Aftertaste Of Coffee: What It Is And How to Describe It

Have you heard baristas and coffee enthusiasts talking about the aftertaste of coffee? You might also have noticed the tasting notes described on specialty coffee bags. Would you like to get in on the tasting fun yourself but are unsure how?

Analyzing coffee flavor isn’t as hard as you might think. Read on to find out what coffee aftertaste is and how you can describe it. With a bit of practice, you’ll be tasting coffee like a seasoned barista!

What is aftertaste?

Aftertaste describes the flavors, notes, and aromas that briefly linger in your mouth after consuming something. It is the final sensory experience after swallowing food or drink.

Coffee is similar to wine in the sense that the aftertaste can contribute as much to your enjoyment of it as the initial flavors. Just like wine snobs, coffee enthusiasts share their interest in lingering flavor notes.

But the aftertaste isn’t just about the flavor. Strictly speaking, the sense of taste comes from your mouth, but your nose plays a large part in our perception of aromas and flavors. After all, your mouth is connected to your nasal cavity!

After you swallow a sip of coffee, your esophagus muscles push certain chemicals up from the back of your throat to your nasal cavity, where they will blend and linger. This effect can contribute strongly to the perceived aftertaste. So perhaps it would be more appropriate to call it after-odor or after-aroma.

woman trying to determine aftertaste of coffee

What creates the coffee aftertaste?

Let’s try to understand how coffee’s aftertaste forms as it will help you to describe it. It takes a bit of science to get it but don’t be scared — it’s all quite simple. You don’t need a Ph.D. here!

Compared to other drinks, coffee flavors linger in your mouth for a much longer time. For example, the aftertaste of espresso can last up to 15 minutes. It happens due to a few different solubles that roasted coffee beans contain.

Coffee solubles are substances that can be dissolved in water and contribute to the taste of coffee. The water-soluble compounds, such as fruit acids and caffeine, are the easiest to dissolve into your saliva. Therefore, they are responsible for the immediate, non-lingering fruity notes.

Other compounds in roasted coffee beans are lipids, natural fats, and oils. They are not soluble, but hot water helps to release these compounds in the form of an emulsion. Lipids are responsible for nutty, vanilla, and chocolate flavor notes.

Lipid molecules coat your palate and create a pleasant lasting impression on your taste buds. However, if the coffee extraction is not optimal, the lingering taste in your mouth will not be that enjoyable. 

When coffee beans are exposed to either roasting or brewing heat for too long, it causes the release of too many coffee oils. Therefore, over-roasting or over-extracting coffee results in a harsh and bitter aftertaste.

No wonder when people talk about the aftertaste of coffee, they often say they don’t like it. But, in reality, they probably don’t enjoy the bitterness of poor-quality, over-roasted coffee. Therefore, they use sugar, milk, cream, or other coffee add-ins to minimize the unpleasant lingering sensation.

strong black coffee

Coffee qualities related to its aftertaste

The coffee aftertaste is one of the characteristics of coffee flavor, alongside mouthfeel, acidity, aroma, bitterness, and sweetness. So let’s analyze these qualities and see how they contribute to your sensory perception and, ultimately, the enjoyment of your coffee.


The mouthfeel or body describes the physical characteristics of coffee in your mouth, such as heaviness — how it coats your tongue and whether it feels oily or watery.

The mouthfeel is the first thing you notice when you take a sip of coffee, but it doesn’t contribute much to the aftertaste unless it is exceptionally creamy or fruity.


Acidity is responsible for the crisp, bright flavor of the coffee. It is directly related to the aftertaste and how long it lingers on your palate. More acidic coffee has a long lingering aftertaste and slight burn in your throat, while the aftertaste of less acidic coffee disappears quickly.

You’d get a bland coffee without a good balance of acidity. However, the balance is key here. Also, coffee acidity is not to be confused with coffee sourness. If your coffee tastes sour, it’s probably under-extracted or under-roasted.

espresso cup and water with lemon


Many people wouldn’t think of coffee as sweet unless they add sweetener. However, natural sweetness is an essential flavor component of good coffee. 

Carefully grown and harvested, professionally roasted coffee will leave a pleasant, sweet aftertaste in your mouth. However, the brewing process also affects coffee sweetness, determining how much natural sugars the water will extract from ground coffee. 


Smell has a major role in your taste perception. When you take a sip of coffee, the aroma molecules travel from your throat to your nasal passages. 

Due to retronasal olfaction, your brain gets signals to identify the flavors. Therefore, you may be experiencing the aroma even after swallowing your coffee.


Receptors located at the back of your tongue are responsible for detecting bitterness. Even though bitterness is one of the components of a balanced coffee flavor, it is not a desirable quality of the aftertaste.

If intense bitterness lingers on your tongue for a long time after swallowing or it’s overpowering, it may indicate badly roasted and over-extracted coffee.

espresso machine brewing espresso

How can you describe the aftertaste of coffee?

Once you know what affects coffee aftertaste, you can start analyzing it. But how can you describe the aftertaste of coffee in the best way?

Follow these steps to experience coffee aftertaste:

  1. Take a deep breath and take a sip of coffee.
  2. Keep it in your mouth for a couple of seconds.
  3. Breathe out slowly as you swallow.
  4. Try to think about what the flavors remind you of.

As you start noticing the aftertaste, ask yourself the following questions.

1. What sensory elements can you notice?

Pay attention to the sensory characteristics that stand out in the aftertaste. For example, is there an intense sweetness, like you’d just eaten sweet fruit? Do you feel a tang or a slight sting of acidity? Can you detect a powerful aroma or noticeable bitterness?

Memorize the dominant sensory elements. They will serve as a base for describing the aftertaste.

2. Is there a dominant flavor?

Next, focus on the most prevalent flavor you detect. What does it remind you of? Depending on the beans, you might discern a strong chocolate-like flavor, hints of citrus fruit, or spicy notes reminding you of cardamom or cloves.

If you can’t define the flavors, don’t panic — that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your tastebuds. Coffee that is not freshly roasted or freshly ground may not have an intense flavor.

woman doing coffee cup tasting

3. Does the aftertaste intensify or fade?

As you continue experiencing coffee aftertaste, observe how it develops. Depending on coffee beans, the aftertaste can radically change as flavor compounds dissolve in your mouth.

The subtle sweetness might transition to spicy, rich notes. Or the initially mellow aftertaste could evolve into bright and tangy acidity. Experienced coffee tasters often take notes of these aftertaste changes.

4. Does the aftertaste linger?

Finally, consider how long the aftertaste remains after swallowing. It is generally one of the best ways to identify the quality of the coffee beans, roasting, and preparation.

Poor quality coffee or under-extraction will result in a brief aftertaste — blink, and you might miss it altogether. On the other hand, if the coffee tastes bitter and the aftertaste lingers in your mouth for a long time, it is most likely over-roasted or over-extracted (or both).

The freshly roasted, high-quality coffee will leave you with a pleasant aftertaste that lingers after swallowing but doesn’t overstay its welcome. You know the coffee is good when you have time to appreciate all the flavors but won’t have to gurgle mouthwash to get the taste out of your mouth.

pour over coffee in a glass server

How to train your taste buds

Acquiring any skill takes practice, and tasting coffee is no different. So naturally, the best way to learn about coffee aftertaste is to drink more of it. However, some things can also help you train your taste buds. 

Analyze other flavors

If you are interested in developing your sensory skills, don’t limit yourself to tasting just coffee. Taste and analyze everything. And I mean it — everything.

Other drinks, like tea and wine, can help you learn how to distinguish between certain aromas and flavors. When you eat food, chocolate, fruits, or berries, note the highlights of their flavors.

Use fresh beans

It can be challenging to learn coffee tasting if you use old or low-quality beans. When the coffee comes into contact with air, it oxidizes and loses volatile chemical compounds. So if your coffee is old, there isn’t much aroma and flavor left for your receptors to detect.

You should always use freshly roasted beans and grind them right before brewing your coffee. Also, store your beans in an airtight container to prevent oxidation.

Consider buying small batches of beans, enough for two or three weeks. Then, you can explore various coffee types and learn to understand their differences while training your sensory skills.

womans hand pouring coffee beans on a table

Make bad coffee

When you practice coffee tasting, you should intentionally make bad coffee. It might sound strange and feel like a waste of coffee. But it’s the only way you can learn to identify the sour, harsh, and bitter aftertaste of coffee that’s been poorly made.

You can ask a local coffee roaster for beans they’ve accidentally over-roasted. Also, use very fine or very coarse grind size for brewing coffee at home and compare how over and under-extracted coffee tastes.

The results of these experiments might not taste that pleasant, but that’s the whole point. To train your palate, you must be familiar with coffee at its best and its worst.

Be creative with flavor descriptors

Don’t be afraid to get creative as you taste coffee and make observations. No matter how outlandish the flavor comparison seems, make a note of it.

Think of professional wine tasters. They often compare wine flavor notes to the most bizarre things, like cat pee, wet labrador, or barnyard.

Coffee tasting is the same. If you notice the aroma of cardboard, say it — it could be a sign that the paper filter used during brewing has affected the flavor.

The aftertaste of coffee can be complex, but describing it is not as hard as you might think. Honestly, the most challenging part is getting started. Armed with these tips, you are ready to start tasting and comparing different brews.

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