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Tasting Coffee: A Quick Guide to Cupping

Gourmet coffee is notoriously difficult to describe accurately.  Unless you're a coffee connoisseur who devotes your life to cupping coffee, you probably couldn't taste a coffee and say, "Clearly this is from Brazil."  You can probably tell the difference between a light roast and a dark roast; these are more obvious characteristics.  However, for those who are trained to cup coffee, the difference between coffees can be as stark as the difference between chocolate and strawberry.  But even the coffee cupper has difficulty communicating what they taste!  Words like "bright," "vibrant," and "winey" may not tell you very much.  Plus, coffees can taste different from year to year and crop to crop, depending on the changes in soil and weather. While it may be difficult to express what you taste, you can learn how to cup like the pros and be able to distinguish between coffees!  You don't have to slurp and spit like a professional; just enjoy your coffee like normal in the morning.  Before you add anything to it, take a sip of it black and enjoy the natural flavor of the coffee.  Savor the aroma and notice the distinctions that can be found in different coffees. To get the full flavor of the coffee when you cup it, you have to hold the coffee just below your lips and slurp it into your mouth.  You want the coffee to spray your mouth so that all of your tongue and the back of your throat experience the coffee.  After all, each part of your tongue specializes in noting sweet, sour, and other flavors.  Your whole mouth will be able to notice these flavors without being overwhelmed, as it would be if you just took a normal sip. Let the coffee sit on your tongue a bit before you swallow (or spit, if you want to act like a pro).  Roll it around to figure out what the body is like.  How does it feel?  Does it change the longer it stays in your mouth?  This is when you'll notice if it's thick and creamy or winey (thin-tasting, like a wine).  If you spit the coffee out, you'll be able to catch the aftertaste, too.  Sometimes there are unique flavors that become apparent when you do this. You don't have to know everything the coffee pros do, but it's good to know what makes each coffee different.  This will help you figure out what coffee and coffee type you like best!  Happy cupping!
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