What are flavour notes in coffee & how can they be preserved?

Esther Gibbs
January 17, 2023
An image of a woman doing a coffee cupping session to determine the flavour notes in coffee and how they can be preserved

Some of the flavour notes seen on a green coffee importers list or a roaster’s packaging can seem peculiar and astute. 

Flavour notes are essentially quick guides to the aroma and taste profile of a particular coffee. A roaster’s chosen flavour notes can be a highly effective marketing tool, enticing customers to purchase the coffee. 

More so, they can be a great way to communicate what consumers can expect when they brew the coffee. 

So, how do roasters decide what these flavours are? Some may argue that flavour notes are subjective, however, there are many factors that influence the flavour of a coffee, including how it is roasted.

To learn more about deciding on flavour notes for coffee, I spoke with James Wogan from Bristol’s Wogan Coffee.

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What influences a coffee’s flavour notes?

Several different factors can influence the flavour notes of a coffee, including its species, storage, and brewing methods. 

For example, a high-altitude Ethiopian coffee with notes of blueberry, jasmine, and Darjeeling tea will lose those delicate notes if roasted to second crack or beyond. Therefore, roasters should avoid using green buying notes as descriptors on the bag of roast coffee.

“At the most basic level, roast degree is a huge factor in determining the flavour profile of a coffee,” says James, who is also a qualified Q Grader.

“Lighter roasts generally bring out more of the natural characteristics of the origin, with higher acidity and fruitier notes,” James explains. “Darker or more developed roasts bring out more caramelised sugars and earthier tones.”

James adds the coffee’s origin also plays a pivotal role. “You can usually estimate what coffee will taste like based on its country of origin,” he says. 

“Central and South American coffees generally have more caramel and citrus forward profiles, while African coffees can be more floral and tea-driven.”

Another influence is the processing method: washed, natural, honey, anaerobic, and so on. 

James explains each process can enhance or reduce distinct elements of the raw coffee and alter the final cup profile. 

“To say this is a simplification would be a massive understatement, but they’re generally true,” he adds.

As the director of a third-generation family business based in Bristol, UK, James has plenty of experience in the industry. Wogan Coffee was founded by Brian Wogan in 1970 before James’ father took over in 1991. 

Now, James and his sister Laura run Wogan Coffee and have placed a serious focus on sustainable and ethical farming practices. 

James explains the brand has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030 and has installed enough solar panels on both premises to provide the company with the total amount of energy used each year.

Additionally, all of Wogan Coffee’s local deliveries are done using electric vehicles.

An image of James Wogan from Wogan Coffee in an article on flavour notes in coffee and how to use coffee packaging to preserve the flavour notes in coffee

How are flavour notes in coffee determined?

At Wogan Coffee, James explains that the team cups every single coffee in order to determine accurate flavour notes to convey to customers.

This includes making a standardised brew of every origin in order to best taste the different elements in the cup. 

“This lets us smell the dry coffee grounds and the aroma of the wet coffee grounds, and taste the brewed coffee uniformly to make sure every coffee is treated fairly,” James says. 

He adds Wogan marks against the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) matrix, which has ten different elements.

“My key piece of advice to everyone that joins in is to trust yourself,” James says. “Being reminded of a weird smell or a funky taste is usually really useful, and can help you to track down exactly what you’re tasting.”

More so, James recommends roasters take as many sensory courses as they can, starting with the SCA and moving to Q grading.

“Courses can help you nail down individual flavour profiles, and to train your palate,” James says. “Essentially, you need to trust yourself.”

“It can be easy to follow the obvious tracks of chocolate, cherry and caramel for most coffees, but it can be more interesting and useful for customers if there are specific and niche notes on the bag,” he adds.

An image of custom printed coffee bags from Wogan Coffee with labels and flavour notes in an article on flavour notes in coffee and how to use coffee packaging to preserve the flavour notes in coffee

Communicating flavour notes on coffee packaging

An essential part of running a successful roasting business is ensuring customers enjoy your product enough to make repeat purchases. 

Including clear and appealing flavour notes on coffee bags will be key to this. 

James explains the flavour notes used on Wogan Coffee bags result from the cupping process and subsequent brewing through filter or espresso.

“We get together as a team to smell and taste every coffee, and then have a chat to decide what descriptors best fit the origin,” James says. 

He admits it can be a tricky process. “Sometimes we end up with quite a long list of flavours, but it is all part of the fun,” he laughs.

Never one to shy away from unique tasting notes, a few Wogan Coffees mention hints of Twiglets, Battenberg cake, and raisins on their coffee bags. 

“An issue we have come across is many people think we’ve added the different elements to the coffee,” James says. 

However, as the brand has a physical shop and roastery, staff are able to explain processing and flavour profiling to customers directly. 

“Online, we give as much information as we can, so customers can know everything from seed to cup,” James adds. 

More so, Wogan Coffee uses custom-printed coffee bags to convey flavour notes to customers. The brand’s coffee packaging features a distinct light and dark green colour palette that helps its iconic logo stand out. 

Customers can spot a Wogan Coffee almost instantly, thanks to the bowler-hatted silhouette of its founder, Brian Wogan. 

The multilayer coffee packaging helps to perfectly preserve the unique flavour notes of each coffee, while the easy-to-understand label ensures customers know what to expect. 

Roasters should consider flavour notes as an opportunity to be creative and express the unique experience their coffee can offer. 

More so, they should consider incorporating those flavour notes into the coffee packaging in unique and interesting ways. This may include custom-printing them directly on the coffee bags or on labels. 

Alternatively, roasters can choose to include slots for tasting cards on each coffee bag, or implement custom-printed QR codes. 

MTPak Coffee offers a selection of 100% recyclable coffee packaging options ranging from coffee bags made from renewable materials such as kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining, as well as custom coffee mailer boxes made from 100% recycled cardboard.

Our design team is available to help you customise your coffee packaging in innovative and creative ways using our digital printing technology.

This allows us to offer low minimum order quantity (MOQ) with a quick turnaround time of 40-hours and 24-hour shipping time.

For more information on custom-printed coffee bags, contact our team.

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