For many, there’s quite a difference between enjoying a certain coffee, and appreciating the differences and intricacies from cup to cup. If you’re interested in becoming one of the latter, a good first step is to learn how to do a proper coffee tasting. When done correctly, a coffee tasting is planned to bring out every aroma, taste, and feel of said coffee. Keep in mind that tastings should be done only with black coffee – any added sugar or cream will dilute and alter the original qualities of the coffee.
Although not required, you may get better results when tasting two different coffees side-by-side. This allows comparison between the two, allowing you to make observations based on what each coffee does or doesn’t have (i.e. Coffee A has more acidity than Coffee B, or Coffee C has a mouthfeel of [blank], while the mouthfeel of Coffee D is more akin to [blank]).
If you are just beginning coffee tastings, don’t worry when you aren’t able to pick up many differences between the coffees you taste – a more refined coffee palette comes with experience. The more coffees you taste and are able to describe, the better-equipped you’ll be to point out the differences between each.
Step 1 – Defining Aroma
The nose can determine dozens more scents than the taste buds can pick up, so figuring out what aroma the coffee gives off is a logical first step.
After pouring the coffee, take your hand and cup in around the top lip of the cup, pressing your nose under it, creating a natural funnel for the aromas to reach your nostrils. Breathe in deep with your nose, doing your best to describe what aromas you sense. Nutty, floral, chocolaty, earthy, basil?
Step 2 – Defining Taste
To be honest, this step always makes me chuckle, because while teaching people how to do coffee tastings, my advice for this step is basically “be as obnoxious as possible.” When doing the actual ‘tasting’ part of a coffee tasting, slurp the coffee. Yes, slurp it! If the person next to you can’t hear your slurp, you aren’t doing it right. By slurping, the coffee is spread out all over your mouth and tongue, allowing different tastes receptors to pick up different, well, tastes. Some parts of the mouth are more akin to picking up sour tastes, others better for sweet. By allowing the coffee to spread out over your palette, you can pick up more intricacies in the taste.
Step 3 – Determining mouthfeel/body
As the picture above describes, body is basically how long the coffee sits in your mouth after you swallow it, and before that, where the coffee sits in your mouth. Take a sip and swallow. After the coffee goes down your throat, where is the taste (and general overall feel) lingering in your mouth? The middle of your tongue? Tip of your tongue? Sides of your mouth? Without going into too much detail, the mouthfeel of a certain coffee is often a good indicator as to how much acidity it has. Acidic drinks, such as orange juice, are felt on the sides and tip of your tongue – acidic coffees are the same way. Also, using the picture above, what is the “thickness” of the coffee? Is it smooth or almost watery, like skim milk? Or is it closer to whole milk, leaving a slight coating on your tongue?
Again, with your first few coffee tastings, don’t expect them to go perfectly. You won’t be able to determine every intimate detail of each coffee you try, but your palette becomes more accustomed to coffee with each new one you taste. Let me know if this technique works for you, and if this is all old news to you, let me know some of the best coffees you’ve tasted! I’m always looking for new ones to try!