We all love the smell of ground coffee. Even people who don’t love the taste of coffee, self admittedly really like the aroma and often wish that they enjoyed coffee.
The aroma of coffee is so rich and full, reminding us of chocolates, nuts, savory earth tones, citrus fruits, cherries, berries, caramels, or spices, and right when you grind your coffee it all hits you so pleasantly right in the nose, giving your palate a hint of what you’re about to taste.
In a previous article we discussed the importance that freshness has on the flavor of your coffee, but did you know that a fresh grind can be even more important to capturing all the potential flavors and experiences that your coffee has to offer?
The role of aroma
Coffee’s aroma is what communicates and translates what you’re tasting into specific flavors. What happens inside your mouth as you sip coffee is important, as your tongue has long been credited with perceiving four basic tastes: sweet, bitter, sour, and salty. But, largely the reason that a strawberry tastes like a strawberry to you is only partially because of your taste buds.
Flavor is more dependent on your olfactory system than it is on your tongue. Here’s why. Once you begin masticating your food or aspirating a beverage across your tongue, aromatic compounds actually travel to the back of your throat and up to your nasal passage. It is here where your nose sends signals to your brain which then identifies specific flavors based on your memory and knowledge of flavor.
Have you ever wondered why a certain spice or flavor in a home cooked meal always reminds you of an old memory, person, or place? You have associated a flavor with a place, and your mind is capable of recalling that for you.
All of this being said, flavors will be most potent and pleasant with as many of these aromatic compounds present as possible.
Flavor is in the bean
The roasted coffee bean carries all of this aroma trapped inside of itself. Once the whole bean is ground, it allows much of the aroma to escape and what’s left begins escaping at a quicker rate. While there are multiple variables – air, temperature, time, and others – that determine how quickly the aromatics dispel from the bean, air is a large factor. The more of the coffee that is exposed to air the more readily conducive the situation for aromatics to disperse.
As coffee is ground, you are drastically increasing the surface area of the coffee allowing the surrounding air to contact more of the coffee causing these aromatics to disperse, oxidize, or degrade. This is why the coffee aroma is strongest right when you open a bag of freshly roasted coffee and over time slowly reduces in strength and potency.
In order to achieve maximum flavor in your coffee at home, it is best to purchase freshly roasted coffee and grind only the coffee needed to brew and enjoy right away.