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Tasting Coffee Part I

coffee tatsingDrinking coffee can be and is for millions of people every day one of life’s simple pleasures, but for some people, drinking coffee might be simple but tasting coffee is not. If you just want to enjoy your coffee, more power to you. If you want to explore your coffee you can taste like a pro using the same basic approach used by professional coffee cuppers.

Those who evaluate coffee for a living have many considerations to weigh when tasting coffee for reasons other than simple enjoyment. They are thinking about their position in the marketplace, their needs in terms of what they currently offer customer and what they would like to offer in the future. They might be thinking about the function of blend components, which are like voices in a trio or quartet or even sometimes a small chorus. They may be thinking about how a coffee stands alone as a single origin. They could be thinking about the balance within an espresso blend and how it might work when paired with milk, or without milk. Maybe they need a coffee that can take a dark roast without tasting burnt. Maybe they are looking for a coffee that will take a light roast without tasting sour. Sometimes…sometimes they are only looking to fall in love.coffee tasting

Regardless of all the baggage...uh, considerations a professional coffee taster brings to the coffee, they are seeking to understand something about the same essential element every time and even a casual coffee drinker can consider these things at times to gain a deeper appreciation of coffee. It is true that coffee “cuppers” use a different preparation than do coffee drinkers, and slurp from a spoon rather than drink from a cup, but anyone can adopt their basic approach to evaluation.

Smell It!

coffee tastingCoffee cuppers talk about both fragrance and aroma, fragrance meaning the smell of dry fresh ground coffee, and aroma referring to the smell of the wet coffee after receiving hot water. If you are grinding your coffee at home, you should definitely take a moment to smell the grounds immediately after grinding. This is where you will get your first hint of what’s to come. Gases are escaping the ground coffee rapidly so hurry and don’t be shy. Inhale vigorously. If the coffee is fresh roasted the fragrance of just ground beans should be intense. Although there are a great many identifiable scents in fresh ground coffee the more apparent include fruity or citrus, floral, and herbal or spice. These are largely indicative of the coffees life on the tree. Begin by trying to identify these big box categories and then you can think about specifics, like which fruit, which flower, which herb.coffee tasting

Your ability to consider the aroma of wet grounds will depend on your brewing method. If you are using a manual pour over method, such as a cone or French press, get your nose down near the wet grounds and, again, don’t be shy. Smell it! Sniff! Even if you are using an electronic drip brewer, get your nose as close as possible and inhale the smell. While you will continue to experience the scents you discovered when the grounds were dry, you may now pick up of scents that are indicative of how the bean responded to the roasting process, so you might pick up on caramel and chocolate and nuts. This is not to say the scents you experienced in fragrance retreat. They may become stronger, especially the citrus and spice if present, but the earthier and more savory scents will join the party.

In Part II we actually talk about tasting the coffee...imagine that.

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