The Home Brew: Coffee Tasting like a Pro
If you’ve seen the tasting notes on your bag of coffee, it most likely means that the roaster and a group of others got together to go through what’s called a cupping, which is a fancy way of saying a coffee tasting. Cupping is a standard practice among roasters and coffee enthusiasts but for the home brewer, it might not be something that they’ve experienced already, and with more home brewers learning to find new ways to explore their coffee,
Coffee cupping is like a going on a trip. If it’s your first time, you might have expectations that will or will not be met. You could be surprised. You could be upset. It might be so enjoyable that you decide to stay a bit longer, and even try new things in the same place. With thousands of possible flavor notes to choose from, jumping into a cupping can feel a bit snooty, but that might just be part of the appeal.
The intention of this is not to guide you on how to do a cupping, since there are guides you can follow that range from basic to competition level, but what we want to share are things you’ll want to look out for that will help you refine your palate, explore different notes, and ultimately, help you identify what can be objectively defined as a great cup of coffee.
1. What kind/s of coffee are you tasting?
It will help when trying to do a coffee cupping to first figure out how to keep the deep dive simple. If you bought 20 different coffees and wanted to cup them all on your first try, you might end up getting yourself overwhelmed. You can start by identifying a few single origin coffees from different regions of the world. You can also have coffee all coming from the same country but from different farms to take note of how similar/different processes and roast types affect coffee. You’ll be surprised to see the variances and how this can help to prep your palate to find different notes. And speaking of notes…
2. Have a flavor profile cheat sheet at the ready.
“It tastes like tea!”, you might be inclined to say. Or it smells pretty good. Part of a good dive into your coffee is to help really pinpoint what it is your tasting. Are those floral notes you’re sensing? Do they smell like roses, or jasmine? Is the nuttiness more reminiscent of roasted peanuts or a nutty chocolate bar? The Specialty Coffee Association has a flavor wheel that’s become quite the standard in helping to define what notes you’re tasting in your coffee. Another popular reference is Counter Culture Coffee’s flavor wheel, which according to them is an updated take on the SCA’s. Having a notepad to write down those notes will also help to jog the good old memory in helping to remember what exactly it is you should be looking for in a certain coffee. Oh, and don’t forget to read the notes on the bag of the coffee you just tried and see if you found the notes that the roaster found. It’s partly a practice in vindication but also a practice in checking to see if there’s more to those 3-4 notes that might be more pronounced for you.
3. Exercise that palate.
A coffee tasting won’t be much if all coffees simply tasted like chocolate and nuts. First time specialty coffee drinkers are either amazed at the sudden discovery of something new or might simply brush off the cup as “just another cup of coffee”. The truth is that a palate that’s had its fair share of practice will have a much easier time with exploring different coffees. This doesn’t mean you need to gobble everything at every table, but instead, try a fruit or two, or maybe some floral teas, while remembering to take note of those flavors. You’ll be surprised that as you open your palate up to newer flavors, those same new flavors will eventually find their way out of coffees you’ll be tasting
4. Share the fun!
Cupping alone sucks, and no one should have to do that. Even in today’s virtual present world, cuppings have managed to find a way to continue, and even grow in scale and audience thanks to video conferencing. When once upon a time it used to be great to cup with 5 or 6 friends, now the possibilities are endless in getting to not only share the experience, but also in sharing the learnings. Getting to share notes with different people with presumably different palates will also open the possibility of having you go back and find things that others may have found.
There are so many more things that can be said about learning to taste coffee like a pro, but these 4 are how we feel you can get into it without having to grab a copy of the SCA Cupping Sheet. And hey, remember that it doesn’t hurt to ask the roaster (like us) about how you can make the most out of tasting your cup of coffee, and even compare notes with what you’re tasting versus what they did.
|Brewing coffee at home should be as easy as 1-2-3. We’re here to help you guys learn how to make the very best coffee at home with our series, The Home Brew.|
Words by Ryan Uy