Balance in Flavor and Extraction

coffee flavor illustration

There are different stages where coffee flavors and aroma are made soluble and “unlocked” throughout the extraction process.

Soluble materials will often dissolve immediately at the onset of being exposed to water and heat while others will take longer to really break down.

To illustrate, imagine you made a “perfect” espresso shot with a well balanced extraction and noted the exact weight and time it took.

You decide to experiment and create three even espresso shots by dividing your time and measurements by exactly ⅓ figuring you’ll end up with three much smaller espresso shots that all taste the same. So let’s say your perfect shot of espresso was timed at 30 seconds so you split the extraction time into thirds and end up with three cups with 10 seconds of extraction time each.

What will happen is the first cup will be very strong. The second cup will taste noticeably sweeter. And the final cup will seem a little bitter and very weak.

This test would demonstrate to you the order in which the flavors and aromas are unlocked.

This is also a useful way to learn how to customize your brewing. In this example, for instance, you might want to make an espresso shot that’s less bitter than usual and so you would know that this means you should “cut the last phase short”, stopping your extraction at roughly 27 seconds instead of 30.

Measuring Coffee to Achieve Flavor Balance

coffee beans on scale

Achieving balance when measuring is also important as even a fraction of an ounce of coffee grounds or water can throw things off.

This is especially true of espresso, where small differences in the weight of the coffee and water can result in either over extraction or under extraction.

The goal should be to measure coffee grounds as precisely as possible, try to keep the grind at a consistent level, and avoid anything that could cause temperature fluctuations. Keeping the consistency of all these influencing factors is critical to being able to regularly produce a good quality espresso.

This is true of all coffee - once the proper ratio of water to coffee has been figured out then weighing the coffee grounds is essential to being able to consistently produce balanced cups of coffee.

Did You Know?

Bitterness, as a stand alone flavor, is not always undesirable in coffee.

“Bad” bitterness is usually a sign of unbalance. There’s no complexity to the coffee due to over extraction or using stale beans so you’re left with a coffee that only has a bitter taste.

When mediated by other flavors, bitterness can actually help add to the coffee’s complexity and when there are no problems with extraction and you’re using fresh beans it can be a sign of a more rounded flavor profile.


What does it mean when coffee is complex?

This can be subjective, but a coffee that is characterized as complex usually features a balance of different flavors, with each flavor oscillating and revealing itself gradually and one at a time. The complexity is appreciated by those looking for a coffee that turns, shifts, and creates an overall harmonious experience.


What are coffee flavor notes?

We refer to “flavor notes” to describe the different sensations experienced in drinking coffee. Describing a coffee with “raspberry notes” isn’t meant to be taken too literally, it refers less to the coffee tasting like raspberry and more to the tangy sweetness you might closely associate with the experience of tasting a raspberry.