Everything you need to know to be a coffee expert

Australia’s coffee culture is becoming more sophisticated, as people learn more about the humble coffee bean and what it takes to make a good cuppa.

Coffee is now one of the most popular drinks in the world and ‘barista’ regarded as a solid career. Just as there are different flavours of wine and beer, so too are there different flavours of coffee that appeal to people’s palates.

Merlo Coffee was Queensland’s first coffee roaster and conducts structured ‘coffee cupping’ sessions on an ongoing basis, to teach coffee lovers about the various types of coffee. Merlo’s coffee experts suggest using the following criteria to evaluate a cup of coffee.


Before you assess the taste of the coffee, focus on the fragrance and aroma. Fragrance refers to the scent of dry coffee and aroma is the term used for wet coffee. It is not unusual to observe a distinct change in the characteristics of freshly ground coffee and that which has been saturated with water.


This is the major characteristic of the coffee. A combination of the taste on your tongue and the smell of aroma, coffee flavour gives an overall evaluation of the coffee taste.


Acidity is a highly desirable characteristic that adds sparkle and verve to the cup. It can be citrusy, berry or green apple-like. It creates a pleasant taste on the palate and is termed bright, effervescent and crisp. Acidity is to coffee what dryness is to wine, so coffees without acidity tend to taste flat and dull, like flat soda. Darker roasts tend to have flattened acidity. Acidity is best observed on the first taste.


Body is the physical mouth-feel and texture of a coffee — the physical sensation on your tongue or roof of your mouth. A coffee’s body (light, medium, full) is its thickness due to the amount of dissolved and suspended solids extracted from the coffee grounds, and may range from thin and watery to thick and creamy.

To really improve your coffee knowledge, check out the SCAA Coffee Taster’s Flavour Wheel and become familiar with Merlo Coffee’s glossary of coffee terms:

  • Bitter: Not to be confused with acidity. This is a harsh and unpleasant flavour.
  • Burnt: The result of over-roasting, like burnt toast or charcoal.
  • Caramel: A sweet, caramelised sugar taste.
  • Clean cup: Pure coffee flavour, free of any defect or taint.
  • Complex: Many flavours present simultaneously.
  • Earthy: Aroma or taste of rich wet soil, usually found in wet hulled coffees.
  • Flat: Dull and boring, characteristic of an old coffee.
  • Fruity: Reminiscent of fruit. For example, berries or stone fruit.
  • Grassy: Like a newly-mowed lawn.
  • Green: Tastes of unripe fruit.
  • Mellow: Soft with low acidity.
  • Mild: Light-bodied, low/medium acidity.
  • Musty: A bit like mildew. Undesirable.
  • Soft: Low acidity, mellow sweetness, pleasant.
  • Spicy: Reminiscent of spices. For example, cloves, cinnamon or pepper.
  • Stinky: Rotten flavour – sour odour caused by the presence of ‘stinker’ beans, which are caused by over-fermentation.
  • Sweet: Can be sugary, syrupy, fruity or more subtle and nutty.
  • Thin: Watery, wishy washy.
  • Woody: Can refer to anything from cedar to sawdust.