Sweetness (taste sensation based on sucrose ( is the organic compound commonly known as table sugar and sometimes called saccharose. A white, odorless, crystalline powder with a sweet taste, it is best known for its role in human nutrition.) is the key to coffee; the more inherent sweetness a coffee exhibits, the better. This means that roasters have more to play with during the roasting cycle. Roasters, in part, manipulate sweetness to bring out either more fruit sweet or caramelized sweetness, accompanied by the overarching goal to hit the target flavor descriptors decided during the initial purchase process.
‘How do we perceive sweetness?’ The SCAA describes sweetness as:
“Sweetness refers to a pleasing fullness of flavor as well as any obvious sweetness and its perception is the result of the presence of certain carbohydrates. The opposite of sweetness in this contest is sour, astringency or “green” flavors”.
Personally, the last sentence in above quotation really helped drive home the idea of sweetness in coffee; I find it to be a coating/ viscous sensation on my tongue. Astringency, which we find a lot of whilst cupping, is a drying sensation that leaves more to be desired.
As Carl Staub (Agtron) touched on, in the “Basic Chemical Reactions” during roasting, there are different types of sugars within coffee:
“In lighter roasts there will be more trigonelline ( Trigonelline is an alkaloid that also found in coffee, where it may help to prevent dental caries by preventing the bacteria Streptococcus mutans from adhering to teeth. Higher levels of trigonelline is found in robusta coffee), hence bitterness, but also less sugar caramelization. Caramelized sugar is less sweet in the cup than non caramelized sugar, so when properly roasted these two constituents form an interesting compliment to each other.”
Bitterness is a large, umbrella term and can be applied in a variety of ways to describe a sensation in tasting coffee. Some coffee-drinkers make the mistake of attaching the thought “bitter” to all roasts described as light. A lighter roast, in actuality, might contain more fruit sweetness rather then a more caramel sweetness.
For me when roasting, it’s like balancing act because we want our coffees to be as sweet as possible. This, in combination with knowing what “target” flavors we are trying to bring out in the coffee itself will dictate how we will let the coffee develop during the roast cycle, which I will go further into this later.
There are many variables within and outside of the roasting cycle that we contend with when trying to capture sweetness in the cup. I will be going into as many of these as I can in upcoming posts, as well as a blow for blow account of our roasting process to better explain the ‘balancing act.’