When you're starting out on your journey into the world of coffee, knowing how to develop your sensory vocabulary is one of the most important tools you can harness. You can watch hours of YouTube videos on how to pour the perfect V60, but it's pointless unless you can taste your success in the cup. Every time you taste a coffee, whether irresistable or a bit off-putting, knowing what you like, or don't like will help you understand the 'why' behind your preferences. You'll start to change your buying habits based around origin, process, and cup score; and your brewing techniques will start to bring out the best in your coffee.
The Five Elements to Coffee Tasting
Green Apple, Buttery, pecans, clean... A bit baffling? lets break coffee tasting down into 5 elements to discern what's going on. Coffee professionals everywhere share a common way of breaking down a coffee into observable parts, and were going to let you in on the industry secrets. Sweetness. Body. Acidity. Flavours. Finish. Understanding how each one of these factors contributes to your coffee will help you in speaking the language of coffee.
SweetnessUnlike the stereotype of bitter coffee from years gone by, a better coffee is usually a sweeter coffee. When you next take a sip pf coffee, ask yourself whether its sweetness is more akin to fresh strawberries, honey, or treacle. Next time you eat, note the differences between honey and golden syrup; white and brown sugar. These subtle sensory memories are what we call u[on when tasting coffees. Try tasting two coffees side by side, from different origins. our current Ugandan coffee has a distinct vanilla sweetness, which is obvious next to our Peruvian 'Saul Menor Taica', which has a real fresh guava sweetness.
BodyThis is the weight and feel of the coffee on the tongue, and is one of the easiest qualities of a coffee to discern. is the mouthfeel thick and creamy, or lighter like skimmed milk? Different brew methods and recipes can have an impact on a coffees body, so you can tailor your style to suit the coffee.
AcidityAcidity is one of the attributes that we try to preserve and showcase as a specialty coffee roaster. Similar to sweetness, we're looking for types of acidity here, not differing pH levels. Does the coffee have a real citrus tang, or does it have a real mouth-watering crispness, like you'd get from biting into a green apple?
Roast level massively affects perception of acidity. A darker roast will accentuate the caramelisation process, bringing those heavy, caramel flavours to the forefront, and mute the acidity. As roasting past light-medium starts to add generic 'roasty' notes to a coffee, and detracts from the coffees juicy personality, we tend to stay away from anything too dark.
FlavoursWhen you first start out, its pretty difficult to taste anything other than 'coffee'. don't be disheartened, that's a really good place to start. The first sip allows your pallet to adjust to what's going on in the cup; pay attention to what you can get from the second slurp.Can you taste nuts? Extra points if you can make out almonds or walnuts; toasted ot not. Is that fruitiness coming from blueberries, or peaches?
We all eat several times a day, and if we adapt the way in which we process the flavours we're tasting, we can store the raw sensory data to distinguish what's going on in our cups. Next time you eat a nectarine, pay attention to what your taste buds are telling you, and bank the information, or the deep stone fruit flavours of a plum. Call upon the flavours you know well to match them with the coffee you're drinking.
FinishEver tasted a coffee so fantastic, you can still taste it 5 minutes later? Or is it a fleeting taste, that makes you want another cup? We often describe the finish of coffee in terms of duration, does it linger? What's your last impression of the cup?
Practice makes perfect...well...better.
If the first few times you taste coffee, you feel like you're struggling to identify anything distinctive, don't worry; it's a good excuse to have a coffee every morning to hone in your senses for one thing! The best advice we can give here is to try different coffees, don't get too focussed on one. exploring new coffees will help to refine your palate, and it may help with the original bean when you revisit it again. Try tasting a couple of different cups with a friend, and trade observations. These five categories will help you to turn your impressions into words. fortunately, coffee tasting is subjective, so there's never a wrong answer.