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Profiling may have a bad name in the world of criminal investigation, but one of our favorite coffee sites, wholelattelove.com, has developed a coffee profiling system that helps you choose the kind of coffee that you like. Choosing coffees according to their profiles gives you an easy and (almost) foolproof way to find new coffees that you like. If you’re a true coffee-phile, you might do well to learn how to profile your own coffees and get a little adventurous with new coffees that you might enjoy.
The Flavor Profile
Coffee tasters can identify some 6,000 different and distinct flavors and characteristics in coffee. The WholeLatteLove profiling system breaks things down to make it so much easier all around. Rather than 6,000 flavors, the profiling system looks at three characteristics – Body characteristics, Acidity and Balance.
Body Characteristics are the characteristics that contribute to mouthfeel – one of the most difficult coffee characteristics to explain. The profiling chart lays out coffees from 1 to 5, and makes comparisons to wine varieties to make it clearer. Part of the mouthfeel is contributed by the coffee oils, and most tasters use words like light, oily, velvety, buttery and syrupy. The levels are described as:
1 – light, like Pinot Grigio (for those who don’t drink wine, think white cranberry juice – very thin and lightweight in the mouth and on the tongue)
2 – light, like Chardonnay (or like iced tea, lightweight but a little heavier than white cranberry)
3 – average, like Pinot Noir (or like spring water)
4 – slightly heavy like Merlot (or like apple juice)
5 – heavy, like a Bordeaux or a Cabernet (or like grape juice, thick and syrupy on the tongue)
Acidity and bitterness are very different from each other. Acidity contributes to the ‘brightness’ of a coffee, and it is a definite taste characteristic. The five Acidity Characteristics are described as:
1 – Soft and mellow
2 – having a subtle hint of tanginess
3 – pleasantly tangy
4 – bold and piquant
5 – Assertive and sharp
Indian coffees are generally soft and very mellow while African coffees have the strongest acidity. Interestingly, other things can balance acidity so that Ethiopian yrgacheffe coffee, for instance, is very smooth despite its assertive flavor.
Which brings us to the Balance part of flavor profiling. Balance characteristics refer to how complex the actual flavor of the coffee is. It ranges from 1 to 5, starting with simple flavors and ranging through the most complex blends.
1. Delicate, lean – a single flavor profile without a lot of other notes
2. Subtle – the ‘coffee’ flavor is predominant, but there are subtle undertones that add to the flavor
3. Pleasingly complex – a blend of flavors, often with a predominant note and layered flavors
4. A great depth of flavor – layers of flavors that reveal themselves as you sip
5. Perfect blend – speaks for itself
One of the easiest ways to choose new coffees that you’ll enjoy is to choose coffees that come from the same region as those that you like best. Each of the major coffee growing regions tend to flavor profiles that are characteristic, thanks to the similarity in climate and elevations. Thus, Central American coffees are generally smooth and balanced with a subtle note of nutty flavor to them. It’s the flavor profile that’s most familiar to American coffee drinkers, who tend to enjoy Colombian coffees.