Coffee tasting isn’t typically seen as esoteric and high-brow as wine tasting but there are a lot of people who take it very seriously. And rightly so in many cases—a lot of people’s livelihoods depend on their knowledge and abilities with regards to coffee tasting. From growers, to importers, to buyers, distributors, roasters, baristas, coffee shop owners…all need to have a keenly developed sense of what separates a great coffee from a good coffee. This article, though, is for the average person who just really, really likes coffee and maybe wants to impress a friend or barista.
TIP 1: Familiarize yourself with some coffee tasting lingo. The site in the link offers a nice, easy to read introduction to some essential coffee tasting terms and phrases. If you don’t know the bouquet from the body, this will get you started! Also, check out good ol’ Wikipedia.
TIP 2: Know the techniques. “Cupping” is a process where the real-deal coffee tasters do their thing. It involves some very careful and precise measurements and steps to ensure a fair and balanced evaluation of each coffee being tasted. This isn’t really what I’m talking about in this article and Patriotcoffee.com gives a far more thorough look at the cupping process than I ever could. Even though we’re “faking it” here, you should read up on cupping techniques. The important part here is that you give the coffee a good smell and a nice slurp—letting the coffee swirl around in your mouth with a thoughtful look on your face; slightly furrowed brow and nodding ever so slightly.
TIP 3: Try not to be the one to make the first comment. If you’re with someone else, ask them what they think. If they say something like, “I’m picking up some caramel, and an earthy chocolate with a citrus finish” or something to that effect, agree replying, “yes, definitely caramel and chocolate, I’m not picking up the citrus though,” take another slurp and comment, “oh yes, there’s the citrus.” If you have to go first or if you’re by yourself (why you’d be by yourself doing this, I’m not sure; but to each their own), you’re going to want to try and pick up some, (any) flavors and comment on them. If you aren’t sure you can hedge, “I’m having some trouble picking up distinct notes on this one.” “Nutty” and “hints of citrus” are good starting points.
TIP 4: You will want to repeat Step 3 a couple of times, remembering to sip, slurp, and appear to thoughtfully consider the flavors you are experiencing before saying something clever and insightful. I can’t stress this enough. If you really know next-to-nothing about coffee, you don’t want to expose yourself as a fraud.
TIP 5: Forget all about acting and sounding like you know what you are talking about, trust and appreciate that there are very good people in the coffee supply chain and just sit back, relax, and enjoy your good coffee and good company.