Body: what actually is it? It’s something we coffee-lovers like to talk about a lot, and it’s even included on cupping forms. But do we know what body really is? Why some coffees have more body than others? And how we can roast or brew to accentuate this quality?
If you answered no to any of those questions, don’t worry – I’m about to answer them for you.
What Is Body?
Let’s start with the basics: body is a coffee’s texture. In The Professional Barista’s Handbook, Scott Rao defines it as “a beverage’s weight or fullness perceived in the mouth.”
While body is an element of mouthfeel, it’s worth noting that there can be differences. In The Coffee Dictionary, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood writes, “It is interesting to consider that you could experience a light body with a sticky mouth feel or a big body with a juicy mouth feel.”
Body is not something we taste: rather, it is a sensation we feel. However, it can influence a coffee’s overall flavor. This is because flavor is a combination of many factors – taste, aroma, texture, sound, and maybe even sight.
And in my experience as a barista, body is one of the three things coffee-drinkers are always looking for (along with bright acidity and defined flavors).
The Insoluble Science of Body
If we want to accentuate body, we need to know how it’s created. And that means talking about extraction. This is the process by which flavor and aroma compounds are extracted from dry coffee into water, becoming the brewed coffee we love to drink.
During extraction, substances can be divided into solubles and insolubles. The solubles are the substances that can be diluted in the water. The insolubles, on the other hand, are solids and oils that remain suspended in the liquid instead of dissolving. They’re things like protein molecules and certain coffee fibers. And these insolubles – especially the oils – increase body.
Why Are Some Coffees Fuller-Bodied Than Others?
There are many factors that determine why one specific coffee has more body than another. Some coffee varieties are just more prone to body. So are specific coffee processing methods, brew methods, and filters. And roast profiles can be manipulated to produce more body.
Let’s take a look at some of these factors now, starting with the green beans and making our way through to the final beverage.
Green Beans With Great Body
Certain coffee varieties are more inclined to body than others. When I first started working as a barista, I was brewing a Maracaturra from El Socorro, Guatemala. It had a peach flavor with hints of whiskey as it cooled, caramel texture, and a round body that filled the mouth. And I fell madly in love with coffee because of beans like this.
On the other hand, you have the Pacamara: another early love of mine. For me, the Pacamara variety is outstanding. It’s distinguished by fruity flavors, mostly stone fruits, and outstanding chocolate notes. However, it often has a medium body.
And then you have Geisha, the industry’s most celebrated variety. This coffee is known for its delicate, tea-like body, making it a very different coffee experience from Maracaturra.