What Fruit Flavors are Common in Coffee?

Our coffee notes series continues with this entry covering “Fruity” notes.

See our previous entry regarding “Floral” notes here!

The Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Flavor Wheel

The SCAA, or Specialty Coffee Association of America, is one of the foremost coffee trade associations in the United States.  The standards that the SCAA has devised run the gamut- from water quality, green coffee, roasting, and even a procedure for cupping. If you’ve looked at new drip coffee makers in recent years, you’ll notice that some even come with an SCAA certification on them, indicating that they are guaranteed to brew coffee at the SCAA standardized temperature, and providing an overall high quality brew. 

In addition to working with coffee maker manufactures, the SCAA has also come up with a flavor wheel that lists just about any flavor you’ll come across in your coffee adventures.  This flavor wheel is ideal for those looking to expand their coffee palette and appreciate the subtle differences between different origins and blends. These differences in taste and aromas are known as coffee “notes”; coffee beans from different origins, different growing conditions, and different roasting exhibit different notes, producing countless combinations of these subtle differences.

What are Coffee Notes?

Coffee notes

Coffee notes are not to be confused with flavored coffee, where coffee grounds have been treated with additional, and usually unnatural, flavoring agents after roasting. Notes may be difficult to detect, depend on the brewing method used, and often require developing your palette over time to appreciate.  A good way to describe coffee notes is that the coffee contains the “essence” of the note- the finish of a coffee may distinctly remind you of hazelnut, for example, despite the taste being in the background. Chances are you’ve had a cup of coffee and matched some component of the flavor profile to something else. One of the best ways to taste notes in a specific coffee and cultivate a palette for them is by using a light to medium roast of your chosen origin and to brew it in a French press.  Additionally, if your local cafe hosts any cuppings you can closely compare a variety of brews to appreciate the slight differences in aroma and flavor.

Organizational Scheme of the SCAA Flavor Wheel

This flavor wheel has three rings- starting out at the most general classification and getting more specific the further from the center you go. For instance, the sweet category contains five subcategories, and one of those options has four notes attached to it: brown sugar as a subcategory of sweet, including the notes of molasses, maple syrup, caramelized, and honey. 

Fruity Note Category

With an understanding of the SCAA Flavor Wheel generally, let’s look now specifically at the fruity category, which contains the subcategories of berry, dried fruit, other fruit, and citrus fruit.

“Berry” Subcategory

Berry coffee

The subcategory of “berry” covers a lot of ground, and relates to notes of blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, and strawberry. When looking for coffee specifically with berry notes, a particular region of interest is Africa- and if you’re specifically looking for origins with blueberry notes, Ethiopian and Kenyan beans that have been naturally processed will be your best bet.

“Dried Fruit” Subcategory

The “dried fruit” subcategory of the fruity category contains only two specific notes: raisin and prune. One popular choice for coffee with raisin notes is Kenya; right next door to Ethiopia. Another location to reliably get coffee with these two notes is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

dried fruit

“Other Fruit” Subcategory

When it comes to the “other fruit” subcategory, there is no shortage of available notes; this subcategory is a bit of a grab-bag.  Ranging from coconut to pear, including grape, apple, peach, and more, coffee with these notes can come from a variety of regions. However, the general consensus is that coffee from the Central America and African regions tend to have a lot of these associated notes, specifically cherry. Ethiopian coffee that is processed either processed naturally or washed often has minor notes of pineapple, as well as peach.

“Citrus Fruit” Subcategory

citrus fruit

The last subcategory remaining, citrus fruit, has four different notes: grapefruit, orange, lemon, and lime.  Coffee acidity tends to be the highest contributor to these specific notes, meaning that the soil and processing method have considerable impact on any associated citrus notes. However, you can find notes of citrus fruit in a variety of coffees you may encounter- even your garden-variety blend available at your local supermarket. 

When considering particular origins that exhibit fruity notes, Ethiopia is a powerhouse when it comes to fruity flavors generally and the citrus subcategory is no exception. The Guji growing region inside of Ethiopia is renowned for its lime notes- and the Yirgacheffe growing region is a prime location to find notes of orange.  The San Marcos region of Guatemala offers the pleasant Grapefruit flavor profile.

Fruity Notes: Takeaways

Africa is a region responsible for producing coffee that chiefly exhibits fruity notes in coffee. While there are a variety of factors that can contribute to fruity notes, such as roasting and processing methods, one of the prime reasons is the soil and climate.  Additionally, coffee that is processed naturally will have a stronger flavor profile of the bean itself, whereas wet and semi-dry processing offer more altered flavor profiles, due to their minor fermentation periods.

Coffee tasting notes do vary palate to palate. Some may taste notes of cherry in a cup, but someone else might taste rubber (also represented on the SCAA wheel). Developing a quality palette for coffee notes takes both time and practice.  When doing coffee cuppings, it is best to avoid the packaging information and try to pick out specific flavors yourself. A great way to improve your palette for discriminating coffee notes is by acquiring an aroma kit- a box that comes with vials full of specific note related essential oils that can be compared to a cup of coffee.  You can also pair cups of coffee with foods associated with the growing region: try eating cherries with coffee from Kenya, for example. As you continue to experiment, your palette will gradually improve and it will become easier to detect a variety of notes that you previously weren’t able to, giving you a greater appreciation for your morning cup.

Jay Arr

Jay Arr is passionate about everything coffee. What began as a simple interest in the history, production, and brewing of coffee led him to a job as a barista at a national coffee chain. That’s not where Jay’s story with coffee ends, however. Roasting and brewing day in and out, he continued to gather knowledge about all things coffee.

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