, you’ll first need to get to grips with your brew’s different characteristics. The most important thing to understand is that its flavour is made up of two components: taste and aroma. But what’s the difference between these two qualities?


Taste is defined as the sensation perceived by the tongue. When you say you’re in the mood for something sweet, it’s the sensation on the tongue that you’re after.


Aroma on the other hand is what you smell when your coffee is brewed, and so is perceived through the nose and back nasal passages where your nose meets your mouth.

When taste and aroma are combined together, you get the coffee’s flavour — the main impression that you get from smelling the coffee and sensing all of its notes with your tastebuds. There are some other traits that can affect your coffee’s flavour, including:

  • Fragrance

    the way that ground coffee smells when it’s still dry, prior to being infused with water is known as its fragrance.

  • Acidity

    the acidity of a coffee contributes to how lively and fresh its flavour profile is to taste. When favourable, it’s usually described as ‘bright’, but when unfavourable, we call it ‘sour’.

  • Body

    also known as the mouthfeel, a coffee’s body describes the tactile sensation of the liquid, typically between the tongue and the roof of the mouth. This is usually described as either heavy or light.

  • Aftertaste

    a coffee’s aftertaste is defined as the flavour that lingers after the coffee has been swallowed, with sensations of taste and aroma detected from the back of the palate.

  • Balance

    how each of the characteristics of a coffee work together is known as its balance. The taste, aroma, acidity, body and aftertaste may complement or contrast to one another. If a coffee lacks certain attributes and or one of these is particularly overpowering, you would say that it is poorly balanced.

  • Uniformity

    this refers to the flavour consistency throughout a serving of coffee. If two cups of the same brew taste different, you would say that it has poor uniformity.

  • Clean cup

    a clean cup refers to a coffee free from any defects, or negative impressions that are picked up during the drinking experience.

  • Defects

    a defect is a characteristic or flavour that detracts from the overall quality of the coffee, such as an ‘off’ flavour that can be described as sour or fermented-tasting.

How many flavours of coffee are there?

If you’ve ever read the description on a box of coffee, you’ll be aware of the sheer number of different tasting notes that can make up a blend — from conventional flavours like chocolate or hazelnut all the way up to niche notes like rubber!

These descriptors tend to be picked from the 1995 Coffee Taster’s Flavour Wheel, an iconic resource used as the industry standard for categorising the flavour profile of a coffee. The wheel divides coffee flavours into 110 different tasting notes — take a look for yourself below.

What does good coffee taste like?

Ultimately, what makes a ‘good’ coffee is down to personal preference. Each of us have tasting notes that we like and dislike, and trying out different blends, roasts and brewing techniques can help you to find yours.

If you don’t have time to trial and error lots of different coffee varieties, we can help. Our handy quiz will intelligently match your tastes to the roaster that’s right for you, based on the flavours you enjoy the most.