Q-Grading Coffee: Part 3 of 5 - Body

Welcome to our third post on Q-Grading and objective tasting! This post is going to focus on the perception of body. Some of the more common descriptors coffee drinkers use to describe their cups are “bold” and “full-bodied,” but when it comes to understanding what  those descriptors actually mean, there are multiple interpretations, many of which seem vague. 

The easiest way to refer to a coffee’s “body” is to define it as the texture or perceived “weight” you feel when tasting a coffee. An easy way to start tasting for this is to run your tongue over the roof of your mouth and think about what texture you’re feeling. 

Terroir and processing play a big part here: all coffees are going to have acids, sugars, and bittering compounds, but.the percentages of each vary by coffee.

In addition to terroir, the way a roaster chooses to roast a coffee will also affect the drinker’s  perception of body. During the roasting process, a roaster can choose to manipulate many different aspects of a coffee to bring out more acidity, sugar browning, or bitter (what roasters call “dry distillate”) notes. At Little Waves, we like to let terroir be our guide when it comes to roasting; we often choose to roast according to the most celebrated aspect of a given coffee.

Ethiopian coffees have higher percentages of acids. Looking back at our previous post on acidity, we know that Ethiopian coffees present with lots of citric and malic acidity, which are commonly associated with citrus fruits, apples, and other fruits. Dinkinesh: Yukro, our current Ethiopian offering, has notes of pomegranate, lemonade, and blood orange; to highlight these notes we roast a little bit lighter. This lighter roast profile, coupled with Yukro’s washed processing method, produces a cup of coffee that’s light and juicy, like biting into a ripe blood orange.

Colombian coffees offer a different experience. Colombian coffees have always been prized for their balance and sweetness, and so at Little Waves our Colombian coffees are often roasted with those qualities in mind. During the roasting process we focus on developing this inherent sweetness during the sugar browning parts of the roast; when brewing these coffees you’ll find a syrupy, sweet, and creamy body, like the texture of maple syrup or buttercream frosting. Andino, a Colombian coffee that we offer year-round, offers milk chocolatey sweetness, and a syrupy cherry quality; we liken it to a chocolate cherry cordial.

There’s more, though: the brewing method used also plays a part in the perception of body. Pour-over methods with paper filters remove more coffee oils and insolubles and enhance light to medium bodied coffees. French press brews, where the coffee is immersed directly in water, are brewed and extracted with porous metal filters, which allow more of those coffee oils to come through and amp up a full-bodied mouthfeel.

Despite all of this, It’s important to remember that not all coffees are created equal. The examples above are common, but there will always be fun exceptions to the rule, especially as coffee producers, roasters, and baristas continue to zero in on quality and get experimental!