Blueberries, dried apricots, wintergreen, lemon-lime soda. These are words used to describe the way coffee tastes, not a list of grocery items. Over the past year I've heard coffee described this way and while not traditional, more and more specialty coffee roasters are coming up with ways to describe the flavor profiles of their beans. Some are comical and some are just plain confusing. I could spend an entire week breaking down the flavor profiles of coffee and how and what they are supposed to taste like but I think the one attribute in coffee that seems the most confusing is the term "acidic."
Some folks use the term to describe the amount of acids found in a cup of coffee and how it affects their stomachs. Others use the term to label the coffee roast level, while others use the term to explain the flavor.
The Webster Dictionary defines the word acidic as "having a very sour or sharp taste." The Specialty Coffee Association of America describes acidity as "contributing to a coffee's liveliness, sweetness, and fresh-fruit character." They seem contradictory to each other and to be honest it even confuses me sometimes. The term "liveliness" conjures up images of ground coffee dancing in my mouth. It's weird. So what the heck is acidity and how should I use the term moving forward?
For starters, when we talk about coffee profiles, the term acidity is a sour taste, not a roast style, nor is it a way to describe the level of acid reflux disease. At our store my father and I look for how sour, astringent, or sharp one cup tastes compared to another. This is a key point. A cup of coffee by itself is not acidic; it is more or less acidic when compared to another cup of coffee. We subconsciously do this all the time, but it'll help define your pallet when you're thinking about the juxtaposition of two coffees; the one you just tasted and the one you are comparing it to.
A great way to solidify your understanding of acidity is to conduct the following experiment. Purchase five different types of apples, slice them up, and start tasting them. Place the apple slices in order of sourness from highest to lowest. My results are in the nearby image. You can see that the Granny Smith apple had the highest level of acidity while the Red Delicious had the lowest.
At Henry's House of Coffee, we have over 20 different types of coffees so you can only imagine how difficult it must be to compare flavor profiles. If you'd like to experiment with coffee and get a better understanding of acidity I would compare our Abyssinia Harrar vs our most popular blend, Bella Finca.
I hope you found this useful and I look forward to hearing about your experiences.