Thanks for bringing up "Bold" Chris, as the word has become somewhat meaningless to me. Along with "strong", it seems responsible for a large share of common misconceptions among customers in everything from flavor profile and roast development, to level of extraction and actual caffeine content. While I basically never hear these words used by professionals, I do often find myself confronted with them while engaging customers about what qualities in coffee they find desirable. It's most common with folks who are just discovering specialty coffee, and it can be a bit of a barrier in explaining the types of coffees we source and our approach to roast development.
I do however enjoy the challenge of decoding what each individual really means when they say "bold", and finding a way to translate that into the language we use to describe our experience of coffee. When you really break it down, i find that they are most commonly referring to what we might think of as mouthfeel, and a certain saturation of flavor. Depending on their particular experience, it may relate to increased caramelization from deeper roast profiles, coffees with a heavier or more viscous mouthfeel, brew methods that yield a more concentrated cup, or any number of other factors. Whatever it may be, my main conclusion was that people using that descriptor were fundamentally looking for a cup whose tactile and flavor sensations were pronounced and forward, not subtle. Of course this is only one opinion, but it is based on observations and certain successes in exposing customers to new experiences in coffee.
To digress briefly to the larger topic at hand, I think descriptive language in this industry will always be imperfect. That being said, we can still find ways to make it useful, effective, and universal within reason. The only way we are able to describe our experience of coffee is referentially, and while references are always unique to the individual there is still plenty of common ground among them for us to work with. I think the reason you see more and more things like "starfruit", "meyer lemon", or "honeysuckle" is because these things have such unique and specific flavors; much more so than "fruit" or "chocolate". To many of us, coffee's flavors are very complex and thus merit a more complex descriptor to really communicate it. Also, certain descriptors can convey more than just a specific flavor, but a complete sensation. "Molasses" or "jasmine tea" give me a picture of a very specific flavor, type of sweetness, type of acidic sensation, and unique mouthfeel. I can of course see the argument against these type of descriptors, and its totally valid. As someone with a deep passion for coffee though, I have a strong desire to communicate my often transcendent coffee experiences with others. Descriptive language does not totally accomplish that, but if people have had a similar moment then it may just be enough to relate to.
- Patrick Grzelewski