cup of coffee with flavor metaphor

Coffee Flavor Groupings

We go into a lot of detail on soluble coffee compounds on this page to give you an idea on how coffee compounds can be grouped and how those groupings can be used to understand how different flavor profiles are shaped.

The former executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), Ted Lingle first categorized coffee flavors using their molecular weight.

Those groupings have become essential to refining and controlling flavors because they facilitate an analysis of the coffee in a way that makes it possible to tell if the coffee has been over or under extracted.

The four groups are as follows:

Browning Sugars

This group of coffee molecules, not surprisingly, leads to a coffee that has vanilla, chocolate or caramelized tasting notes. When roasted, the sugars are caramelized and result in an enhancing of the sweetness of the coffee.

Dry Distillates

These compounds are unlocked during the Maillard reaction and tend to lead to more smoky and sometimes carbon flavors. Dry Distillates take a very long time to become soluble and are quite potent, which means they can end up overwhelming the more subtle flavors.

Fruity Acids

These molecules are rapidly extracted and are usually the first to become soluble in brewing. They bring about light, floral, and fruity aromas.

Maillard Compounds

Maillard Compounds are the by-products of roasting and tend to yield a more nutty, toasted flavor.

Understanding Extraction and Coffee Flavor

You can use these flavor groupings in combination with taste tests to get an approximation of the extraction yield without having to use technical equipment like refractometers.

For example, if your coffee has strong attributes suggesting an overwhelming presence of dry distillates and caramels, it’s a good hint that the coffee is likely to be over extracted.

On the other hand, a coffee that tastes too fruity or has a powerful floral aroma will likely be more under extracted.

Did You Know?

The impact of the aroma of coffee might be more significant than you think. The Stevens Institute of Technology conducted a study where they discovered that students taking the same exam scored higher on average when they were in a room filled with the scent of coffee.


How many different organic compounds are in a cup of sweetened coffee?

The truth is that chemists are still trying to identify all the possible compounds that influence flavor, but so far over 1,000 compounds have been identified that lead to flavor profiles we associate with nutty, sweet, earthy, etc.. tastes and aromas.


What is dry distillation in coffee?

Dry Distillation is a category of chemical compounds that give coffee more carbon like or smokey aromas and flavors.