Quick Guide to Coffee Tasting
“Coffee and wine and all things fine!” might be a rallying cry for some, but what marks each drink as distinctive, excellent, and, yes, even presidential? Come with us as we endeavor to discover what makes a certain bean so prestigious with a return to our coffee brewing guides so that you too, oh-humble-cup-o’-joe drinker can pour a little pomp and circumstance in the early morning!.
Regardless of whether you’re a newcomer to CoffeeGrindGuru or a seasoned vet, we want to take a moment to remind all the denizens of the craft coffee movement that (a) we come in peace and (b) we want to make this particularly high-end segment of the market less, er, pretentious.
That’s not to say that we do not like to dabble in all things fine every now and again, but rather, and simply, would like to educate all on how to really and truly enjoy a cup o’ joe.
What can we say? It’s our mission in life!
This does mean, however, that we have to take a page out of the sommeliers book and learn just a little bit extra about aroma and complexity and acidity and mouthfeel…
Before we dive in, though, let’s first make sure you have everything you need:
- Ethically sourced beans
- If buying green coffee beans, ensure they were stored apart from their roasted brethren (and vice versa!)
- A quality burr grinder
- A French Press or your preferred coffee maker, making sure it has been thoroughly cleansed of any past residue
- Bottled water and heating capabilities to 205-degrees Fahrenheit (or 93-degrees Celsius)
- A flavor wheel (see below) and cup!
We believe that anyone can practice the art of tasting and that they do not have to visit a roaster or feel shammed about not being able to identify key ‘notes’ or distinguish one coffee over another.
Why tasting and cupping?
Simple: it should be fun, knowledge enhancing, and pallet expanding!
Coffee seeds grown around the world and at different elevations will taste differently just like grapes from France might not necessarily taste the same as those from California. While the former will result in Robusta blends while the latter might be red blends, the concept is the same: no two plants will, nor should they, be the same year in and year out.
Just to give you, dear reader, some perspective, wine connoisseurs are looking for sensory variables (aroma, finesse, complexity, firmness of attack (?!), excessive acidity, suppleness, flatness, fatness, concentration, harmony, tannins, finish, staleness, and keeping) and objective variables (ranking, vintages, and groups).
Coffee is not so, er, demanding, but the taster should still try to identify key olfactory and gustatory factors just for fun. That said, coffee drinkers should ask the following:
- What is the fragrance of this cup?
- What is the aroma?
- Where are the tastes on my tongue? Is it sour or acidic?
- What does my nose sense that my tongue does not?
- Is there an aftertaste?
- Is the coffee light or heavy?
Coffee Cupping Conclusion
After a while you will get the hang of tasting different batches (taking care to cleanse the pallet between tastes, of course) and recognizing ‘notes’ of caramel, chocolate, earth, paper (yes, we said paper), nuts, and flowers! Now, of course, we wouldn’t recommend you go head-to-head against your bougie wine-o drinking friends, but perhaps a friendly competition around the kitchen table could be just the way to show off your knew smarts!
Tyler Heal is not only a Barista, but a coffee and writing fiend. He’s the editor (and owner) of Coffee Grind Guru, a blog that’s dedicated to providing coffee lovers of all experience levels with the knowledge needed to improve their daily cup o’ joe.