Learning how to taste coffee and discovering coffee’s complexities can be an exciting and rewarding adventure! Coffee is extremely complex, both chemically and physically, and there are so many variables that can contribute to the taste of coffee. So if you feel a little bit lost when a seasoned coffee professional can taste a specific fruit, grain, or nut - don’t be intimidated by that, it takes time, practice, and a lot of tasting. But the ultimate goal is simply enjoying whats in the cup!
What do you enjoy about coffee? Is it the feel? The after taste? The sweetness? The experience?
One of the quickest ways to expand your coffee palate is simply by trying new things. Taste a lot of ingredients, taste a lot of foods, taste a lot of coffees. Taste everything.
Tasting is comparative. So if you know what an almond tastes like, or lavender, dried apricots, chocolates, stone fruits and more, this will inform the flavors that you experience in the cup. The more you taste, the more you’ll be able to identify unique flavors and continue to develop your palate. You’ll then be able to bring that depth of knowledge to your coffee and the overall cup experience.
As you continue to expand your palate, there are other qualities to keep in mind when tasting coffee. Those include aroma, mouthfeel, acidity, sweetness and aftertaste.
AROMA When you first approach a cup of coffee, take in the aroma. Does the coffee smell intense or mild? Do you smell chocolate? Flowers? Earth? Fruits? Vegetables? This will begin to inform the flavor of the coffee.
MOUTHFEEL Sip the coffee and let it roll around your mouth covering all parts. What texture does it have? Do you perceive it with a fuller or thinner texture? Is the coffee creamy, oily, buttery, watery? An easy way to describe this is the difference between cream and skim milk.
ACIDITY This refers to the bright, tangy quality that you taste when drinking coffee. You can compare this to the same feelings you get when you bite into an lemon, apple, melon or berry. Is the coffee really bright like a lemon? Or is the acidity more subtle like a melon? The presence of acidity is what gives liveliness to a cup of coffee.
SWEETNESS This is an extremely important feature of coffee. Sweetness is what balances out the acidity found in coffee.
AFTERTASTE This refers to how long the flavor lasts in your mouth after you swallow. Does the flavor hang around a long time? Or does it quickly fade away? This can also reveal new flavors that weren’t as obvious when you first tasted the coffee.
Another easy tip is to read the coffee bags! Roasters are continually adding more and more information like tasting notes and geographical attributes that can help deepen your knowledge of and ability to taste coffee.
Now that you’re equipped with a better understanding of how to taste coffee, it’s your turn to apply this knowledge. Gather some friends, make a fresh cup of coffee, and share it. Create dialogue and talk about what you taste in the cup. One of you may perceive something the other didn’t. Enjoy the experience of tasting coffee.