What is coffee aroma and how does it originate?

Coffee is a beverage that we usually drink on a daily basis without paying much attention to its aroma, but in reality, its flavor and fragrance are intrinsically linked.

During roasting, coffee develops up to 800 aromatic substances that contribute to its taste and smell. Floral, spicy, chocolate, tobacco, hazelnut, and fruit notes can be detected when smelling a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

But where exactly do these natural aromas come from? In this article, I will explain how coffee aromas originate and influence our sensory experience when drinking this delicious beverage.

Where do the natural aromas of coffee come from?

First, I would like to emphasize the term “natural“: these are delicate aromatic nuances developed naturally within our beverage, throughout the entire production process, from cultivation, harvesting, roasting, and extraction.

As you know, coffee travels a long way between continents and passes through different hands. All the stages must be carried out as well as possible since they contribute to creating a good or bad quality coffee, and therefore aromatic or not.

Aromas develop according to the following:

  1. The variety of the coffee tree.
  2. The environment and the soil in which it is cultivated.
  3. The harvesting and processing technique of the cherry that contains the beans.
  4. The roasting.
  5. The extraction method.

1. The variety of the coffee plant

It depends on the variety of the plant and the cultivation environment. There are two macro families of coffee: Arabica and Robusta. The first is more perfumed and delicate; the second is more intense and bitter.

2. The environment and the soil in which it is grown

Arabica coffee grows at a higher altitude than Robusta, which directly influences the aromas.

In general, coffees grown up to 700 meters of altitude are more earthy and woody, while around 1200 meters, they begin to be sweeter. Then we go up to 1600 meters, a range in which fresher fruits and citrus aromas prevail, until we reach 2000 meters of altitude, with perfumed, delicate, fresh, fruity, and floral coffees.

All this is due to the terrain: as the altitude increases, the soil changes composition and becomes increasingly rocky, rich in minerals and other substances that affect the cup’s flavor. Then other changes occur, such as the composition of the air and the maximum and minimum temperatures.


  1. Suppose a coffee plant grows in volcanic soil, such as in Hawaii. In that case, it will produce a more flavorful and aromatic coffee than Brazilian coffee, which grows about 1,000 meters above sea level and is surrounded by numerous fruit and cocoa plantations. What is the result in this case? A sweeter and smoother coffee.
  2. African high-altitude coffee, such as Ethiopian coffee, which grows at high altitudes, is usually very fine, delicate, and with a wide range of aromas.

3. Cherry harvesting and processing technique

There are two main methods of harvesting cherries:

  • Manual, whereby only the ripe cherries at the right point are selected by hand, one by one. It can be assumed that the quality of the raw coffee will be higher, but the cost will also be higher.
  • Mechanical, whereby machines shake the plant and drop all the ripe and unripe cherries. This method will be more economical but provide less quality in the cup. Some unripe cherries are also harvested, contributing herbaceous aromas, or overripe berries, which will attribute fermented and alcoholic flavors.

The same goes for processing methods, the two main ones being:

  • Natural, which brings more body and sweetness to the cup.
  • Washed, which brings more aromatic finesse and acidity.

Up to this point, we have seen how much coffee can change, depending on whether it is Arabica or Robusta, where it is grown, whether it is harvested manually or mechanically, and whether it is washed or natural.

4. The roasting of raw coffee

In order to fully develop all of its aromas, coffee needs time, so roasting must respect precise maximum temperatures and times.

In fact, if the temperature is raised too high in order to roast everything in less time, the result will be a coffee with a very dark color, almost burnt, and with a poorly developed aromatic profile, covered by a strong bitter taste.

For this reason, it is recommended to opt for a medium roast, which allows all the aromas of the carefully selected raw coffee to be brought out to the maximum.

In order to carry out this roasting, however, it is essential to start with high-quality raw coffees, free of defects, since otherwise, just as the positive aromas are enhanced, the negative ones are also enhanced, making the final cup unpleasant.

5. The extraction method

Finally, aromas also depend on the extraction method. There are dozens and dozens of different extraction methods, each of which enhances the beverage we love differently.

The most familiar extraction methods are the Moka pot, espresso, and filter coffee:

  1. The Moka pot: uses a higher water temperature than the other two methods since it has to come to a boil, translating into a greater bitterness in the cup.
  2. On the other hand, the espresso machine has a good aromatic range, filtering through the coffee panel for about 25 seconds. However, its main advantage is that it creates cream and body in the cup, thanks to the strong pressure provided by the machine.
  3. Filter coffee: this method provides the most fragrance to the beverage obtained, having a very slow extraction, lasting several minutes, with the water at 201°F, therefore lower than the Moka pot, slowly extracting each fragrance from the ground coffee.

However, do not underestimate the importance of the skill of the person performing the extraction. If you make a mistake with the temperature, the time, or the grinding of the coffee, you risk compromising all the work done so far.

Written by Pablo Barrantes Nevado
I am Pablo Barrantes, a coffee lover. I decided to start this website to solve all the doubts that arise every day when preparing our favorite drink: coffee. I am an industrial engineer by profession, but I have worked in coffee shops for many years, where I have learned all the secrets about coffee machines and coffee. My passion for coffee has led me to investigate and study beyond the obvious, and thanks to this, I can offer solutions and give news about coffee and coffee makers. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I research, document and write here.

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