We always see them prominently displayed on coffee bags, and they all seem to compete for our attention. Tasting notes are useful when choosing between coffee X and coffee Y. We usually know what kind of taste profile we're looking for, and this information can often help us make an informed choice. But what do you do when, once the coffee has been prepared, you can't detect the taste of citrus marmalade or Asian pear promised on the bag? Should you question all your techniques? And first of all, what exactly do Asian pears taste like?
It's a classic situation. We buy a bag of coffee that promises exotic, refined tastes, only to find that... it tastes like coffee. I'm exaggerating a little; when the roaster has done a good job, the tasting notes should really guide us in our purchase. They're a way of summing up the coffee you're about to drink. The notes tell us about the origin, variety, process, altitude and degree of roasting. For example, when you taste a Brazilian coffee with notes of milk chocolate, roasted nuts and caramel, you know that you're dealing with a coffee that's intended more for espresso, and has probably been roasted with this in mind. Indeed, the more you "roast" coffee beans, the more you caramelize the sugars on top. So you can influence the taste of the coffee by choosing when and to what degree to take it out of the oven. In a nutshell, the longer you wait, the more floral and fruity tastes will give way to jam, baked sugar or chocolate. So far, it's pretty straightforward: the tasting notes allow the roaster to simply sum up a coffee.
Of course, it gets more complicated. In recent years, we've seen a kind of one-upmanship when it comes to exoticism and the precision of tasting notes. You can now see ultra-precise notes on some bags: lesser-known exotic fruits, varieties of tea only found in a small part of China, flowers you've never heard of, among others. It's easy to see why: all the roasters are competing for your attention. We're all trying to find the formula, the description, the element, that will make you buy our coffee. For some, this involves very precise tasting notes. The problem is, it can be pretty intimidating. What do you do when a coffee promises a lychee taste and you've never had one? A bag of coffee tells us it smells of pu'erh, ah well. In our opinion, tasting notes should be inviting, not stressful. They should give us, at a glance, a good idea of the experience we're about to have, not make us question our culinary knowledge. What's more, tasting notes are subjective. Coffee doesn't really taste like caramel or drupes, it just reminds us of them. And memories can sometimes be deceiving. Drink a fruity coffee when you've recently eaten strawberries, for example. Chances are you'll find hints of strawberries in your coffee.
At JUNGLE, we make the choice (we hope it's the right one) to remain a little more vague, more general about tasting notes. Of course, there are times when we'll go into too much detail when it's really clear-cut, but in general, we feel that what really counts is how you find it. For us, tasting notes are there to be an invitation to discovery rather than an end in themselves. The last thing we want is for you to feel intimidated by a coffee, because it seems inaccessible. On the contrary, we want the notes to be the start of a conversation between the producer, you and us. That they pique your curiosity rather than repel it. In short, that they fulfill their mission, which is to make you drink good coffee, to your taste.