How to evaluate a coffee’s body

Ed. 10: Taste, when examined in more detail, is an intricate sense particularly because it is not utilized as regularly as the other senses. It would be difficult to spend a day blindfolded, but when we burn our tongues, the inconvenience does not disrupt our routine dramatically. For this reason, many people fail to develop a strong sense of taste. An ability to perceive acidity is an important part of building an acute palate, but one must also explore body, flavor and aftertaste in order to communicate a complete picture. Armed with these elements, a coffee enthusiast can widen their perspective and form more advanced opinions regarding various coffee.

Body is one of the most difficult concepts in coffee for beginner connoisseurs to grasp. Body is not nearly as emphasized as acidity or flavor can be. Acidity is a very loud cupping element, for example a flat soft drink is notably different (more bland) than a freshly carbonated soft drink. Flavor on the other hand appears in every food; it is near impossible to ignore the chocolate flavor in brownies. The second, and more subtle reason that body is so difficult to perceive, is that it does not appear as a strong element of food. Most of the taste practice our tongues receive every day comes in the form of food and not beverage. This leaves the ability to perceive body completely undeveloped and unrefined.

The best way to begin to understand body is by constructing a scale. On the extreme ends place a milkshake and water. Water will represent a thin-bodied beverage, while the milkshake will represent a thick-bodied beverage. Most coffee varietals should fall in the middle, but when you compare the body of one cup against another, you can refer to the scale.

Generally speaking, most Indonesian varietals will fall on the milkshake side of the scale, and most Latin American coffee will tend to fall to the watery side of the scale (see below). East African varietals vary by country, which renders a generalization about body unrealistic. Single origin Latin American varietals will often have a thin body because of the wet processing utilized in Latin American coffee farms. Contrast that method with the dry processing used predominantly in Indonesia.

Reid Jackson
Stockton Graham & Co.