Coffee cupping, smelling hot coffee.

Coffee aroma – Sense of Smell: Let’s sniff our way through life

The sense of smell can be extraordinarily evocative, bringing back pictures as sharp as photographs of scenes that had left the conscious mind. – Thalassa Cruso (1909 – 1997), plant lover

We smell and sense the world around us every day. A lot of what we actually “taste” is done through smelling. Our sense of smell could be capable of so much more – if we would train it!  George Dodd, who runs the Aroma Academy in Aberdeen, emphasizes: “People don’t realise that the sense of the smell is like a muscle. Use it or lose it.” Our noses are amazing. We just need to pay attention.

Every day, we can start to notice, identify and differentiate the smells we encounter. We could train our creativity in describing various smells. Describing smells is not easy. For example, how would you describe the smell of a pear to someone who doesn’t know what a pear is?

Smelling Coffee

Basic terminology

Aroma: The smell of wet coffee grinds. It’s basically the smell of brewed coffee.

Fragrance: The smell of dry freshly-ground coffee that hasn’t been brewed.

Flavor: The combination of the aromatics perceived in the nasal cavity and the taste perceived on the tongue.

Coffee is one of the most complex beverages in the world. According to Gourmet Coffee Lovers, it has approximately 800 different flavor characteristics. Wine – in comparison – has only about 400.

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Coffee’s aromatic compounds evolve over time. Some attributes can be present and intensive before the brewing process. And disappear after it has been brewed and vice versa.

Aromatic aspects can be detected through the nostrils by inhalation. However, they are also released from food and drinks in the mouth during the process of chewing or swallowing. During these processes, the odors pass through the back of the nose.

The taste-buds on our tongues can only differentiate five different characteristics – sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami (Japanese word for “savory”). The olfactory receptors in our nasal passages detect all the other ones.

The creator of the famous Wine Aroma kits, Jean Lenoir, also established a collection of coffee aromas in small containers that coffee lovers can use to train their sense of smell and improve their understanding and enjoyment of coffee.

There is a basic kit that introduces the 6 most commonly found coffee aromas:

  • Garden peas
  • Blackcurrant-like
  • Butter
  • Caramel
  • Roasted peanuts
  • Roasted coffee

There is another, more advanced kit that contains the 36 most commonly found coffee aromas:

01) Earth , 02) Potato , 03) Garden peas, 04) Cucumber 05) Straw , 06) Cedar, 07) Clove-like , 08) Pepper, 09) Coriander seeds, 10) Vanilla, 11) Tea-roses/Redcurrant jelly, 12) Coffee blossom, 13) Coffee pulp, 14) Blackcurrant-like, 15) Lemon, 16)Apricot, 17) Apple, 18)Butter, 19) Honeyed, 20) Leather, 21) Basmati Rice, 22) Toast, 23) Malt, 24) Maple Syrup, 25) Caramel, 26) Dark chocolate, 27) Roasted almonds, 28) Peanuts, 29) Toasted hazelnuts, 30) Walnuts, 31) Cooked beef, 32) Smoke, 33) Pipe Tobacco, 34) Roasted coffee, 35) Medicinal, 36) Rubber.

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