Basics: The Power of Aroma & how to improve your sense of smell!

Monday, 25 March, 2024

I'm willing to bet, that by looking at the images above you have a reference of smell for each: jasmine, mixed berries, roasted walnuts and fresh cut orange.

And as crazy as it sounds, you can find these aromas when smelling coffee too! What a world! It's one of the best sensations: Opening a new bag of coffee and enjoying the aroma as it fills the room.

A coffee's aroma is created by the coffee's volatile components - vapours and gases - which are released from the roasted and brewed coffee and then inhaled through the nose where they come in contact with the olfactory (nasal) membranes. 

The aroma is most pungent directly after grinding and at the beginning of the brewing process, when those volatile vapours are released. 

The darker the roast the more 'the same' the aroma notes seem. This is the 'coffee' aroma that most people are accustomed to. It smells 'roasty' in a good way, for want of a better word. The lighter the roast (up to a certain point), the more likely you'll be able to pick up the fruity and floral highlights in particular coffees.

In fact aroma is so important to flavour, particularly in competition, that tools have been designed to try and salvage more of the aroma compounds and keep them in the cup, so that the flavour of coffees is enhanced! These tools aim to rapidly cool the coffee as it is being brewed which is said to stabilise those aroma compounds for a more intense aroma experience!

Smelling coffee is also important for coffee professionals who taste it for a living, who train all their senses, smell chief among them.

Le Nez Du Cafe (pictured above) is a well respected and widely used tool for improving professionals sense of smell and differentiation between similar smells. As they state on their website:  "The sense of smell constitutes the most important sense in the perception of a coffee. But it is often difficult to identify an aroma in your coffee cup. Have you already encountered the feeling that you know a smell without being able to recognise it? Nothing is more normal! In the same way that we learned to read, write, or count, smelling also requires training."

The best (and most affordable) way to improve your sense of smell is simply to do it more intentionally. The more you do it, the more you can pinpoint the aroma note or memory in your mind, improving your library of smells.

The great thing is that most coffee labels give you some clues to what the roaster tasted. Even if you can't pick up what they did, it gets you thinking! I used to feel very nervous when asked to give flavour notes when tasting coffee, but eventually I came to the realisation I was taking it far too seriously. And in fact, it is a lot of fun exploring how we taste and smell from our different, or collective, memories.

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