Revised: February 27, 2008
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About Coffee: Fundamentals

Tasting Coffee

Learning to Taste

Anyone interested in becoming a coffee connoisseur must learn to taste. You may well want to compare samples of various coffees at the same sitting so you have an idea of what coffee terminology actually describes. (You'll find a complete list of coffee tasting terms in the Coffee Glossary.) Remember that dark roasting mutes or eliminates distinctions in flavor, so make certain you take this into account when comparing various roasts. It's best to buy all of your samples from the same supplier, so that your palate won't be confused by differences in style of roast. You can either make individual samples with a small pot or a one-cup filter cone, or brew the way professional tasters do. In either case, use the same amount of each coffee, ground the same and brewed identically.

Professional tasters assemble a clean cup or shallow glass for each coffee to be sampled; a soup spoon, preferably silver plated; a glass of water in which to rinse the spoon between samplings; and something to spit into.

  • Put one standard measure (2 level tablespoons) of each coffee to be sampled, freshly and finely ground, in each cup...

  • ...Pour 5 to 6 ounces of near-boiling water over each sample. Some of the grounds will sink to the bottom of the cup, and some will form a crust on the surface of the coffee. Wait a couple of minutes for the coffee to steep...

  • ...Then test each coffee for aroma. Take the spoon and, leaning over the cup, break the crust. Virtually stick your nose in the coffee and sniff. The aroma will never be more distinct than at this moment. If you want to sample the aroma a second time, lift some of the grounds from the bottom of the cup to the surface, and sniff again.

  • After you've broken the crust, most of the grounds should settle to the bottom of the cup. Use the spoon to scoop up whatever remains floating on the surface and dump it into the improvised spittoon. Top off the cup with fresh hot water...

  • ...Now take a spoonful of each coffee, lift it to a point just below your lips, and suck it violently into your mouth. The purpose is to spray coffee all over your tongue in order to experience a single, comprehensive jolt of flavor. This inhaling of coffee spray should give you a notion of flavor...

  • ...Now roll the mouthful of coffee around your tongue, bounce it, chew it even. This exercise should give you a sense of both the body and the acidity of the sample. Also note how the sensation of the coffee develops after the first impression; note whether it changes and deepens, or whether it becomes weaker or flatter. After all this, spit out the coffee, noting the aftertaste. It's a good idea to concentrate successively on each of the broad tasting categories; i.e. taste all three samples for acidity; then taste all three for body; then for flavor; and finally for finish, or aftertaste...

  • ...Continue to taste as the coffee cools. Some characteristics reveal themselves most clearly in a cooler coffee. If your palate becomes jaded or confused, sip some cold water or eat a bit of bread.


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