Coffee is more than a simple beverage; it is a beloved ritual that people of all ages engage in worldwide. Sharing a coffee with friends, relatives, and colleagues holds a significant social significance that few things can match.
Besides its social value, coffee has many health benefits from its natural caffeine content. It provides a stimulating effect that can help ward off many ailments, making it a beverage with numerous advantages.
Thus, it is essential to prioritize high-quality coffee in our daily rituals. We must understand the characteristics that define excellent coffee, starting with its intensity. By focusing on quality, we can ensure that our daily coffee ritual remains a source of pleasure and rejuvenation, something we can cherish and look forward to every day.
What is coffee intensity?
Gone are the days when coffee packaging only mentioned caffeine’s variety and possible absence. Modern consumers are more curious and attentive, so coffee packaging now includes additional information.
One such aspect is coffee intensity, which has gained popularity recently and is expressed on a graduated scale ranging from 0 to 12.
Technically, coffee intensity refers to the number of dissolved solids in the beverage (TDS: Total Dissolved Solids), according to the Specialty Coffee Association: The concentration of ground coffee powder dissolved in a cup determines the intensity, which can only be precisely measured in the laboratory using sophisticated instruments. However, it has an impact on the sensory profile of coffee.
Intensity is usually evaluated based on organoleptic characteristics, which can be classified using the five senses. We must evaluate the “body” and “aromatic intensity” to determine the coffee intensity.
Coffee will be considered intense if it has a strong aroma and full-bodied consistency. Coffee intensity is important in determining a cup of coffee’s quality and sensory experience.
What is the coffee body?
➡️ Body refers to the structure of the beverage as perceived by the palate and tongue through the sense of touch.
A coffee with a dense consistency is considered full-bodied, similar to hot chocolate. On the other hand, a beverage that lacks a body has a structure comparable to water. Ideal coffee should have a medium body, not too light or watered down, nor too rich in solid particles, which could be unpleasant on the tongue and palate.
What is the coffee aromatic intensity?
➡️ Aromatic intensity is the number of aromas a cup of coffee releases.
What is the right intensity for a coffee?
It’s important to note that a higher intensity doesn’t always equate to a superior product. Firstly, most full-bodied coffees are typically made from the Robusta variant, traditionally considered less valuable than the more noble Arabica variety.
Secondly, when considering aroma, it’s crucial to remember that an intense aroma isn’t always pleasant. If the dominant notes are unpleasant, such as ash, burnt, mildew, or earth, it’s difficult to say that the beverage is high-quality.
In premium coffee, there should be a perfect balance between body, aromatic intensity, and a bouquet of aromas. The crema should be firm, and the drink should have a dark brown colour with hazelnut undertones.
The taste should be full, enveloping, and harmonious, not too pronounced but lingering in the mouth. The aroma must be assertive but without any hint of burnt or ash.
A good coffee will be characterized by well-blended notes of dried fruit, caramel, cocoa, citrus, and toast, with none of these scents dominating. Balance is essential in a high-quality product.
What does coffee intensity depend on?
The intensity of coffee depends on a number of factors, which together represent the history of the coffee bean from plantation to the cup.
- The first element affecting the quality and intensity of the coffee is the terroir: this term, of French origin, refers to the growing area, its climate, soil characteristics and altitude above sea level. Generally speaking, cultivations at higher altitudes yield products with a more pronounced intensity.
- The second factor determining the coffee’s intensity is the harvest time: for this crop, more than for many others, the fruit must be picked when it reaches perfect ripeness.
- A third factor, which is extremely important because it allows the elimination of beans with natural defects due to a sub-optimal terroir or a too-early harvest, is selection. At this crucial stage, the knowledge and experience of the sorter come into play, who will eliminate defective fruit and send only the best ones for processing.
- The temperature during coffee roasting is crucial to the coffee’s intensity. The ideal temperature range for optimal results is between 150-180°C, with occasional peaks of 210/220°C. Roasting at this temperature range causes the beans to swell, turn shiny and brown, and enhances their natural aromas resulting in a smooth coffee with balanced and varied aromatic notes.
- A fifth factor that influences the intensity is the packaging of the roasted product (in beans or ground): materials must be used that guarantee adequate hygiene standards and preserve the coffee’s aroma and fragrance until consumption.
- Lastly, the preparation method is also important: the machine must reach adequate pressure and temperature levels to extract all the aroma and body from the powder without burning it.
Is there any connection between the intensity of coffee and the amount of caffeine?
Many people mistakenly believe that the intensity of the coffee is directly related to its caffeine content. This is not true, as the quality and intensity of coffee depend on factors related to how the fruit is grown, processed, and harvested.
The amount of caffeine in coffee primarily depends on the coffee variety used in the blend. Arabica cultivars contain moderate caffeine (0.9% to 1.7%), while the robusta cultivar is much richer (1.6% to 2.8%).
Additionally, the preparation method affects the amount of caffeine in the cup, with prolonged contact between water and coffee extracting higher amounts of caffeine.
Therefore, a full-bodied espresso with an intense aroma will contain less caffeine than a much less structured and perfumed long coffee, even though the intensity of the former is much greater than that of the latter.
How is the intensity of a coffee assessed and expressed?
Assessing the intensity of a coffee is not easy, but with practice, it is possible to become a true connoisseur. Although it is not possible, in a few lines, to deal with a subject as complex and wide-ranging as the organoleptic evaluation of coffee, it is possible to define a few important principles.
- The first is that tasting should always be done on unsweetened and uncorrected coffee to avoid other substances’ alterations in taste and aroma.
- Secondly, it is good first to assess the aromatic intensity, bringing the cup about 15 cm from the nose and inhaling deeply, concentrating on recognising the different scents.
- Finally, we move on to body analysis, taking a sip of coffee and swirling it around on the tongue and palate to assess the taste buds’ activation level.
However, those who prefer a simpler approach can rely on the indications provided by the manufacturers. For several years now, the intensity of the blend, on a standard scale ranging from 1 to 12, has been indicted on coffee packages:
- Light and delicate coffees have an intensity between 1 and 4.
- Balanced and flavoursome coffees have an intensity between 5 and 7.
- Full-bodied and persistent coffees have an intensity between 8 and 10.
- For coffees with a higher intensity and produced with special types of coffee, the intensity can be up to 12.