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Why Does Coffee Leave an Aftertaste?

All of us know that coffee's final sensory experience comes from its aftertaste - the last thing that we remember once our mug is empty.

However, did you know what exactly creates the coffee's aftertaste? Well, keep on reading to find out.

In this article, we will look into the specifics of what exactly it is that causes coffee to leave an aftertaste in the mouth.

Why Does Coffee Leave An Aftertaste, and How Is It Formed?

A coffee’s aftertaste is essentially a product of all the sensory elements which you find in every sip. When we swallow it, all the elements start mingling in order to form the special thing we call aftertaste.

Acidity in the aftertaste of a coffee can be crisp as well as bright. Or even mellow and clean. It may cause the aftertaste to disappear quickly or to linger for ages. If a coffee we drink is under extracted or happens to be an acidic bean, we may be able to feel a light burn which travels down our throat.

Sweetness is one of the great things we may find in a coffee's aftertaste. Let's say I am drinking a coffee that smoothly goes down with a very pleasant sweetness. It will certainly leave the hint of that special sweetness there for me to fully enjoy for quite some time. It's like how our throat feels sweet after a wholesome bite of a delicious, fresh cake.

Of course, bitterness is rarely a thing any of us want to experience in our coffee’s aftertaste. More often than not, that bitterness is both harsh and biting. Moreover, it may even create a scratchy feeling you experience while swallowing. Generally, a bitter aftertaste comes from the over roasting or even over extraction of coffee.

It's obvious that aromas provide us with the most flavor when it comes to a total coffee experience and that is most true in terms of the aftertaste. When we swallow coffee, all the aromas start rising up to our retro nasal passages - the place where our brains interpret them as flavors. So, if our coffee’s aftertaste has a very specific and distinct flavor, it most likely comes from those aromas.

Mouthfeel very rarely contributes to the aftertaste as intensely and powerfully as all the other elements which we’re discussing as our throats don't pick up on tongue or mouthfeel. Yet keep in mind that coffee with distinct feelings may still be distinguishable and noticeable, especially when they have a sweet juicy body or a heavy creamy one.

For a better coffee tasting experience, it's important to pay attention to all the tasting elements individually and then observe how each impacts a coffee's aftertaste. In some cases, only one or even two of those elements characterize an aftertaste, but at other times, all of them have a crucial role in creating that special final moment.

Which sensory elements contribute the most to an aftertaste?

serving a hot coffee

If the aftertaste happens to be bitter or acidic, then we need to take note. Maybe the most distinguishable and noticeable element is refreshing and rich sweetness. Or the aromas are flavorful and powerful. In other words, pay attention to the elements which stick out the most.

Is there a dominant flavor which characterizes aftertaste?

When the aftertastes of some coffees lack much of the flavor, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are of a poor quality or bland, it only implies that they don't have very powerful aroma.

However, most coffees (when they are freshly ground and roasted) will provide us with plenty of aromas we can enjoy as well as think about during an aftertaste.

Does an aftertaste change?

A lot of coffees have an aftertaste that changes very slightly as the coffee starts going down. Sometimes, it begins with sweetness which evolves into the rich flavor as all the aromas rise. Or at other times, it all starts with a kind of a mellow acidity, turning into a bright one once the acids finally reach a more tender skin.

How To Describe Coffee Aftertaste

lady breathing while holding a coffee

The best way for experiencing a coffee’s aftertaste comes from breathing out deeply and slowly while we are swallowing as it allows all the liquid elements to drift down the backs of our throat and tongue without the esophagus muscles interrupting this experience. Also, it allows those rising aromas to keep flowing up and gently with a high clarity.

We can try to approach describing the aftertaste several ways, but still, I recommend my personal favorite that involves some simple questions to get you started.

These questions provide a simple and quick way for assessing an aftertaste without having any need for diving deep into each of those tasting elements. They are the ones which make it possible to touch all the highlights, but still provide you with a great reading on what an aftertaste is like overall.

Also, keep in mind that under-extracted coffee will likely produce a short and disappointing aftertaste, leaving us with kind of a sting. As for over-extracted coffee, it will most likely leave us with a heavy and dark bitterness for a while after every sip.

When we put all these questions together, we end up with a good reading on the many types of aftertaste in coffee. For example, a floral and bright coffee from Panama features a crisp as well as tingly aftertaste alongside the flowery aroma.

In contrast, an earthy Rwandan coffee features a spicy and dark chocolate-like aftertaste that is complemented by a woodsy aroma. Ethiopian coffee, on the other hand, has a fruity aftertaste alongside a pleasant sweetness as well as some mellow acidity.

Perhaps for someone who is new to coffee tasting it'll be more difficult to put the aftertaste impression into words, but the more we practice, the better we become. This means the more we try to taste everything with focus while paying attention to all the aromas and important details, we'll only improve and eventually become a professional coffee-taster.


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