Flowers and aromatic wood situate at opposite ends of the sensory range for coffee, though they both are among the most common and attractive of aroma and flavor notes.
Floral notes appear to be a direct expression of the floral tendencies of the coffee fruit and seed; at times they show up as pure expressions of the perfumy, jasmine-like scent of the coffee flower itself. Those new to coffee often are able to pick out and enjoy floral notes in coffee for the first time if they focus on the recollection of various heavy-scented, white flowers, the kind that send out their intense perfumes at dusk and into the early evening.
Influenced by a variety of factors – from darkness of roast, to the presence of various complementary fruit notes, to processing method, to the botanical variety of the trees – floral notes can range from heavy and carnal (lilies for example); spicy and deep (roses); meadowy and refreshing (violets), slightly vegetal and green (sweet flowering grasses). In coffees that are both very pure and free of taint and light-to-medium roasted, flowers often appear as a component in a honey-like character; in other cases the flower-related sweetness is more molasses-like and vegetal, in other cases round and peach-like. One of the most impressive aspects of floral notes are their persistence in darker roasts, even ultimately dark French roasts, where they often float at the top of the profile, evanescent, sweet and delicate, even after most of the other fruit- or plant-related nuance has been driven out of the beans by the roast.
Ethiopia coffees are most celebrated for their floral character, but floral notes can surface in almost any coffee of the Arabica species, and occasionally and surprisingly, in some of the best wet-processed, high-altitude Robustas. In general, floral notes are the canaries in the coal mine when it comes to purity of fruit removal and drying in coffee. They flourish in coffees that preserve fruit nuance yet are free of any hint of the aroma-dampening taints acquired while the coffee is drying.
Aromatic wood is our general term for notes reminiscent of fresh-cut cedar, fir, or even sandalwood. We distinguish between aromatic wood notes, pungent, fresh and lively, and plain old wood notes, meaning the dead, flat scent of dried-out wood that long ago lost its aromatic oils. Wood, the tasteless kind, is a characteristic of green coffees that have faded and lost their aromatics through age, or roasted coffee that has begun to stale.
On the other hand, the intense, clean odor of fresh-cut fir or cedar is almost universally attractive to human beings, and in coffee often deepens and balances sweeter fruit and floral notes. Although aromatic wood notes appear most frequently in medium through dark-roasted coffees, they can emerge, particularly as fir, in lighter-roasted coffees as well.