Wait, There's More Taste To Coffee Than Just... Coffee?
Hopefully you may have read our tips on tasting coffee and how coffee is scored by professionals. We approached that topic in a way that highlighted the overarching principles or ‘traits’ that professional coffee tasters look for in any given coffee.
Here we take this a little further and talk you through how you can begin tasting coffee and developing your coffee palette at home. Developing a consistent coffee tasting ability only comes from, well, consistency and repetition. The more coffees you try, and the more varieties you’re exposed to, the quicker you’ll become familiar with the nuances and complexities found within different coffees. This develops your internal reference points or points of comparison between different coffees.
Comparison is a crucial part of 'Coffee Cupping'. Cupping is a method used in coffee tasting to compare the quality, flavour profile and traits of any given coffee by comparing one to another. Drinking a single coffee doesn’t provide much data. How do you tell if the acidity is high or low? How do you tell if the mouthfeel is light or heavy? Exactly, you can only really accurately determine these factors if you have something to compare it to. Therefore, if you’re trying to narrow down which coffees and what traits you enjoy then having a constant comparison approach is the best way to objectively determine this for you. This is where GUSTATORY’s coffee subscriptions can really help you as we’ll be able to send you different coffees every month so that you can experience as much variety as possible - within the parameters of your subscription package choice, of course. This variety is especially true if you're someone who hasn't any prescribed flavour or processing preferences set in your account, thereby open to receiving much more variety than someone who, comparatively, has their account settings finely tailored towards receiving exact-matching coffees every month. So, how do we go about forming this comparison study and how do we setup a cupping session of our own at home? Well, we're glad you asked, grab a pen, piece of paper and let’s get started.
1 Select two different coffees
The key word here is ‘different’. As we’re looking to compare coffees in this exercise, the more different the coffees are from one another, the easier it will be to determine what those differences are. For example, if you were two get two bags of Colombian coffee, both with chocolatey nutty flavour profiles, then comparing these two is going to be incredibly difficult as there will be too many similarities. However, combining a chocolatey, nutty South American coffee with a floral, fruity African coffee will help you better understand how these two coffees differ.
If you’re not sure which coffees to buy then it’s always worth going to your nearest speciality coffee shop. They will often have bags for sale at retail, and will also be able to advise you on some particular roasters or specific coffees to try. We trust they'll be recommending GUSTATORY (we hope!), our we know our far-and-wide subscriber community regularly does.
2 Brewing both coffees
As a primary concern to note, we fully recommend not adding milk as we’re only interested in the coffee in it’s purest, most uninterrupted form. Therefore, we would advise using a V60 or a French Press. A French Press (cafetière as it’s more commonly known) is probably the easiest and most consistent method if you’re new to speciality coffee, whilst a V60 will likely produce a cleaner brew - there are a lot of factors that can change the outcome of a V60. The small single cafetieres are probably the best ones to go for as you’re not going to be too concerned about volume, you’re just taking small sips of each coffee as opposed to drinking the whole cup!
3 Don’t drink your coffees too hot
Coffee is all about patience. Once the coffee is brewed you may think it is ready to drink but hold your horses. The nuances and traits of the coffee will continue to develop even after it’s brewed and can be more noticeable when the coffee is cooler. If you drink a boiling hot coffee you’re not going to be able to pick up on the nuances, you’ll probably just be able to tell that it’s really hot! Leaving the coffees to sit for a few minutes so they’re warm but easy to drink quickly is the best way to determine if you’ve left it long enough. By this point the flavour profile and the traits of the coffee will be more fully developed and easier to distinguish too.
4 Start tasting your coffee
Start by smelling each coffee. Why? Tasting occurs as much in the nose as it is in the mouth. Does anything jump out at you straight away? Do you prefer the smell of one coffee to another? Next, begin by taking a few sips of each coffee and do this alternately. Take a second between each coffee to make sure you’re able to focus on what you’re tasting. Here, we’re just thinking about taste, or rather, ‘flavour’. Don’t worry about trying to describe it with words, just start thinking about whether what your tasting is pleasant and start to form that benchmark in your mind. Do you like it, did you enjoy what you just tasted?
5 Texture firs - it's probably easiest
As we say, determining flavour profiles and descriptive words for coffee notes is complex and so even before thinking about picking out the subtleties of each coffee also think about the texture of the coffee in your mouth. This is known as mouthfeel and really we’re only interested in whether the coffee feels heavy and full bodied or light, delicate and almost tea-like. This can sometimes be the easiest thing to determine and so is a good place to start!
6 Don’t worry about specific flavours
A common misconception is that the flavours printed on a coffee bag should be the flavours detectable in the coffee but this isn’t the case - they're flavour notes, not flavours themselves. If your bag states ‘notes of apple’ and you can’t taste your favourite Pink Lady you enjoy on all your lunch breaks then it’s not because you’re doing anything wrong, roasters simply use tasting notes to describe more overarching sensations associated with that note that you may more easily recognise. For example, an apple note may not relate to the flavour of apple, more so the characteristics of apple, be it tasting sharp, refreshing and acidic. If you do pick up on any flavours that you deem interesting then start jotting them down and don’t worry about the lingo, if it makes sense to you then that’s all that matters because you can then compare the flavour of one coffee to another.
7 Review what you’ve experienced
At every step, it’s important to jot down what you experienced. Describe the mouthfeel, the flavour etc and then test yourself. Pick up the bag of coffee for each coffee you've tried here and then compare the notes written on the bag by the roaster to the notes you've written down on your piece of paper. Do you see any similarities between what they've published and what you've written down? If you don’t then don’t worry, you can look at it another way - put simply, having done the cupping you've just done, do you at least now have a greater understanding as to why they may have written that description on the bag? What did coffee A taste more like in comparison to coffee B?
Enjoy Better Coffee
Gaining a greater understanding of better coffee is a very gradual process that only develops with practice and repetition but rest assured, over time you’ll become more tuned to what you’re tasting and smelling. This process will in time let you easily determine what types of coffees you enjoy and will inevitably help you choose enjoyable coffee more consistently when ordering at a coffee shop or buying bags of coffee.
We hope this outlining of home coffee cupping helps, and with filter coffees our firm recommendation for this process, there really are just so many great filter coffees to discover by subscription to GUSTATORY, least mention our best-in-class high scoring filter coffees. If you'd like to learn more, please do feel free to speak to us on Live Chat and we'll be more than happy to explain this in person.
GUSTATORY (adjective): curating excellence in taste.