How sweet is your cup?


At Intelligentsia we believe that sweetness (taste sensation based on sucrose) is the key to coffee; the more inherent sweetness a coffee exhibits, the better.  This means that as roasters we have more to play with during the roasting cycle. We can, in part, manipulate sweetness to bring out either more fruit sweet or caramelized sweetness, accompanied by the overarching goal to hit the target flavor descriptors decided during the initial purchase process.

‘How do we perceive sweetness?’ I hear you ask.  Well, that is a great question. The SCAA describes sweetness as:

“Sweetness refers to a pleasing fullness of flavor as well as any obvious sweetness and its perception is the result of the presence of certain carbohydrates. The opposite of sweetness in this contest is sour, astringency or “green” flavors”.

Personally, the last sentence in above quotation really helped drive home the idea of sweetness in coffee; I find it to be a coating/ viscous sensation on my tongue. Astringency, which we find a lot of whilst cupping, is a drying sensation that leaves more to be desired.

As Carl Staub (Agtron) touched on, in the “Basic Chemical Reactions” during roasting, there are different types of sugars within coffee:

“In lighter roasts there will be more trigonelline, hence bitterness, but also less sugar caramelization. Caramelized sugar is less sweet in the cup than non caramelized sugar, so when properly roasted these two constituents form an interesting compliment to each other.”

Bitterness is a large, umbrella term and can be applied in a variety of ways to describe a sensation in tasting coffee. Some coffee-drinkers make the mistake of attaching the thought “bitter” to all roasts described as light. A lighter roast, in actuality, might contain more fruit sweetness rather then a more caramel sweetness.

For me when roasting, it’s like balancing act because we want our coffees to be as sweet as possible.  This, in combination with knowing what “target” flavors we are trying to bring out in the coffee itself will dictate how we will let the coffee develop during the roast cycle, which I will go further into this later.

There are many variables within and outside of the roasting cycle that we contend with when trying to capture sweetness in the cup. I will be going into as many of these as I can in upcoming posts, as well as a blow for blow account of our roasting process to better explain the ‘balancing act.’

Till next time.


Edited by Jared



  1. keep me posted 😉

  2. Awesome dude, can’t wait to read more about the roasting process.

  3. […] (Eds Note: Here’s a little repost from one of our favorite roasters, Deaton Pigot. Comment here or at his blog) […]

  4. I often find that a lot of people attach the ‘bitter’ descriptor to dry-processed coffee… That retention of a real fruity acidity, which we LOVE about our Ethiopians, isn’t widely well-understood outside of coffee geekdom!

    But for real full-on sweetness, I haven’t ever previously experienced anything as ridiculously caramelly as our latest shipment of Java Blawan Estate. It’s insane stuff!

  5. […] I mentioned in my post “How sweet is your cup ” I find the balancing of fruit sweet (fructose) with the sugar browning reactions or […]

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