When tasting olive oil, look out for three main characteristics: bitterness, fruitiness and pungency.
Bitterness is a tough one for a lot of consumers, especially for many people who are used to the standard grocery-brand olive oils. To taste an olive right off the tree is to understand from where the bitterness comes. (Let’s just say you won’t want to taste a raw olive right off the tree more than once!) Olives ARE bitter, so it makes sense that a good extra virgin olive oil should have some degree of bitterness. It is precisely these bitter components that give extra virgin olive oil much of the nutritional properties that are being studied extensively in the medical and health industries.
Fruitiness in an olive oil comes largely from the varietal characteristics and the time of harvest, among other factors. Olive oils produced early in the season are often described with greener fruit flavors - think "grassy" or "green apple". Later-harvest oils from black-ripe fruit tend to produce riper fruit flavors - think "ripe pears", "buttery" or "softer flavors").
Pungency is the spiciness or “peppery” feeling at the back of the throat and tends to be the biggest surprise for people tasting real extra virgin olive oil for the first time. A lot of people wonder if something has been added to the oil to give it this “kick,” when, in fact, this is a very important characteristic of a good extra virgin olive oil that many scientific studies show has very important health benefits.
In the end, a good extra virgin olive oil should have a satisfying balance that’s enjoyable to YOU. Taste lots of oils to determine your preferences and give consideration to how you will be using the oil.