The Pilot's Blog

Coffee Aroma vs. Coffee Fragrance: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve ever been on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City around 5:30 in the morning, you may have taken in the intoxicating fragrance that fills the air surrounding the Bean Hangar. We know—that air roasted coffee smell sure is tempting, isn’t it?  Well, breathe it in, Kansas City!  This fragrance our beans provide will actually give you a little free “pick me up”!

Although that coffee bean fragrance may provide you with the “pick me up” you need in the morning, nothing triggers our senses quite like sipping down a freshly brewed cup of coffee.  But believe it or not, the fragrance of a cup of Joe is half the coffee-drinking experience—the aroma is not.

Huh?  That doesn’t make any sense!  Actually, it makes perfect sense.  Fragrance and aroma are two completely different things.  We bet you didn’t know that!

So what’s the difference?

Fragrance:  A fragrance is simply the unit of smell or the scent of something. When you smell something, fragrance enables you to say, “Oh, that smells like coffee.”  When referencing coffee specifically, dry coffee grounds have fragrance. Add water to the coffee and Shazam!—You now have aroma.

Aroma: The aroma of something is more encompassing.  It’s not just scent.  It’s also the flavor and mouthfeel. Though they are similar in some aspects, fragrance and aroma are different, especially when revealed during a cupping.

Fragrance vs. Aroma: Scent, or fragrance, is processed one way through our noses. Aroma is processed two ways through our nose as well as retronasally. Retronasal is when a smell is first processed via your taste buds. When you slurp coffee, the aromas then drift up and the smell receptors in your nose add the scent to the flavor to produce an aromatic profile.

During cupping, it’s important to document what you experience in both fragrance and aroma. We do this because some attributes of the coffee can be present and strong before we brew it and disappear when brewed, and vice versa.

The next time you make yourself a cup of Joe, take a moment and experience the fragrance of your coffee.  What attributes do you notice? Then, after brewing, what attributes do you notice of the aroma? What’s new and what’s missing? Feel free to share them with us on our Twitter page use the hashtag #AromaVsFragrance.  It’s all part of the Roasterie experience!

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