We get asked lots of questions about how best to navigate our coffee menu and flavor notes. So here you have it! We’ve developed a Stumptown Coffee Tasting Guide. We recommend using this guide as a starting place to help you find out which type of coffees you will like best or to begin to describe coffees you already know and love.
Coffee is the most chemically complex food we ingest – it contains 2 – 3 times as many flavor compounds as wine. The tasting notes we include on our bag cards are a way to delineate subtle underlying aromas and flavors that emerge when tasting coffees side by side – but they aren’t arbitrary. The flavors we taste in our coffees correspond with the foods we describe – so when we taste notes of chocolate or green apple in a coffee, it’s because the coffee contains the same flavor compounds as the foods they remind us of.Blends are always a good entryway to our coffees – they sit in the center of the Tasting Guide because they are a combination of different regions. Our most popular blend, Hair Bender, is a complex, bold and balanced blend made up of African, Latin American and Indonesian coffees.
If you tend to like notes of chocolate, nuts, and sweet heavy fruits, the Latin American coffees are a great bet. If you like bold, earthy, heavy-bodied coffees, try an Indonesian single origin. These are also often popular for people who like flavors of darker-roasted coffees. For a delicate, bright and floral cup, head to Africa. These coffees often have notes of citrus and stone fruits, with floral aromas.
It’s also good to remember that this is just a guide that provides a starting place to begin thinking about flavors on a spectrum; your own explorations may lead you in other directions. You may very well taste an Indonesian coffee with chocolate notes or a Latin American that is floral and fruity.
Here are a few words of wisdom from our resident taste experts:
LIAM KENNA, Stumptown Annex Manager & Brew Boss
I always tell people who are actively tasting coffees for the first time: Don’t overthink it. First, find out what you like. Then go past that and find what it reminds you of. Is it sweet? What other sweet things can you compare it to? What fruits does it remind you of? Some of it’s objective, some of it’s subjective. Does it remind you of your Grandma’s house? I might taste a coffee and it reminds me of apple pie. You could taste the same coffee and be tasting ripe pear and croissant. We’d both be right. Both of those things indicate butter and caramelized sugars, or lactic and malic acids. Coffee shares a lot of the same components as these foods. These aren’t hard and fast rules, but they are nice starting points.
ADAM MCCLELLAN, Green Coffee Buyer
These food analogies essentially guide us to the more in-depth and applicable characteristics of acidity, mouthfeel, complexity, balance and overall character. When tasting, I love the idea of starting with color, generated in your brain by the chemical compounds present in both coffee and these fruit/spice/flower descriptors, that trigger the sensorial memory we then associate to a particular coffee. Taste anything in a dark room without sound and your brain generates colors. Yellow, red, (peaches and mangos come to mind, or honey) purple, blue (plum, raisin, grape, blackberry), and brown (chocolate, spices, toffee.)
I once heard an interview with the music producer Pharrell Williams, who talks about seeing colors in his brain when listening to beat patterns and harmonies. I thought it was an interesting parallel.
JIM KELSO, Head of Quality Control, Green Coffee Department
It’s good to point out that these flavors have direct and actual chemical correspondences, especially the fruit notes. That is, green grape = tartaric acid, apple = malic acid, butter = lactic acid. The flavor notes are a shorthand that corresponds to identifiable chemical facts translated through the medium of shared, and therefore common, taste experience.