How to Evaluate the Best Instant Coffee Like a Pro
While coffee professionals have the know-how of describing taste and judge instant coffee quality, enthusiasts may not have the same knowledge. We are here to help you learn the basics of how to evaluate your instant coffee.
With millions of instant coffee drinkers in the United States alone, it’s no wonder there are many coffee enthusiasts around the globe. Ever wondered how to describe coffee flavor, taste coffee like a pro, and be able to judge the qualities of your own cups of coffee? We got you covered.
Elements of Coffee Tasting
Coffee tasting itself may seem very simple: you just drink it right? In reality, various elements of tasting coffee are used to judge a single cup of freshly brewed coffee or quality instant coffee. These taste categories are used to examine the coffee from different perspectives and can be used to judge the quality of the coffee beans and the roasting techniques. There are seven different key elements to evaluating your coffee: aroma, flavor, body, bitterness, sweetness, acidity, and aftertaste.
This refers to the smell of brewed or instant coffee when mixed with water. On the other hand, the scent of the coffee grounds before prepared is called fragrance. The coffee aroma is an essential part of the coffee experience and sets the stage for coffee flavor. This is because it is a good indicator of the overall freshness of the coffee and its quality. It can help expose any off flavors or if there were any coffee bean defects. A coffee’s aroma can also be affected by the roast of coffee bean, where fresher roasts will have a stronger aroma. A variety of descriptors can be used to describe the scent of brewed coffee. A few include floral, nutty, citrus fruits, and caramel.
Flavor refers to the taste of the coffee and also includes the overall idea of all the other qualities: aroma, body, bitterness, sweetness, acidity, and aftertaste. It can be complex with hints of many different tastes, as it is with specialty coffee. If the coffee is flat or one-dimensional, it may be due to poor processing or storage of the beans or grounds. This is because coffee flavor can be determined by the bean’s organic makeup, caramelization of sugars during bean roasting, roast levels, and many more. A few flavors that can be found in coffee can include berries, fruits, chocolate, flowers, and spices.
This can also be called “mouthfeel.” This refers to the weight of the coffee in the mouth and the tactile feeling of how the coffee coats your tongue. This feeling can be related to the fats, oils, and sediments from the coffee. When describing the body, you are referring the overall heaviness, thickness, or viscosity of the coffee. The categories are usually light, medium, or full-bodied, but descriptors can also include buttery, thick, watery, and syrupy.
The bitterness of coffee is just one of four different sensory experiences of taste you can experience at the back of the mouth. However, only two of the four flavor sensations are related to coffee. This sharpness of taste can be felt near the back of the mouth and can also be sensed in the aftertaste. Bitterness is wanted in coffee to a certain extent, such as in espresso or darker roasts as it can add to the fullness of taste. However, too much bitterness can be unpleasant and can be a result of over-extraction while brewing or using a too fine of a coffee ground. It can also be affected by the type of coffee bean used, such as Arabica or Robusta. Traditional instant coffees taste bitter because they are made of only Robusta beans. A premium instant coffee is made of 100% Arabica beans so it doesn't taste bitter at all.
Sweetness is the second flavor sensation that can be experienced while drinking coffee. It provides a smoothness and flavor without undesirable tastes or harshness. Unlike the usual sweet taste of sugar or candy, the sweetness in coffee involves a larger range of quality. For instance, a few sweet qualities that coffee may contain and described as are fruity, chocolaty, or caramelly.
This refers to the “brightness” of the coffee and is usually experienced as a sharp but pleasant aftertaste near the front of the mouth. It also helps to enhance the other qualities of coffee and the amount of acidity in the coffee can indicate quality. Acidity does not refer to the pH levels of coffee itself, but the tart taste on the tip of your tongue. Acidity can be described as smooth, tangy, lemony, crisp, flat, sharp, and more. Waka Coffee's instant coffee, for example, has a light fruity acidity.
This is the taste that lingers on the tongue after drinking coffee and is also called the finish or “nose”. The amount of time it lingers depends on the coffee and those with a heavier body tend to have a stronger aftertaste. The aftertaste can also be a dry, parched sensation, or clean, smooth feeling. A few descriptors of the aftertaste flavors can also include fruity, smoky, chocolaty, and more.
Coffee Tasting Technique: Coffee Cupping
Now that we’ve covered how to describe coffee’s taste using seven different elements, you must be wondering “Well how do we drink coffee? Is there a special way?” Professional coffee reviewers have a specific way they like to taste their coffee and we’ll cover all the techniques so you can learn to taste instant coffee like a pro!
As with anything, practice makes perfect. This means both coffee professionals and enthusiasts alike need to practice coffee tasting in order to explore a variety of coffee tastes and strengthen the palate. By strengthening the palate, you are then able to distinguish a variety of flavor notes your coffee. The practice used to taste coffee is called Coffee Cupping and it involves three steps:
Start by taking a look at what is in your cup. Make sure to note the color of the coffee and the consistency of the liquid.
Next, take a deep sniff of your coffee. Smell (or aroma) is a big indicator of how the coffee will taste like. You are also able to get a sense of the freshness and quality of the coffee.
Lastly, rather than just drink the coffee, you want to slurp it as loudly as you can- just like with wine. By slurping it, you are sucking in the liquid and allowing it to coat across your entire palate. Slurping also allows for aeration, which lets the aroma pass through your nose. By doing this, both your tongue and nose are able to work together to detect the different flavors in the coffee.
While there are different ways to determine coffee quality, many ratings are dependent on using the cupping method along with a grade score out of 100 points based on the taste of coffee and the categories mentioned earlier: aroma, acidity, body, flavor, and aftertaste. While the evaluation coffee using sensory experiences can be somewhat skewed due to personal preference, the basis of good coffee remains unchanged. For instance, acidity is good unless it is too strong or overbearing, smooth mouthfeel is better than a watery one, too much bitterness is bad, and complex aromas are better than flat or one-dimensional ones.
What is Considered Good Instant Coffee?
Now that we’ve covered what good coffee tastes like and how to evaluate your coffee, we have an instant coffee guide for you! What would be the best tasting instant coffee and why?
With instant coffee, what will be the biggest factor in its taste is the type of bean and the drying process used. Arabica beans contains sweet flavor notes and Robusta beans contain earthy and bitter flavor notes. It is because of the harsh bitter taste of Robusta that most people prefer Arabica beans.
Additionally, there are two drying processes: spray drying and freeze drying. Spray drying includes using hot air to evaporate water from the beans, which destroys the original flavors and aroma of the coffee bean. Freeze drying is when coffee extract is frozen and liquid sublimation (ice immediately changes to steam) occurs. This process preserves more of the coffee bean’s natural flavor.
In this case, the best instant coffee would be:
- Made from 100% Arabica beans.
- Coffee that has been freeze dried.
Waka Coffee is a premium instant coffee that is made with 100% freeze dried Arabica beans. As we mentioned in this article about how to evaluate and review coffee, Waka Coffee has also been reviewed by coffee professionals using the elements first introduced at the beginning of the article.
It has been described by Coffee Review as being “caramel-toned, richly sweet. Dark caramel, magnolia-like flowers, cedar, baker’s chocolate, a hint of apricot in aroma and cup. Sweet-toned in structure with brisk acidity; smooth mouthfeel” and the finish being “crisply sweet and resonant, with lingering notes of caramel and apricot.”
Coffee Cantata mentioned that there was a “nice balance of butterscotch sweetness with subtle citrus/orange acidity” and “there was zero bitterness and no unpleasant flavors that I would have felt the need to cover up with milk and sugar.”
Waka Coffee’s instant coffee has also been described in stages by Best Quality Coffee. “The first stage hits you with a strong smokey taste characteristic of a deep dark roast…After enjoying the bold flavor, I noticed it quickly tapered into a smooth and balanced aftertaste where subtle citrus notes were readily discernible. I was impressed by how true this coffee remained to the traditional coffee experience.”
Cracked Beans, like the other professional reviewers, mentioned the flavor profile and acidity of Waka Coffee. “This cup of Waka Coffee’s acidity is not overbearing…It has a light, citrusy, well-rounded flavor profile that exceeds many expensive coffee shop drinks I have had.”
You can read more about why professional coffee reviewers rave about our coffee in our previous blog post here.
We hope you have learned to judge a coffee using the seven different factors and taste coffee like a professional! Waka Coffee’s professional reviews are a "live example" of true professional coffee reviews and how coffee brands and beans are judged. Remember, practice makes perfect! Have fun while coffee tasting and eventually even you’ll have a palate of a pro!