When describing coffee, people often use terms such as “light,” “heavy” and “smooth.” These are all expressions used to explain a coffee’s body, or mouthfeel. Body is one of coffee’s main characteristics.
Body and mouthfeel are almost synonymous terms. Although mouthfeel brings to mind a wider variety of traits, both body and mouthfeel are used to describe how a coffee feels. They describe how a coffee settles on the tongue as it’s swished around the mouth, and then as it’s swallowed (or spat out, if doing many cuppings in a row).
In short, body can be defined as the tactile feeling of a coffee on the tongue.
One of the most common ways body is explained to novice coffee drinkers is through drinking milk. Skim milk has a light body, while whole milk has a heavier body. Half-and-half and heavy cream have even heavier bodies.
Body, like most of coffees’ traits, is influenced by a number of factors. Beans, roast levels and brew styles can all give a cup of coffee more or less body.
To determine how much body a lot of coffee itself has, apart from the other factors, cuppers taste coffee at a light roast level and using a specific cupping method. This lets them keep other variables constant so they can compare one coffee’s body to another’s. (They usually also inspect aroma, flavor, acidity and other traits during a cupping.)
Roasting levels and brewing methods impact body according to how they affect the extraction of a coffee’s oils. Body comes from the oils in a coffee, so roast levels that bring out more oils and brew methods that don’t remove oils produce the coffees with the largest bodies. Dark roasts, because they bring a coffee’s oils to the surface of the beans, create big-bodied coffees. French presses and espresso machines don’t use paper filters that catch oils, so they also create cups that have good body.
(Body, of course, is just one factor. Often, achieving a large body comes with other tradeoffs. Whether a dark roast or French press is the best way to prepare a coffee depends on what traits you’re looking to bring out of the coffee beans.)
There are many terms used to describe coffee’s body, or mouthfeel. It can be “light,” “heavy” or “balanced.” Some other terms that are used include “buttery,” “creamy,”, “smooth,” “delicate,” “thin,” and “syrupy.” You’ll hear roasters and tasters use even more terms to try and capture how a coffee feels in the mouth.
At Driftaway Coffee, we offer four different roast profiles that each create a different body. To find out what level of body you prefer, sign up for a subscription and we’ll send you a tasting kit with all four profiles.