Skip to content

Intro to Coffee Tasting Part Two

This is week 2 of our Intro to Tasting series. If you missed what this is about, check out our first post here. In this post, we’ll learn some terminology and about the equipment used for tasting.   Barista preparing coffee for a tasting  

Tasting Terminology

Here are some terms you may see or hear when the subject of coffee tasting comes up. Some of these terms are specific to an actual tasting session whereas most of them are about the coffee itself. Mind you, they are not descriptive terms in the narrow sense of what a coffee tastes like. We’ll get into those terms next week. These are more along the lines of how the coffee feels in your mouth and what you experience as you are tasting.   Acidity – the amount of acid in the coffee. This is what gives coffee its brightness and can also make your mouth feel dry after taking a sip. Acidity may come across as a citrusy taste like lemon or grapefruit. See also: alkaline   Alkaline – the dry feeling in your mouth after drinking coffee with a high amount of acidity. See also: acidity   Aroma – the odor or smell of the coffee. Much of how we determine the taste of something is dependent on our sense of smell. Remember, if your sense of smell is affected in anyway (like by a cold or allergies) your sense of taste will be affected as well. Food—and coffee—will taste bland. Sometimes also called “the nose.”   Body – the coffee’s consistency or how it feels in your mouth. An example of this might be the difference between heavy cream, 2% milk, and skim milk. Each feels slightly different in your mouth. Coffee may never be as “thick” as the cream, but this should give you an idea of what your are looking for.  See also: mouthfeel   Clean – no aftertaste or dryness. A coffee that is called clean means that there is no difference in how the mouth feels once a sip has been completed/swallowed.   Complex – experiencing multiple flavors and aromas. Occasionally seen with single-origin, complexity typically comes when tasting blends.   Crema – the head of a cup of coffee. Much like beer, some coffees (most notably espressos) have a layer of foam that forms on top.   Cupping – another name for tasting.   Flavor – how something tastes. It is widely believed that the human tongue can perceive five distinct types of flavor: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. Coffees can exhibit any of these flavors and often a combination of them. With the possible exception of umami, you likely have no problem identifying these flavors. The best way to describe umami is to think of beef broth or soy sauce—that flavor that comes across as meaty   Finish – how the mouth feels after completing a sip of coffee.   Mouthfeel – how the coffee makes your mouth feel after taking a sip.   Roast – how the coffee beans are “cooked.” Different roast levels are determined by how long the coffee beans are roasted, toasted, or cooked and are called light, medium, dark, or a combination of light-medium or medium-dark based on how dark the beans are. When describing how long coffee beans are roasted the terminology may include “crack”, i.e. first crack or second crack. This refers to the sound the coffee beans make as they expand during roasting.   Smooth – also known as creamy or silky. Pretty much the opposite of astringent. It feels similar to how a sauce or milk would feel.   Terroir – the land on which coffee is grown. Some coffees exhibit flavors or other characteristics due to the land and climate in which they grow.   Varietal – a sub-type of coffee bean. Of the species Coffea arabica (our wonderful gourmet arabica coffee!), a few notable varietals include Blue Mountain, Kona, Bourbon, Mocha, Colombian, etc.   Winy – having characteristics of wine.   Most of the other terms we will cover next week when we cover describing coffee. Now, let’s look at the equipment needed for tasting coffee.  

Tasting Equipment

Tasting coffee is a relatively uncomplicated endeavor. Though there are a few items you must use, most of them are easy to get, fairly inexpensive, and simple to use. You could truly hold your own cupping at home with your friends with ease. Here is what you need:   Cups – Any cup or glass with a wide mouth will do. You will need one cup per coffee you are tasting. It is best that the cups or glasses hold about 6 ounces.   Spoons – You should provide one spoon per person. Rather than sipping from the cup, tasters will use the spoons to dip into the coffee and taste.   Rinse Cup – This is for tasters to rinse their spoons between tastings.   Spit Bucket – You and your fellow cuppers will not want to swallow all the coffee you will be tasting. Though, there are no rules against swallowing if really want to!   Coffee – Of course! Preferably whole bean.   Bowls – This is optional, but having two bowls per coffee to hold some of the whole beans and some of the ground coffee is an ideal way to learn even more about the coffee. Some people like to taste the beans and a little of the fresh grounds to get a better idea of the flavors and aromas prior to brewing.   Burr Grinder – There are many types of grinders, but burr grinders are the best for grinding consistently and correctly.   Kettle – Rather than brewing coffee like you do for your morning cup, you will be making the coffee right in the cup. You need to heat up your water somehow!   Thermometer – Make sure your water is the correct temperature so you can get all the flavor out of the bean.   Paper and Pens – You can make this as fancy or as simple as you like. Provide your fellow tasters with simple paper and pen or pencil to make their notes about the coffees they are tasting, or pre-print pages with the names of the coffees with space for notes, ratings, and more. It is entirely up to you how detailed you’d like to get.   That’s it! See? Easy peasy.   Now you know what to expect at a tasting. Next week we’ll walk through descriptions and how to properly taste coffee. See you then!
Previous article Mix Things Up with Tea