Taste the coffee

The foundation of a good cup of coffee is your taste palette. For any dedicated coffee connoisseur, the open mind is a must to develop their understanding of aromas and scents. At A43, we strive to continually deepen our sensory awareness in order to create an immersive experience. In this article you can read about our ideas and thoughts on how to broaden your skills and open your mind to get more out of the craft that led to the cup.

Starting point: 5 basic flavours


Human physiology is specialised in using carbohydrates for cellular respiration and it’s no wonder that it’s hard to resist the allure of sweets. The Maillard reaction during roasting and extraction caramelises and enhances the sugar in the bean’s chemical structure and contributes to its warm, brown colour.


Acidity contributes to a lighter palette and can lift heavy, fatty flavours. In isolation, acidity can signal a warning and is a taste that indicates something has started to ferment and may be harmful to eat. When sour tastes reach our mouths, we start to secrete saliva containing bicarbonate to counteract the acid. It helps the flavours to blend and provide a diverse experience.


Salt balance in the body is important for many of the key processes that keep us alive. Unbalanced salt levels can mean that there are problems with the kidneys, heart and liver and affect our ability to absorb fluids in our bodies. As an experience, it differs from acidity and sweetness and adds an extra dimension. In the mouth, increased salt content allows the taste buds to bind more aromatic molecules and therefore food tastes better when we salt it.


Bitterness is a taste that we detect at a much lower intensity than other tastes. It is often associated with toxic and harmful substances and therefore there is an increased sensitivity. It doesn’t take much, but even small amounts can make a big difference in enhancing the taste experience. Bitterness can neutralise other flavours and dampen overwhelmed sensations, like smelling coffee beans between wine glasses at a wine tasting.


Umami is the newest of the basic flavours and is a loanword from Japanese meaning good taste. The specific taste buds for umami react to the substance glutamate isolated from miso broth in the same way that sugar reacts with the sweet-sensing taste buds. To distinguish umami from saltiness, consider the difference between salting and grating Parmesan cheese over pasta. When you salt a certain amount, the pasta may feel inedible, while the grated cheese only adds to the taste experience.

The role of the tongue in the taste experience

To better understand how the different basic tastes together form the subjective experience, we can think about how the taste buds are positioned in the mouth. The taste buds have the sensitivity to detect all basic flavours and are located all over the tongue. They are also found in the rest of the oral cavity. Some areas have a greater sensitivity to certain tastes, but the overall taste experience is a complex sensory interpretation of taste, smell and touch.

The image is based on German Harvard psychologist D Hänig’s ideas about the sense of taste in 1901, and has been re-evaluated by Western science in the latter part of the 20th century. Nevertheless, you can use the image to visualise and explore your own sensory experience of flavours and see how they feel on your tongue.

Writer: Tove Lagström, barista at 43
Published: 2022-05-27

Caption: Schematic of the position of the taste buds on the tongue. This idea originated with the psychologist E Boring, who misinterpreted Hänig's results in 1942, and was rejected in 1974 by V Collings of the University of Pittsburgh. Today we know that the experience of flavours is more complex than this approximate sketch. We can still use the image to think about how flavours feel in our mouths.
Illustrator: Georgian Turturica