What is Coffee “Body”?

The term body describes the physical properties – heaviness, or mouthfeel – of the coffee as it settles on your tongue; the feel of the coffee coating the tongue, and whether it is oily, grainy, watery, or possesses some other characteristic. Evaluating body when cupping is a proxy for the dissolved coffee solids – organic acids and oils, proteins, fibers – which increase with altitude and density.

Variations in origin aside, it is primarily affected by brewing method, and to some extent roast level.

Top 3 Best Full Bodied Coffees

While the brewing method will have a larger impact on body than variations between single origins, part of the review process of cupping involves evaluating the coffee at a standard roast and brewing method, with some origins scoring better than others.

  1. Sumatra Mandheling
  2. Kenya AA
  3. Guatemala Antigua

If you want a more full bodied coffee, stove-top coffee makers are your best option, followed by espresso machines, french presses and pour over coffee makers (metal filter, not paper). Any sort of paper filter (in drip-coffee makers, some pour-over methods, and k-cup and single cup brewers) filters out oils that contribute not only to the body, but also heavily to flavor.

Since body is a measure of the oils and compounds in coffee, a high-grown or strictly-high-grown coffee will typically have a fuller body than one grown at a lower altitude due to better

What is Coffee Body?

Discerning a coffee’s body involves identifying its tactile impression – its consistency and weight – as perceived in the mouth at the back of the tongue when you swoosh the coffee around in your mouth, and also after swallowing, or after spitting the coffee out if you are a cupper, or professional coffee taster.

A coffee cupper considers the coffee’s body a measure of the intensity of how it feels in the mouth in terms of weight, the sense of richness that the brewed coffee imparts, its heft. This is almost universally seen as a positive attribute but there are people who find the “grit” or “oilyness” of a coffee off-putting, and actually prefer a coffee to be smooth and filtered.

Like all things coffee, it’s an entirely personal decision based on what you like or don’t like. Learning about the “body” of coffee will help you pick a coffee bean and brewing method that makes each day better.

Coffee Viscosity and its Effect on Richness

Body is a measure of the coffee’s viscosity (thickness), which contributes to a sensation of the coffee’s richness, including its aroma and flavor. A coffee’s body is largely created by the coffee beans‘ oils and organic acids which are extracted during the brewing process.

Because the drip/filter brewing method as well as the filter in k-cups removes many desirable flavor oils, this brewing method produces a coffee with a lighter body. In contrast, a French Press brew or an espresso shot pulled from an espresso machine which use metallic filters will have more body because the essential oils remain in the coffee.

Coffee Body Descriptions

A coffee’s body may be described as light (or thin), medium, or full. A coffee with a full body will have a buttery or even syrupy quality. Fuller-bodied coffees also retain more of their flavor when they are diluted.

Sumatra coffee, for example, are known to have a heavy body, while Yemen Mocha coffees tend to be either heavy or medium bodied. Mexican coffees generally have a lighter body.

Light Body

A light body (or “thin body”) is water-like, with very little residue or texture on the tongue. Coffees grown at low altitudes and in soils lacking nutrients commonly exhibit a light body. Brewing methods that use a paper filter to remove oils and other solids can make a lighter-bodied coffee, as well as brewing quickly (eg. a k-cup).

A light body isn’t necessarily a bad thing however. Some people (eg. super-tasters) are simply more sensitive to the tastes and lingering effects of a heavier bodied coffee and prefer a light body as a matter of preference. Don’t let anyone tell you that drinking a certain coffee you enjoy is wrong.

Because “body” is a measure of the concentration of dissolved solids, simply diluting a coffee with more water is a way to make a coffee’s body lighter. This should be done after the coffee has been brewed, using same-temperature water, to avoid over-extraction of bitter compounds.

Medium Body

A medium body lies somewhere between a light (or mild) coffee and a heavy (or syrupy) coffee. Since light and heavy bodied coffees have attributes that might be too extreme in one direction or another, a medium bodied coffee will be a good, easy-going daily drinker.

Most coffees that are too light or heavy can be brewed with a medium body by altering the brewing method. If a coffee is naturally light bodied (Mexican, Brazilian, Jamaican), then brewing slowly and without a paper filter (espresso especially) is a good way to bring out more of the solids and mouth-feel. If a coffee is naturally heavy-bodied, then decreasing brew time and using a paper coffee filter while brewing will tone it down.

Heavy Body

A heavy body (or “Full Body”) is one that can be felt on the tongue, almost textured, due to a combination of the fat, protein and fiber content. Heavy bodies are typically attributed to high grown and shade grown coffees, especially in rich volcanic soils, and is seen as a positive attribute. It can also be the result of brewing method, mostly in an espresso, moka pot (stove top) or steel-filter pour over drip coffee (not paper filter).

Body – One of Coffee’s Six Major Characteristics

A coffee’s body (mouthfeel) is one of coffee’s six major characteristics used by cuppers (professional coffee tasters) to discern the quality of a particular coffee, which include:

Learning to differentiate the different characteristics is a learned skill that involves attending a cupping class or an event put on by a coffee roaster. It’s not something you can figure out simply by drinking your regular daily brew – the best way to learn is by trying a number of different coffees brewed in the same way and guided by a knowledgeable expert. It’s very much akin to learning to taste wine.

Coffee and Espresso Brewing Tips

For tips on brewing the perfect cup of specialty coffee see our section on Coffee Brewing. You can also read detailed coffee taste profiles of Gourmet Coffees and instructions on preparing Espresso Drink Recipes.

For step-by-step instructions on making absolutely fantastic espresso check out Pulling A Perfect Espresso Shot and then enter the world of master baristas with the How to make Lattes and Cappuccinos.

For detailed definitions of coffee terminology see the Coffee and Espresso Glossary.  Also check out the World’s Best History of Coffee.

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