The Italian coffee tradition over the centuries has become a system of rituals and behaviors about coffee and its most famous preparations: moka coffee, espresso and cappuccino.
… Let’s learn about discerning and “feeling” it
Coffee is not only to be observed, smelt and tasted, but also “felt”.
Tasting is an art. It means having the ability and knowledge when drinking coffee (as well as for any other drink or food) to consciously recognize its components. The visual and olfactory analysis spontaneously follows the taste-tactile assessment.
The step of touch analysis takes place practically at the same time, in fact with the same sips of coffee as that of the tasting.
Tactile, not because the coffee has to be touched with the hands but rather with the mucous membranes of the oral cavity of the mouth which gives us many sensations.
Sipping coffee and letting it flow around the entire mouth transmits sensations, via taste buds, to the brain where we can assess the balance between the flavors as well as the proper harmony of bitter and sweet. On this side of the tongue we feel the sensation of freshness for a few moments indicating the level of acidity. Normally, coffee with a high percentage of Arabica highlights this note.
With the first sip, the interaction between the coffee and the oral cavity as a whole provides a great deal of tactile information.
With the first sip we can therefore examine the tactile balance of the coffee, especially the consistency and structure perceived in the mouth which determines the coffee’s so-called “body”.
What is coffee “body”?
Coffee’s body is easily imaginable but perhaps not so easily noticeable. It is a feeling of heaviness and of some sort of “strength” that we can discern with coffee in the mouth, especially by pressing the tongue against the palate.
The definition of “body” is used to indicate the structure of the drink and corresponds to a certain coffee consistency felt on the palate.
The term “body” describes the physical properties and tactile sensations perceived by the mouth such as the sense of “heaviness” (or “mouthfeel”) as the coffee settles on the tongue.
Other characteristics include the sensation of oiliness, graininess and wateriness. A washed Arabica will usually be fairly “aqueous” (this is not a demerit) while a Robusta, though of lower quality, can be substantial and consistent.
ASIDE FROM VARIATIONS IN THE ORIGIN OF A COFFEE, THE COFFEE BODY IS PRIMARILY AFFECTED BY BREWING METHOD AND TO SOME EXTENT ROAST LEVEL.
If you want a more full bodied coffee, stove-top coffee makers are your best option followed by espresso machines, French presses and pour over coffee makers (metal filter, not paper). Any sort of paper filter (in drip-coffee makers, some pour-over methods, and k-cup and single cup brewers) strains out oils that contribute not only to the body, but also heavily to the flavor.
While the brewing method will have a larger impact on body than variations between single origins, part of the review process of cupping involves evaluating the coffee at a standard roast and brewing method, with some origins scoring better than others.
Since body is a measure of the oils and compounds in coffee, a high-grown or strictly-high-grown coffee will typically have a fuller body than one grown at a lower altitude.
Altitude brings acidity, flavor and balance, and therefore denser and harder beans with narrower center cuts.
Discerning a coffee’s body involves identifying its tactile impression, its consistency and weight, as perceived in the mouth at the back of the tongue when you swoosh the coffee around and also after swallowing.
Or for “cuppers” (professional coffee tasters), after spitting the coffee out. Evaluating body when cupping is a proxy for the dissolved coffee solids (organic acids and oils) which increase with altitude and density.
A cupper considers the coffee’s body, a measure of the intensity of how it feels in the mouth in terms of weight, the sense of richness that the brewed coffee imparts and its heft.
This is almost universally seen as a positive attribute but there are people who find the “grit” or “oiliness” of a coffee off-putting and actually prefer a coffee to be smooth and filtered. Like all things coffee, it’s an entirely personal decision based on what you like or don’t like.
Learning about the “body” of coffee will help us pick a coffee bean and brewing method that makes each day better.
How can we describe the coffee body?
A coffee’s body may be described as light (or thin), medium, or full.
Coffee defined as full-bodied is strong and pleasant even with a tactile sense of viscosity which is the feeling of a pleasant roundness and creaminess in the mouth created by oils and sugars.
A medium body indicates a coffee that seems diluted and poor to espresso lovers but with just the right amount of body to consumers preferring filtered coffee.
A round body is the set of sensations dictated by taste and consistency free of excessive or inadequate tastes and with a perceived sense of balance.
A round body coffee is defined as soft.
Fuller-bodied coffees also retain more of their flavor when they are diluted.
A note about espresso consistency: the high pressure that is used during the espresso extraction process results in an excellent concentration of flavors. This means that the espresso shot works well for blending into specialty espresso drinks such as cappuccinos and lattes without losing flavor due to dilution.
Body: one of coffee’s six major characteristics
A coffee’s body is one of coffee’s six major characteristics used by cuppers to discern the quality of a particular coffee, which include acidity, bitterness, sweetness, aroma and aftertaste (or finish).
Learning to differentiate the individual characteristics is a learned skill that involves attending a cupping class.
It’s not something you can figure out simply by drinking your regular daily brew.
The best way to learn is by trying a number of different coffees brewed in the same way and guided by a knowledgeable expert. It’s very much akin to wine tasting.
The body of the espresso shot must possess the right smoothness and viscosity.
DO NOT FORGET TO MIX THE ESPRESSO WITH A SPOON BEFORE DRINKING IT!
In fact, espresso coffee creates stratification. As the espresso shot rises from the bottom of the cup, the amount of dissolved substances decreases more and more.
Not only the quantity: the same substances change.
In the underlying layer there is a high concentration of solids and therefore a full body but containing high acidity resulting in a more acidic taste. As you rise through the strata you lose the acid taste and increase the bitter taste while passing through the middle where there is a slightly softer part. Defining it sweet is a bit exaggerated, but definitely soft!
So if we do not mix the espresso, the first sip we drink will be watery and basically bitter. The second sip will be a bit smoother with a slightly higher body and the third sip, usually the last or bottom one, will be the more concentrated but with a sour trend.
So if we prefer a uniform taste, body, aroma and flavor with every sip, then it’s essential to mix!
When sampling espresso, it is possible to assess its physical properties, density, viscosity and syrupy consistency.
The softness of an espresso is the sum of the roundness we perceive along with the tactile properties of creaminess, silkiness and fluidity imparted by the oils and sugars it contains.
The perfect espresso has a full and aromatic body.
The under-extracted espresso, on the other hand, is without body. Causes could be:
- ground coffee is old and has not been used for more than 8 hours or more than 4 hours if stored at a high temperature (higher than 35°C)
- the dose is not sufficient (should be between 7 +/- 0.3g)
- water is free from mineral salts (check for proper functioning water softener).
Often tasting a coffee with a high percentage of immature beans usually means “it’s Robusta!”. Probably misleading is the excessive bitterness, its plant part and astringency, but in the end there are some good reasons to kick the Robusta.
But no! As soon as you taste a coffee that does not convince us, we are led to say: Robusta!
A sensory approach helps us fully understand this censor and guilty attitude towards Robusta.
It does not matter that there are some Robusta definitely superior to some Arabica, both in terms of quality and price profile.
As it happens in the vending field…
The consumer at the vending machine expects a creamy and full-bodied coffee.
The vending operator expects:
Taste and body
- Achieves customer satisfaction by providing the true essence of coffee without the need of additional milk or sugar in order to cover a flavor too strong, bitter or woody
- Reduces milk and sugar consumption for further savings
Constant quality (in the supplies)
- Consistent quality for consumers (especially in office and company settings)
- Offers balanced taste, sweet aroma and creamy body
- Boosts consumer loyalty resulting in increased consumptions
these are the features of the SpecialCoffee blend Gran Crema Blue Espresso Vending
A blend of coffee beans for automatic Vending machines with a balanced taste and sweet aroma. Made up of a high percentage of Asian and African Robusta balanced by selected Brazilian and Central American Arabica.
Sensation of astringency
Once the coffee is sipped, we can feel a sensation of astringency in the mouth. The term derives from the Latin “astringere” (to bind fast, to bind together).
The astringency is a feeling among the most difficult to interpret, but can be well understood when chomping on an unripe fruit (a persimmon or pear) or sipping a good red wine that still needs aging.
It is felt as a sensation setting your teeth on edge in the mouth and in particular on the tongue. It’s a perception of wrinkling and dryness on the inside of the cheeks and on the gums, as well as a sensation of roughness and friction between the tongue and the palate.
The astringency is a tactlie sensation linked to the presence of plant-based compounds (tannins) that induce an abrupt drop in salivation which basically reduces the lubrication capacity of the saliva causing the surface layers of the tongue mucosa to contract.
In a good espresso the astringency should not be too high.
Astringency in coffee is always a flaw and finding traces of it can be a sign of coffee beans harvested still unripe via the stripping technique which is basically a sign of second choice coffee.
In coffee, evident astringency is always undesirable and is a characteristic of coffee harvested from unripe and poor quality beans which have not been adequately processed or roasted.
Please note: the slight astringent hints should not be confused with bitterness and acidity! They are signs of excessive fermentation and, if not too severe, positively characterize coffee.
Last but not least is temperature which can affect the perception of the astringency of espresso coffee.
During extraction, espresso prepared properly, with water at a temperature of 88-92°C, exits the coffee machine at approximately 78-80°C and in 20-25 seconds drops to 60-65°C as long as the cup has been preheated to around 40°C.
Espresso is less stable than coffee brewed with other methods (filter, French press, moka, etc.).
To fully appreciate all the organoleptic qualities, it must be examined hot, a few moments after extraction. As the minutes pass, cooling of the beverage increases the perception of bitterness and astringency.