October 2009 Newsletter
Astute customers may notice there's a bit of a theme to how
special coffees are being presented. This month's special is
Where the August Kenya was all about acidity and the September
Costa Rica was flavour intensity, the Yirgacheffe is fruit and
flowers. Sweet jasmine fragrance and definite hints of aromatic
citrus in the cup.
Which leads in to the techniques
and terminology of coffee tasting.
The "standard" work was
originally produced by Ted Lingle, author
of "The Coffee
Cuppers' Handbook", and former executive director of
The human mouth experiences 5 taste sensations, sweet, sour,
bitter and umami, the last being the mouth's reaction to
common flavour enhancer. Most of the sensation we
interpret as taste is really the product of our sense
This is probably why the definition of the ultimate in
"one that tastes the same as it smells"!
Professional coffee tasting technique can be summarized as the
Sniff, the Big Slurp and the Big Spit. The sniff is for
the coffee, of course. A superior coffee will have a
aroma with no disagreeable smells. Then comes the
basically an attempt to inhale a mouthful of coffee
(takes a bit of practice), after which you swish
the coffee around
inside your mouth to determine its overall
taste, body and balance.
Projectile spitting into a spittoon is
another art which must be
learned if you don't want to wear
brown shirts permanently.
After the show is over, the big question is - what does it taste
like? - and hopefully the answer is "COFFEE!" However, the
taste can usually be defined in terms of "sourness" -
the level of
acidity, "sweetness" - caramelised sugars formed
during roasting -
"bitterness" - undesirable taint at the back
of the mouth - and
"body" - lipid (oil) content contributing to
mouthfeel. The more
subtle flavour nuances, such as
"blackberry", "gamey", "maple
syrup", "toast" are generally
features of the aroma, an attempt to
describe the overall
flavour by analogy to known tastes. This is
where Ted Lingle
came in with the descriptions he invented in his
standardize the terminology.
He characterizes flavours and aromas in easily understandable
terms, allowing you to describe a coffee as "Sweet, with a
acidity. The aroma is flowery with hints of citrus. The
rounds out the flavour into a balanced whole."
Which, just by the way, is the description of this month's
Learning to taste coffee is almost entirely a practical affair,
with of course a lot of paperwork attached. "If you don't write
down, you never tasted it." These days professional
nose training kits are available from the SCAA and
actually "supertaster" competitions held at
conferences and Barista
championships. Even judges at these
events must be able to pass
basic taster exams.
Finally, a gentle warning for all my interstate customers that
there will be no coffee roasted or shipped on the first Tuesday
November. Every year we get queries from customers who are
unfortunate enough not to be living in Victoria, where the "Race
That Stops a Nation", the Melbourne Cup, is a public holiday,
for many people a 4-day weekend.