Why does coffee taste like caramel?

01 September, 2022 2 min read

We sat down with Wells in one of our regular Blending Sessions and got to talking about flavour and coffee. We segued, as one does, into why words like cocoa and berries come into play on our label descriptions. Read on for a twirl down memory lane from Wells on finding the right words to describe the mystery of “the brown stuff in a white cup”. 

Early days in Melbourne

In Feb 1990 we had a stand at the inaugural Harvest Picnic at Ripponlea Gardens. It was an initiative by local foodies who were introducing the best of new fresh food products to the Melbourne gastronomy. The chairperson of the organisation was Stephanie Alexander.

Jasper Coffee signed up to present our coffees in the garden arena for all to come, taste, question and explore. People were perplexed at the invitation to ‘taste’ the different coffees from different origins (that was a new bit of vocabulary). Particularly given it all looked the same brown colour in the cup. 

A common theme was that the brown blends all have “silly” descriptions, as if one was eating a bowl of fruit salad. We were asked, “how do they get caramel and chocolate into the coffee?!” and “If I don’t want nuts in my coffee..how do I take it out?…I just want coffee to taste like coffee!”. 

Which word for which coffee flavour? 

There’s a problem with semantics when you’re talking about new tastes (as fine coffee was back then); because as humans we err on the side of assuming that every word is definitive and perfectly descriptive. But of course, this is far from the case.

The challenge with food is that we can only speak to our relevant experiences (or the equivalent of). So for example, one does not detect caramel in the cup unless your palate has had that caramel experience somewhere before, or you’re able to imagine how the ‘concept’ of caramel tastes. 

And then, which caramel experience are we referring to? Salty caramel, sweet caramel, thick thixotropic caramel, or just plain caramel? 

So, coffee tastes are subjective to a degree? 

I relay a story here of being at a global forum in London. When each of us was asked to describe a certain coffee’s taste, almost all described it as “ blueberry”. Yet an Iranian roaster in the audience stood up and asked “which blueberry?…we have 17 different ones!”. The interesting answer was that the blueberry referred to was in fact a certain brand of American blueberry jam! 

To put it simply

While words like caramel may seem “silly” when describing coffee, why not embrace the silliness? It exemplifies our human conundrum with communication. 

I say just enjoy the coffee.


ExploreJasper Coffee's range or take a look at the particular blend that got Wells talking about taste,Blend #6