Coffee, Education, Paul's Notes, Sensory Series

Paul's Notes - What is flavor?


Waiting in line for ice cream, the server says “next” and the first question you are asked is, “What flavor would you like?” It’s a good question but what does the word entail? According to the science of sensory analysis, flavor is the perceived combination of taste, aroma, and mouthfeel or body. If you want a more technical definition, the Sensory Foundation describes it as, “olfactory perceptions caused by volatiles released from the coffee either by orthonasal or retronasal detection," or "gustatory perceptions caused by coffee in the mouth."


So what flavors would you say are in Peru Cafe Femenino, if you were asked?

These flavors are actually distinct enough to put into print on our bag. Peru Cafe Femenino has clearly marked on the front of the bag: cocoa, maple syrup, and almond. It may be marketing but I have cupped this coffee so regularly, that it’s now easy to distinguish this coffee from other coffees.

Here’s what I am saying and you are reading on the bag at Caravan Coffee. When you grind the coffee and you get that whiff into the nostril, the aroma, you have switched on the olfactory bulb. In some ways, it’s like turning on your computer and it starts accessing memory, comparing present notes to stored aroma notes. Both the orthonasal and retronasal parts are activated. It’s powerful, 80% more powerful than the tongue where you taste.

When the coffee does enter your mouth, a second switch is turned on, gustation sensations (5 basic tastes): sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami.

Let me add some evidence. Here’s an enjoyable exercise. Pinch your nose so you cannot breathe through your nose. Place a mint into your mouth. Suck on the mint but remember no nose involvement. You will notice that you can only taste one of those five basic tastes, probably the sweet. The point, you will not be able to describe the aroma notes of the mint. Now start breathing through the nose. Notice the aroma now flowing to the bulb, the olfactory bulb and, the descriptive words come. It’s obvious, it’s a mint.

And the same can be done with that cup of Peru Cafe Femenino! Do you agree with: cocoa, maple syrup, and almond? Would you add something? I dare you.

- Story by Paul Allen


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pouring milk into coffee in white cup