What Are the Five Elements of Tasting Coffee?

December 16, 2020 by clearlycoffee

coffee tasting and taking notes

by Matt Gibson

There are five different elements to the taste of coffee, which are aroma, flavor, acidity, body, and aftertaste. Just like fancy wine tastings, sophisticated coffee drinkers practice coffee tasting, or cupping, to understand the complex flavors of high-quality coffees beyond the surface level. Coffee tasting is not something that should be practiced on generic coffees like folgers, or maxwell house, but if you like trying fancy, high end coffee beans, and really enjoy brewing exceptional joe, learning about coffee tasting is the next step towards truly enjoying coffee and understanding how to analyze the way a good coffee can affect your palette. 

Some of the five elements are very easy to understand, even for novices. Some are more refined, and require a bit more education to grasp. If you are ready to dive into coffee tasting, we have dissected the five elements of coffee tasting for you here, and clearly explained how to analyze coffee like the pros. After reading this article, you should be much better prepared for your first coffee cupping. Here are the five elements of tasting coffee, explained clearly for beginners. 


The aroma of coffee speaks to your sense of smell, it is how the coffee is received by your nose. It is the scent, or fragrance of the coffee beans after they have been ground and brewed. Before grinding, you should smell the beans as well, as it will give you an idea of how the coffee might smell after it is brewed. Once you have brewed a cup of coffee, give it a sniff and marinate on the complexities of the smell. 

Aroma and flavor are intricately linked, and the way a coffee smells is a key element of the way a coffee tastes. Since you normally get a good whiff of the aroma just before taking a sip, think of aroma as the preview to flavor. Some common coffee aromas are nutty, fruity, floral, earthy, spicy, herbal, and citrusy. These are just a few of the many aromatic possibilities of a good cup of coffee. 

When you are practicing coffee tasting, take note of the aroma before anything else. Smell your brew before tasting it and take a moment to see how many different elements of aroma you can notice in the scent. Then take a sip. 


Once you have taken a sip of coffee, the flavor of the brew immediately resonates on your palette. Flavor is the most obvious element of coffee tasting, but many coffee drinkers never take the time to notice the diversity of flavors that can be present in a single brew. Common flavor notes include citrusy, berry, floral, buttery, chocolatey, nutty, smokey, sour, sweet, spicy, caramely, vanilla, cinnamon, bitter, herbal, and earthy notes. 

Sometimes separating the flavor and aroma of the coffee is difficult, as they are very closely tied, but with practice, you can notice subtle differences between the smell and taste of a cup of joe. To practice detecting the many flavors present in a good coffee, follow these suggestions: 

1) Don’t take a large drink at first, or swish the liquid around in your mouth. Instead, take a small sip with your mouth slightly open, allowing some air to enter your mouth with the sip. 

2) Then, gently let the liquid swirl upon your tongue. 

3) Take note of the initial flavors that you notice within the brew. Some should be obvious, while others may be more subtle, but all combine to create a complex flavor.


All coffee has acidity. Several different types of acid, such as citric acid, can be present in coffee, but when cupping, we aren’t really referencing the amount of acidity in the brew, but the mouth feel that the coffee leaves after a sip. This includes the brightness, dryness, sourness, sweetness, and oily elements of a coffee. What kind of a sensation does the coffee leave in your mouth after tasting? Is it bright and tart? Dry and sweet? Or is it oily and bitter? 

Acidity is a bit more complex and requires practice to fully comprehend all of its complexities. However, acidity is essential to a good coffee. The fact of the matter is, without acidity, coffee can be rather boring and lacking in flavor, in short, not a very enjoyable experience. Coffees with more acidic content are bright and complex, offering sour or sweet notes that bring a fullness to the overall flavor. Coffees with low acidity allow other characteristics to come through in the flavor, such as floral, earthy, and smokey notes. Light roasts generally have more acidity and dark roasts have less acidity. 


Body is basically the texture of different coffees, and can also be described as the way it feels in your mouth. There are full-bodied coffees, light-bodied, and no-bodied coffees. Technically, there are not really any coffees with no body, but flatter, thinner brews are described as no-bodied due to their lack of body or mouthfeel. Common terms used to describe the body of a coffee include full, light, thick, viscous, watery, silky, oily, syrupy, and more. 


The aftertaste, or finish of a coffee is the flavor that is only noticeable after you have swallowed and allowed the brew to mature or linger for a few moments. Full bodied coffees will have a more pronounced aftertaste than light roast coffee. Darker roasts also tend to have stronger aftertastes than lighter ones. Common terms used to describe aftertaste include smoky, woody, spicy, and earthy. How does the coffee resonate on your palette several seconds after you finish a sip? The answer to this question describes the aftertaste. 

Practice Analyzing Coffee For Deeper Enjoyment

Cupping is not a practice that one becomes good at overnight. To begin to notice the complexities of the five elements of coffee, one must practice coffee tasting regularly and fine tune the palate. Whenever you purchase a nice newcoffee, try tasting and analyzing the five elements of it before drinking it regularly. Understanding the full nature of a coffee’s flavor will bring about more enjoyment and more fulfillment from your daily cup. 

After you have practiced cupping and developed a more refined palate for coffee tasting, you will be able to notice more about the flavor of coffee without thinking about it. Cupping is not just for fancy coffee snobs, but for anyone who wants to enjoy their coffee on a deeper level. Before you can decide whether or not you like a certain coffee, you should try to discern the various elements of its taste. You might find that you enjoy it more than you initially thought once you understand its complexity.

A good cup of coffee will have a long list of flavors that most drinkers never even notice. Those that take the time to understand the five elements of coffee tasting, will be rewarded for their efforts with a more fulfilling relationship with their favorite brews. 

Learn More About Coffee Tasting


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