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Intro to Coffee Tasting Part Three

Welcome back to the third installment of our Intro to Coffee Tasting. This week we get into the actual tasting of coffee including the rules followed by cuppers around the world. We will also look at the descriptive terminology used to illustrate the nuances in flavors and aromas that tasters experience. If you are wondering what this series is about, check out Part One. For tasting terminology and equipment needed for a tasting, check out Part Two.   coffee tasting table layout  

Setting Up The Tasting

If you read Part Two, you know the tools you need for your tasting. I think I may have left out a scale, though. Sorry about that! You will need a kitchen scale that weighs in grams. This will give you the most accurate measurements.   Assemble your cups, spoons, rinse cup, spit bucket, bowls, burr grinder, kettle, thermometer, scale, water, and coffee. Don’t forget paper and pens or a coffee diary to keep notes. Set up your area with enough room for everyone to stand around comfortably.   Setup the tasting table similar to the following:   diagram of coffee tasting table layout   Into the top row of bowls, labeled “Whole Beans” measure out a few grams of whole coffee beans for tasters to inspect, sniff, and possibly taste. Into the second row of bowls, labeled “Grounds” measure out a few grams of coffee and grind it to the same coarseness as for the coffee you intend to brew. Again, this is for tasters to inspect, sniff, and possibly taste. Into the “Rinse Bowls” put clean water so tasters can rinse their spoons after tasting. The spit buckets are self-explanatory.   You will notice that each station above has three tasting cups. When tasting, there are generally three to five cups of each coffee provided. The reason for this is to ensure uniformity of the samples. It is best to try each of the samples to get a well-rounded idea of the flavors and aromas.  

Let’s Drink Some Coffee

Once everything is setup, it is time to start the tasting process. The coffee beans should be ground immediately prior to the tasting. Grind them coarse enough that there will be no floating grounds after breaking the crust and skimming the surface. Visually, this would be slightly larger than what is used for drip grind, closer to a French press grind. Put the correct amount of grounds directly into the cups.   Use 1.63 grams of whole bean coffee per ounce of water. Water should be clean, clear, and without noticeable odors. Do not distill or soften the water. Boil the water and wait until it is just off the boil, or at 200 degrees F before pouring the desired amount directly into the cups with the grounds. Make sure all the grounds are wet.   Once the water is poured, the coffee grounds will make a kind of crust over the top. Leave the coffee to brew or steep, undisturbed, for 3 to 5 minutes. During this time, allow the tasters to smell the grounds and determine the differences, if any, between the dry grounds and the wet. When the brew time has been met, break the crust. Again, allow the tasters to sniff the aromas from this as it will have the strongest smell at this point.   When you break the crust, most of the grounds will sink to the bottom of the cup. Anything that is left on the surface, including any foam, should be skimmed off the top and discarded in the spit bucket. At this point, the coffee is now ready for tasting.   Take a spoonful of the coffee and bring it to your mouth, just touching you bottom lip. Quickly suck in the coffee so that it sprays into your mouth. This should coat the entire mouth including tongue, inner cheeks, and roof of your mouth. (Be careful not to breathe the coffee into your lungs!) Allow the coffee to roll around on your tongue. Try to “feel” it which will give you an idea of the texture or body (sometimes called “mouthfeel”) of the coffee. Note any flavors or other aspects like sweetness, bitterness, strength, weakness. All of these are things you will be discovering and detailing in your notes.   At this point, you can either spit out the coffee or swallow it. The choice is entirely yours, however, you must be conscious of not over-caffeinating. Continue tasting the coffee until you are able to distinguish the varying aromas, flavors, and textures. Subsequent sips do not need to follow the aspiration technique, you can simply take sips. The qualities you will be looking for are:
  • - Acidity
  • - Body
  • - Aroma
  • - Flavor
  • - Finish
  • - Aftertaste
  While tasting, the coffee will cool. This is okay. As the coffee cools there will likely be other characteristics that will be noticeable. Also, as you are tasting, your palate may become confused or fatigued. This is normal. Take a break for a few moments to drink a little water and, if there are any available, take a bite or two of unsalted water cracker.  

Record Your Observations

As you are tasting, make sure to take notes on the different coffees. Record your observations about the different qualities listed above. There are general terms used to describe those qualities, however, feel free to use any descriptors you choose. Does the coffee taste like a rose? Okay. How about a dirty gym sock? That works, too. Next week we’ll learn about the aromas and flavors, the essences if you will, that you can pick out as you are tasting coffee. See you then!
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