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A guide to sniffing out the best coffee

A guide to sniffing out the best coffee

Coffee is known for its intoxicating aroma, but not many people realise that one sniff can tell you everything from whether you'll enjoy the blend, to what time of the day you should drink it.

Australian fragrance expert Clint Dowdell has been working with Nespresso to educate people about the importance of taking time out to sniff your coffee before you guzzle it.

Clint has come up with four key things anyone can find out about their favourite blends by simple smelling them.


The aroma of a coffee blend speaks volumes about the quality of the beans. Poor quality blends will have a one-dimensional scent that can smell stale or otherwise unappetising. Good quality coffee has a rich aroma with many different notes that leaves your mouth watering and your hands fumbling for your spare change.

"Like anything, like a good fragrance, you can actually smell the quality of the ingredients," Clint says. "With an inferior quality perfume, half an hour after you spray it on you can't smell it any more, or it smells different or sour.

"It's the same thing with coffee. If the beans aren't of exceptional quality, the flavour doesn't resonate in the mouth, you don't have that beautiful follow-through. The aftertaste is wrong and it doesn't smell right either."

Time of day

A quick sniff can also tell you what time of day a coffee is perfect for. Bitter blends are more suited to early morning, while coffees with floral notes are good for afternoon and evening consumption.

"The scent is great for picking coffee to suit the mood you're in, or the time of day," Clint says. "In the morning, you might want a slap-in-the-face jolt to wake you up, so you'd go for the bitter, dark chocolate scents.

"But if it's mid-afternoon, or a Sunday morning and you're after something a bit more gentle, you look for other smells, like jasmine and orange blossoms and fruity aromas, soft and subtle notes."

No experience necessary

Clint has worked in the fragrance industry for years, but says you don't need any training to pick the right type of coffee for you.

"It's very easy for people who are educated to really get into fragrances and perfumes, but when it comes to coffee, the layman is just as qualified," Clint says.

"If you have three coffees sitting there, you can walk up and sniff them and if you enjoy the smell, you're going to enjoy the coffee.

"You don't need any information about what the different notes mean, or how they indicate quality. If you like it, you like it — you don't need a degree to tell you that."

Stop and smell the beans

Coffee is powerfully associated with aroma, but Clint says most people have forgotten the art of savouring the smell of their morning cup. He advises every coffee-lover to take time out to sniff every cup to get the most out of their coffee.

"The smell of coffee is something we often waste," Clint says. "To me, it's like walking through an art gallery with your eyes shut. To smell it, and enjoy that moment, can really enhance your experience."

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