If you’re a coffee drinker who buys packaged beans from the supermarket, you’ve probably seen the ‘intensity’ of the beans mentioned on the label. Or perhaps you’ve heard baristas and fellow coffee drinkers talking about it.
But what does coffee intensity mean? Here’s a complete guide to understanding coffee intensity – so you’ll be better informed the next time you buy your beans.
The word ‘intensity’ is used to describe the overall characteristic of a coffee blend. The term refers to how intense and rich the coffee aroma is.
So, what exactly is coffee intensity? It can be difficult to define, but the best way to learn about the term is by experiencing the taste of different blends for yourself and comparing each intensity.
Intensity of a blend is commonly followed by defining the ‘body’. To simplify it, the body determines how the brewed coffee feels to the human sense of touch; and how the texture of the liquid feels on your tongue. Hot chocolates would therefore be full-bodied, while oil is a medium-bodied consistency. Meanwhile, water has no body.
On the other hand, the meaning of espresso intensity is more about how you judge the coffee’s scent. You can find the intensity by bringing a freshly brewed coffee close to your nose and analysing how the smell feels.
Even for experts, coffee intensity is one of the most challenging qualities to determine, and because taste is subjective, it can make it hard to form a more objective opinion. A roaster needs to evaluate the intensity of their coffee before bringing it to market; so, bear their subjectivity in mind when buying beans based on intensity. Your best option is to simply be led by your own taste preferences.
To help determine coffee intensity more objectively, experts use a coffee intensity scale to measure the aroma and body. The coffee scale uses numbers ranging from 1 to 10. 1 stands for coffee with a faint aroma and almost zero body, and 10 for coffee with a consistent body and bold aroma.
In general, blends with an intensity label between 1 and 4 are light-bodied. These are perfect if you love the delicate aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Coffees rated between 5 and 7 refer to beans with a balanced body – and these flavours tend to be a little fuller. The highest intensity ranges between 8 and 10. These beans have a consistent body, giving a rich aroma when freshly brewed.
Although the scale exists to make it easier for roasters to judge coffee intensity, consumers shouldn’t depend on it entirely, because personal taste plays a big part. And many other things can affect the final taste. For example, it’s not impossible to taste an intense and rich aroma from level 5 beans. After all, your individual sense of smell and palate will make yours a unique coffee experience.
Because intensity differs from one person to another, you might simply want to explore tastes for yourself. To truly understand bean characteristics and learn how to become an expert, it all starts with sampling different blends.
It’s a good idea to change beans constantly and explore your options. After you analyse one type of blend, you can compare it to another. Doing this will help you gain experience of different types of intensity. It’ll help you sharpen your instinct and learn to make quicker flavour judgments.
To taste coffee characteristics independently, prepare your freshly brewed coffee, bring the cup just below your nose, then gently inhale. Try to grasp the aroma slowly…
You don’t have to search for the taste notes. If you’re using beans, you’ve been consuming them for a while, and you may be sidetracked by the hint of caramel or the citrus on the blend. Try to ignore these characteristics. Focus on how intense the aroma is so you can form a subjective judgement.
After exploring using your sense of smell, it’s time to taste test. Take a little sip and let the liquid move across your tongue. You might find it challenging to do these tests at first, so just enjoy experimenting.