For many of us, drinking coffee is a habit – part of our daily routine that we enjoy, without truly appreciating it. We may grab a morning coffee for the subway ride to work, or sip absentmindedly as we check our emails.
So take a moment, step back from your busy day and focus on the cup at hand – you may surprise yourself. Coffee is so much more than a drink – it is a science, an art and a delicacy and it should be savored and appreciated.
Everyone can taste coffee
Before you start to taste coffee, remember that there’s really no right or wrong answer – everyone’s palate is different and will recognize different flavors and aromas.
Yet the journey of the coffee bean from crop to cup involves plenty of tasting – the roaster, café owner and others will all have tasted the coffee to check for defects. This method of tasting is known as cupping.
What is cupping?
Cupping lets you evaluate the characteristics of a particular coffee bean so you can understand its taste and how best to brew it to ensure maximum flavor.
If you’re a beginner, start with two very different coffees so that you can more easily compare and notice flavor variations.
How to cup coffee
Start with an equal amount of each coffee and place into separate bowl or cup.
Pour over near boiling water and leave the coffee to steep for approx. 4 minutes.
Once the coffee has steeped, you will need to break the crust – the layer of floating grounds on top – by stirring it gently.
Some of the grounds will sink to the bottom of the bowl, but you should skim off any remaining on top before you taste the coffee.
Don’t taste the coffee immediately, as it should be slightly cooler to ensure maximum flavor, but feel free to inhale the aroma to prepare your taste buds.
Now for the slurp.
Slurping is an essential part of tasting coffee, as it helps to aerate it and spread it across your palate.
Bring your spoon of coffee to your mouth and suck the liquid in, drawing the coffee to the rood of your mouth so it falls on your tongue and the back of your mouth.
Do not swallow the coffee, but swirl it around in your mouth and focus on the flavors.
Tasting the coffee
Remember that it’s not a contest so just go with what you think (and taste). Are the flavors you’re getting floral, berry or caramel? Is the coffee sweet or bitter? And how does it taste different from your second cup?
If you’re struggling, take a look at the Counter Culture Coffee Flavor Wheel for guidance, but try to use your own words. Once you’ve decided on the flavors, look at the tasting notes on the coffees you used and compare with your own thoughts.
This will also help to extend your coffee-tasting vocabulary and consider other flavors you might not have thought of (e.g. umami, black pepper, nougat and lychee).