Many of us got exposed to coffee out of necessity - pulling all nighters studying or getting up early for work. We probably didn't pay too much attention to quality or the actual taste of the coffee - we were just using it as a vehicle to get caffeine into our bodies. Over time, your palate has likely evolved to appreciate higher quality coffee and more complex notes.

Even so, some people are intimidated by coffee, while others think it tastes pretty much all the same. This page will walk you through some of the basics of coffee and coffee tasting.

Components of coffee taste

There are four components that determine the taste of coffee, the first two of which we have done the dirty work already and presenting to you what we think is the best:

  • Beans – The most common types of beans you'll encounter for general consumption are Arabica and Robusta. Another variable that influences taste is origin (region of the world, soil, irrigation, altitude, harvesting/processing) and quality (defects, consistency, score, etc). We do all of this filtering for you, and only select the upper range of Specialty Coffee (which meets or exceeds a grade of 80) by only using beans with a grade of 83 or higher.
  • Roast level – Unroasted beans are green and have no real taste. Roasting brings out the flavor, and each bean has it’s own “sweet spot” of roasting for optimal taste. While you can accentuate naturally occurring flavors of the beans by roasting, you cannot change the natural flavor entirely simply by roasting. Contrary to popular belief, the roast level does not change caffeine level. 
    • Light: Often have natural, sweet and grassy taste and slightly more acidic than stronger roasts.
    • Medium: Roasted at a higher temperature and the beans are darker in color. Medium roast levels retain a sweetness and are perfect for cold brews (cue the rum!)
    • Dark: Heated at higher temperatures for longer, these beans are cooked until they are almost black in color. Darker roasts tend to have more of a “roasted” or smoky taste. 
  • Preparation – How the coffee is prepared also has a huge impact on how the coffee tastes. Besides the obvious like ration of coffee to water, the method of preparation is important. This can be filter brewed in a traditional coffee pot like Mr. Coffee, pour over, French Press, pod filtration (like Keurig or Nespresso), Cold Brew (which is different than iced coffee!), Turkish coffee, etc.
  • YOU! – Finally, the last factor in the taste of coffee is you and your unique taste buds.


Definition of Specialty Coffee 

There is a belief that 'specialty coffee' is simply any coffee from a shop or company that 'specializes' in coffee, or that if the specific origin is listed on the coffee, or even if the beans are ethically sourced, it qualifies for this designation.

This is not accurate - To be considered a 'specialty coffee' the beans must have received a score of more than 80 points (out of 100) on the Coffee Review scale, which is a grading scale set by the Speciality Coffee Association (SCA). We at Boarding Pass refer to Specialty Coffee as a proper noun so you know that we consider the ratings of the beans. 

Ever wonder why, when you travel abroad you sometimes say, "Ohhh the coffee here is so good!!"? It could be more than the romanticization of being somewhere foreign. It really could be that you are consuming a higher level of coffee bean quality, compared to what is served mainstream in the US. Boarding Pass Coffee roasts only Specialty grade beans, with a strong preference for at least a grade of 85 but always over 83.


Tasting wine and coffee

There are a lot of similarities in tasting and appreciating wine and coffee that you might not have realized. Both are drinks that come from fruits of the earth, and both need careful care from cultivating the soil to watering the plant, harvesting at optimal times, and processing. 

Tasting notes of both have the same roots- the Le Nez du Cafe (36 Aromas of Coffee) that includes the most typical aromas of coffee is based off of the Le Nez du Vin. 

Opinions of wine and coffee both are dependent on personal preference - there is no "right" or "wrong" taste. Just like we know from the age-old saying "beauty is in the eye of the beholder (and the more current white/gold vs blue/black dress conundrum), relative perception is everything. And that doesn't mean that your tastes can't change either - you're allowed to expand or even change your opinions about what you like about wines and coffees over time and through sensory exploration. 

Both wine and coffee can be served at a range of temperatures - Gluhwein traditionally served in Germany's Christmas Markets is perhaps not as well known as Cold Brew Coffee, but both highlight that coffee and wine can be enjoyed at different temperatures. 

Coffee and wine are also generally, in most cultures, not considered kid-friendly beverages. Is it no coincidence that as we mature, so do our palates for both? I remember getting gifted a bottle of Boone's in college and savoring it like it was a bottle of 2013 Opus One. Much like travel, we are ever expanding our horizons and learning more about the depth of our tastes. 

But there are also some important differences too - for example, the experience of wine is pretty much determined when you pop the cork but with coffee, preparation is a key factor in overall taste.


SCAA Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel

Search the internet and you will find all kinds of illustrations and charts that list the flavors and tastes of coffee. Our favorite is this Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel, developed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) in 2016. The next time you try a coffee, see if you can sense any of these flavors.


Barista Tips

  • Use high quality, freshly roasted and ground coffee beans.

  • Buy good coffee, good equipment and never stop practicing.

  • Keep your equipment hot and clean!

  • Maintain consistency with your espresso extraction (coffee to water) ratio


Coffee Brewing Methods

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