Specialty coffee’s complex world might seem overwhelming, especially when trying to produce the best tastes, including superb notes, sweetness, acidity, balance, aftertaste, and everything in between.
What taste of coffee is your favorite? Would you describe it as bold or delicate, sour or sweet? Are there strong fruit scents in your coffee, such as tamarind and mango? Spicy with notes of fresh ginger, clove, and fruit steeped in honey? Peach preserve and spiced apricot tea with smoky cinnamon finish?
Oh my goodness, where do they come up with that? Everything happens during the “Coffee Cupping” process, which is drawn-out and fascinating.
Taste is a combination of aroma and flavor, a combination of sensory signals that nearly simultaneously enter our bodies through the mouth and nose.
For example, our olfactory receptors analyze the aroma, while our mouth taste buds refer to the taste. Another factor is our sense of touch, commonly referred to as “oral sensitivity,” which is how we perceive food consistency (or liquid, in this example).
Coffee tasting training focuses on the “four words of quality,” or salty, bitterness, sweetness, and sourness; a fifth fundamental taste, umami, or rather the taste of glutamate, has lately been included and is sometimes referred to as the saltiness of food.
Recognizing the four basic tastes
Because they enable us to analyze the molecules from the outside world that we come into touch with as we eat and breathe, smell and taste are referred to as “chemical senses.”
There are several papillae types with various structural variations that can distinguish between various sensations:
- fungiform papillae that distinguish sweet tastes and are mostly found on the tongue’s tip and front margins;
- foliate papillae, which are sour taste receptors that are found on the back borders of the tongue (designed by the human system to warn us if we come into touch with ruined or rotten food);
- the circumvallate papillae at the tongue’s root, which recognize bitter tastes and are crucial for protecting our bodies from poisons;
- To determine the viscosity of food and drink, filiform papillae, which cover the whole dorsum of the tongue, may or may not include taste buds, which are mostly located in the middle-outer region of the tongue immediately beyond the tip and are consequently responsible for the feeling of salty.
Essential coffee-tasting terms
The process of coffee tasting involves a list of easy-to-re comprehended terms. However, it should be noted that to understand basic coffee-tasting terms like aroma, acidity, body, and flavor; two vital actions should be done: smelling and slurping.
What flavors are found in coffee?
You may already be aware of how taste and smell are related. When we talk about coffee’s taste, we also mean to talk about its scent.
The following are some flavors and fragrances that you could find in your coffee:
- Veggie or herbal — refreshing and green
- Sour — acidic and lemony
- Fruity — ripe and naturally sweet
- Nutty — earthy and toasty
- Sweet — sugary like honey
- Spicy — (not hot spicy) but warm like cinnamon
- Floral — light and fresh
A defect may be present if your coffee tastes overly sour or dull. Other undesirable qualities of a bad cup of coffee include a burned, bitter, or excessively medicinal taste. In addition, if coffee beans aren’t kept correctly, some of them might become bad and develop a taste referred to as “baggy.”
Guidelines in Coffee-tasting from Coffee Connoisseurs
Tasting is not always a task exclusive to the tongue, especially when it comes to coffee. Therefore, baristas are specially trained to incorporate all their senses when sampling an Arabica coffee by smelling it and eventually recollecting memories of the sampled coffee.
Baristas at leading coffee shops conduct daily in-store coffee tasting to customers to promote coffee knowledge, particularly on different coffee-growing regions, the best brewing method, and how to enhance the coffee experience.
The advantage of the French Press over drip coffeemakers
Ground coffees intended for coffee-tasting are usually brewed using the French press. Unlike the coffee press, drip coffeemakers use paper filters that remove subtle flavors and add a taste of their own.
French presses are beneficial to achieving the fullest flavor of the coffee because of the stainless mesh filter they use. In addition, coffees brewed using the French press retain essential oils that make coffee more flavorful.
Regional varieties of coffee
Geography is the prime factor that distinguishes the varying flavor characteristics of coffees worldwide. Three coffee-growing regions harvest high-grade coffee beans: Latin America, Asia Pacific, and Africa/Arabia.
Latin American coffees are renowned for their medium intensity, well-balanced flavors, and crisp, bright acidity typical of all high-grown coffee. Coffees from Latin America, specifically in Colombia, Guatemala, Brazil, and Mexico, are processed using the “washed method” to develop flavor.
Colombia is third among the top coffee producers in the world, while Guatemala is where the finest Central American coffees are to be found. Coffees from Latin America are preferably used in blends.
Coffees from Africa/Arabia are similar to Latin American coffees in their vibrant acidity and well-balanced flavors. But apart from having a bold intensity, Africa/Arabian coffees are distinct in their intense floral aroma and fruity or winey flavor.
In Ethiopia, known as the birthplace of coffee, coffee ceremonies are still held by tradition. Ethiopian coffees have a lemony flavor that distinguishes them from Kenyan coffees’ unmistakable grapefruit and winey flavors.
Asia/Pacific is home to the heavyweight coffees of the world. Coffees from Indonesia, East Timor, South Asia, and Papua New Guinea are characteristically full-bodied with very low acidity. Sumatra and Sulawesi coffee is recognized for its earthy flavor and spicy or herbal notes.
There is more to learn about various bean varieties, but the basics will guide beginners in sampling a cup of Arabica coffee.
How do you taste coffee?
The cupping process starts when hot water is poured over the coffee sample. In terms of the brew, a finer grind and lighter roast are used for cupping. Allow the grinds to build a crust on top after the pour, which you may break to unleash the aroma. You can now take a drink after taking in the aroma.
You can use the “fast slurp” method to equally cover your tongue with coffee to experience how professional coffee tastes true. For example, some trained professionals will spit out the coffee after tasting it first, swallow it, and then let you taste the aftertaste.
The duration of the aftertaste, which you evaluate for pleasantness, might be lengthy or brief on the tongue. Sometimes you could prefer the flavor that lingers, or perhaps you’d prefer a clean ending.
Science and art both go into coffee tasting
By slurping, the air is incorporated to avoid burning the palate and, most importantly, to spread the coffee throughout the tongue.
It’s not just about tasting and comparing different coffees. Coffee growers, traders, and roasters also use it to create flavor profiles and grade the coffee on a scale of 1-10; understand the full potential of the coffee, what the end product might be (in your cup) and what kind of coffee owners might want to buy. It involves walking around the “cupping table” at each point several times. It’s amazing how experts grade coffee using their senses.
Study the crema
Is the crema, the foamy coating that covers the top of your coffee, even and smooth? The crema should be fine and thick, with several small bubbles. The coffee has been made too rapidly if the bubbles are huge and there aren’t many. On the other hand, coffee that has been brewed too slowly and maybe burnt will have thick bubbles.
Smelling is not just important in capturing the coffee’s aroma, a term that refers to the bouquet or scent of coffee. It is even suggested that smelling is highly significant because 90 percent of the coffee’s flavor comes from its aroma.
Smelling the dry grinds is the first stage, and coffee may have more than 850 different characteristics, chemicals, and aromas in certain cases, like wine. Cupping is a way to get up close and take in as many of those traits as possible. You can get different stages of fragrance.
Sniff the aromas that are emitted above the cup. Do they smell at all? Take note of the scents, then gently swirl your coffee before taking another whiff. Finally, take a deep breath for a few seconds to allow the aromatics to enter your nasal cavity. Given the intimate relationship between smell and taste, how nice the coffee smells to you depends on your initial impression of it.
Evaluate the taste
Take a large mouthful of coffee and gulp it for the enjoyable part. Don’t be afraid to do it. To get the coffee in your mouth, slurp it up with force from the spoon. You’re doing it well by producing loud, odd noises with your nose.
You’ll also be smelling the coffee if you slurp deeply since you’re helping to push aromas into the part of your nose that attaches to your mouth at the rear of your nose. So consider everything, including the coffee’s aroma, flavor, acidity, and finish. Not to mention its fantastic flavor.
Coffee is an experience.
Coffee tasting is not limited to basic coffee profiles and terms. By remembering that coffee is an experience, communicating about coffee should also involve recalling memories evoked by the coffee.
A nutty or chocolatey aroma may be reminiscent of a childhood memory. The floral and spicy notes might transport one to a mother’s kitchen. However, real coffee-tasting is achieved only by verbalizing how a cup of coffee has uplifted one’s spirits.
In coffee tasting, there are no wrong answers. Preference and taste are entirely subjective. Someone else’s palate could detect hints of something quite different from yours. The flavors or aromas that come more strongly depend on your brewing method.
A fantastic way to learn more about coffee and discover the differences between beans, roasts, and brewing methods is to taste it.
It will get easier as you taste more coffee to distinguish between various flavor profiles and determine which ones you prefer.