This seems like an odd question, but really if like me you have been wondering how in the world some coffee bags come with descriptors like “florals” or “tangerine”. This thread is dedicated to my favorite aspect of coffee roasting: drinking roasted coffee.
Inevitably as we drink coffee we are in fact tasting it. I believe the difference of tasting coffee vs drinking it is based on how quickly and if we are paying attention to the flavors or not. Concentrating on what is being presented on our palate. How much concentration you wish to apply is up to you…from a “zen” like tea ceremony to quaffing barrels as you are busily working to meet some deadline. In addition, I would also like to talk about not only the procedure, but how to get better at it. What other aspects or “training” our palate to help analyze, memorize and recall, tastes and smells.
Cupping, is used to analyze a roast, used to find and see apparent defects that arise from how you roasted the coffee (still a requirement of producing exceptional roasts and tastes). Tasting coffee is, I believe, can be less strict. Not to say that it should not be constant. But our procedure depends preferences how we extract the coffee, in what ratio, for how long, etc. Personal preference is ok, BUT at the same time, varying the different ways we brew the coffee (V60/Kalita, aeropress, espresso, drip, french, et al) can highlight certain aspects of the cup and have an effect on taste. And in part, knowing that a rushed French Press is going to inevitably give a grainy texture is mainly the contribution of the brewing method rather than an Espresso being grainy, in which the user has control to fix the issue either at the roast or grind, pressure/temp…but I am digressing. What we are talking about tasting coffee.
For god’s sake do not do any tobacco, or anything that will dampen your palate.
- Nothing, is more important than good dental hygiene. NOTHING. In this order: Floss (do a good job), brush (buy non mentholated toothpaste, or better no flavor), mouthwash, water pick aka water floss. Buy a tongue scraper or tongue brush https://oralb.com/en-us/oral-health/how-tongue-scrapers-work, I have one that has both and I put a little dab of toothpaste and lightly scrub my tongue, and lightly scrape off the gunk, swish/rinse with water and gently scrub and scrape any residual toothpaste etc. off. Practicing good dental hygiene is a good thing and shouldn’t be observed just before you are about to taste coffee. Having a healthy regimen is good in general.
I prefer this order because the water pick rinses out the mouth wash flavor. I am not a dentist. If you have other dental requirements or you can’t do somethings that is ok, follow what your doctor recommends.
- Do not eat or drink things or clean your teeth, right before trying to taste coffee, wait a couple hours before doing your tasting. I don’t drink coffee on an empty stomach. Though it has been noted that humans are more perceptive to taste when hungry. I still don’t recommend it, I like to be not full but not hungry, right in the middle.
Something I’ve noticed helps when drinking a lot of coffee, that I like doing is, juicing a fresh lemon is at least 8oz of water. It helps me stay hydrated, also be aware of your coffee consumption, and your health. Safety and health first, do not forget what is important. As Nacho Libre says “Take it easy.”
On a side note, drinking too much coffee/caffeine has been noted to affect perception of taste. So if you are doing a lot of tastings, spit out the coffee, rinse your mouth with water (optional) and proceed. I’ve noticed with brown liquors that when I am tasting, after I take a sip and swallow letting the flavors linger a little, taking a sip of water (takes the burn away) and opens up some flavors.
Drink better coffee, you can drink all the hotel, 10hr old coffee in the world and then you will be the world most experience Hotel coffee taster, and your accomplishments will include being able to tell how many months it’s been since the last time that urn was cleaned properly.
Sufficient ability to brew/extract coffee, Go to a coffee shop, taste their coffee as you would drink it at home, but at least try their drip coffee and espresso. Buy a bag of their coffee and try to replicate or do it better. If the barista is not busy talk with the barista (not all barista’s are powerhouses of knowledge). Being kind gets you a long way, and always tip. ALWAYS (with respect to the tipping countries, in the USA: Terrible service 0%, bad 10%, good 15-25%, amazing 30+%, but for coffee usually $1 per drink)
However if you feel confident that your abilities and understanding is past this…
- Procure in a legal fashion some high end, well recognized roasters roasted roasts.
I would suggest starting from the best (most famous, expensive etc.) and working yourself down. A great taster can still appreciate Starbucks’ espresso, it’s creamy, sweet, full bodied and has it’s own merit, but also it is mixed with several regions and who knows how many farmers and their crops Starbucks support around the world. That is to say specificity is hard to determine. On the other hand a single origin (SO) crop with prominent flavor attributes are really easy to find because they are just so in your face. If you can’t taste these then back to the coffee shop for you. Also you will notice as you move down the ladder the “lesser” coffees are missing aspects or strengths, it is this contrast, I think gives the best understanding.
Sit with the cup, sip the cup as it moves from hot to cold. Take the time to let the coffee settle in your mouth, move it around or chew on it get some saliva to mix in, like chocolate, let it melt away. What are you tasting as the coffee initially enters, the aroma as you take a sip? Get a feel for the texture. Is it smooth, watery, luscious, grainy…Does it want to be swallowed? Does it leave your mouth wet, or drying? What is the taste after you’ve swallowed, does aroma waft into your nasal cavity? Taking notes is a very handy feature, it lets you recall and see similarities.
Do side by side or blind tasting, with friends or in a group is always more fun. Sometimes local coffee shops will host tastings, just ask if it’s open to public or you can participate or observe. Doing a comparative brew between two regions helps understand origin better and see the differences.
Crossing over from tea: Reducing the consumption of certain foods will make you more perceptive. This is a Catch 22 aka a double sided sword. Because if you want to expand you palate you want to taste as many different things as possible. But if you want to make your palate more sensitive to the flavor you have to restrict the kinds of “powerful” flavors you consume. Moving to a more bland “diet” makes your palate more perceptive to aspects like, sweetness bitterness, etc. Avoiding spicy foods, alliums, things high in sugar like sodas, overly bitter foods and beverages makes the palate more sensitive to these things
In the end tasting coffee is based on building/strengthening the connection between your nose/tongue and brain. So patience, practice and perseverance will get you there no matter what.