A question of taste...
Can someone explain to me what "bitter" means in terms of coffee?
I just did part of a barista course and got a lot out of it, but I'm left perplexed and convinced that my preference for coffee reaches far far into overextraction.
The "ideal" shots were (to me) smooth, with delicious aroma but not a great deal of flavour. These made very nice milk drinks. The overextracted (say 29sec vs the 23-25sec ideal) shots were called bitter by others, but to me had the sweet astringency that I enjoy in black coffee (especially in long blacks) which previously I would have referred to as "bright" or "high acidity". It's tangy, rather than what I'd call typically bitter (which I've had plenty of tastes of while I was learning/burning on a popper). I didn't taste anything I'd call bitter because we were all pulling decent shots.
So what gives? Is it that the commercial taste for a coffee is blander/smoother than in an environment where you're only trying to please yourself or have I inadvertantly taught myself to like a flavour element that most people don't?
My understanding is that bitterness concentrates the taste of a shot toward the back of the tongue. Why are you assuming that 29 seconds v 23-25 is over extracted? Wouldn't it depend on what is coming out of the spout when you stop the shot?
It is indeed a question of taste - which is highly individualised. Some people are less sensitive to bitter taste than others, some even enjoy it. The whole idea of bitter receptors being where they are, at the back of the tongue, and being so closely associated with the gag reflex, is to stop us eating poisonous plants which commonly contain bitter substances. I have to admit bitterness is not my favourite part of coffee and makes most beer completely undrinkable, but the great thing about taste being individual is that no-one can tell you what you should like.
I thought that receptor-location thing was supposed to be a load of bollocks?
As for the rest of it, that's what's confusing. The nature of sweet/bitter/sour/salty/umami is pretty objective, isn't it? (Irrespective of what you enjoy)
So what I figured was that either people are using "bitter" to describe any unpleasant taste in coffee (possible but unlikely given the apparent credentials of some of the people involved) or my palate/taste-vocab is way out of whack.
That said, it was also said that underextraction resulted in bitterness and that overextraction burned the coffee, both of which I understand to be incorrect, so maybe I'm not the crazy one here...
If the result produced by a 23-25sec shot was deemed to be ideal, wouldn't that indicate that with the same grind/beans/temp/machine/enviroment a few minutes later, a 29sec shot (marginally heavier dose/tamp) would be overextracted, according to their tastes/yardstick?
Originally Posted by Barry O'Speedwagon
No Dg, not a load of bollocks. if you read the story of taste sensory mapping you'll find that
test results were published with some serious misunderstandings. This happened way back, early last century.
These days it's pretty widely understood that although there are regions of the palate which have higher concentrations
of the various receptors there is a smattering of most of the receptors throughout the palate, mouth and throat with no distinct zones
that only have one type of receptor.
The fact that sour is perceived mostly at the front of the palate and bitter towards the back (and even on the epiglottis,
which is back at the entrance to the larynx), is still correct.
My own experience with helping people understand the tastes of coffee is that most people confuse sour with bitter.
Sourness, or the perception of acid, is the most obvious, the strongest and most disagreeable flavour in poorly roasted,
poorly made or unbalanced coffee. It's like a culinary smack in the mouth, very front palate, even on the inside of your lips,
where there are sour receptors as well. Strongly sour foods/liquids will even get your tongue working overtime to 'push' the bad taste
out of your mouth. Rotten or spoiled meat, over ripe fruit will contain sour and harmful toxins which trigger this response.
As 'haba' says above, a lot of naturally occurring, plant based toxins are bitter, which trigger the gag reflex. Some highly poisonous chemicals
have the most bitter compound known to man, denatonium, added to do just that, prevent ingestion by triggering an extreme gag reflex.
As far as shot extraction times go....... for me with my set up, technique and coffee anything less than 25 sec is tending towards sour but
extreme bitterness doesn't start until over 35 secs.; 29 secs is fine.
Sourness from faster pours can be masked with well stretched milk, which will be naturally sweet, the sourness giving the coffee some 'cut'.
Apart from that, it's just too hard to appraise specific taste (this or that shot) without tasting but just by talking/writing about it
Cheers Chokki, I really appreciate the explanation.
The "Truth about Taste" which was viewed on SBS on Monday night may be relevant to this discussion. The following is a link: SBS: Documentary - The Truth About Taste
One interesting bit was about Supertasters and how tastes are different things to different people depending on your taste bud make-up concentration etc...
.............. and whether or not you're a smoker or have trouble with your olfactory function.
Thanks for posting the link GK, knew the show was coming but didn't get to see it, so, ta!