How can we assess the quality of espresso properly? Ayelet Ofek, Sensory and Development Technology Manager at Strauss Coffee, connects us to our senses and explains how each sense is affected by the experience of drinking an espresso.
To create sensory assessment of an espresso, we use four of our classic five senses, and in this respect we can say that the espresso is a true gift to our senses. Let’s dive into the senses that shape our coffee experience and see how we can use each of them to maximize our enjoyment of an espresso.
Drinking with our eyes
You should start with the most important sense of all and the first to affect our perception
of the “taste” of coffee – the sense of sight. First of all, take a good look at your espresso, its shape and color. The “crema” is part and parcel of the espresso tasting experience. Crema is actually ‘espresso foam”, the golden-brown/dark brown top that decorates the surface of the coffee.
The sense of smell is a combination of volatile, soluble substances that reach an area placed deep in your nose. This area, which is called the mucosa (olfactory epithelium), measures about 2.5 cm² and contains about 20 million olfactory (smelling) cells. The volatile molecules are linked to receptors in the upper part of the nasal cavity (olfactory area).
The intensity of your espresso coffee smell is, in fact, the intensity in which we feel the smell of coffee. It is the aroma emanating from the foamy layer formed over the coffee once it is poured (excluding side-smells which are unrelated to typical aromas of coffee, such as the smell of plastic, metal, oxidized coffee, etc.).
Taste and enjoy
There are five basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and “aumami”. A good espresso has two dominant tastes: bitter and acidic.
• Bitterness – Bitterness is part of the coffee taste characterization and results from coffee components such as caffeine, chlorogenic acids and alkaloids. Coffee bitterness is affected by its roasting level and preparation. Bitterness can be felt mainly on the back of the tongue.
• Acidity – This term includes sour, lemony, fizzy and fruity tastes that leave a pleasant fresh sensation in the mouth. Familiar characteristics in this field: Vibrant, lemony, vinous, wild.
It is important to note that the acidity level of espresso depends on the type and quantity of Arabica coffee beans in the blend and its roasting level – the lighter the roasting, the higher acidity level.
The sense of touch on the tongue and palate is responsible for sensations related directly to taste, such as thickness, thinness, velvety, creamy, temperature and pain (it transfers sensations of astringency, tingling, spiciness, cool).
The “body” represents the “weight” of coffee which you can feel when it “sits” on your tongue and when you rub your tongue against the palate. With the “weight” of coffee on the tongue we measure the thickness and “heaviness” that the coffee texture creates on the tongue. Regular terms that describe the coffee body: full-bodied, heavy, strong, light, watery. (Strauss)