When it’s done right, coffee tasting is a bit like meditation. You’re clearing your mind to focus on one thing, connecting with your senses and thinking in a way that you usually wouldn’t.
Will, our Head of Coffee, is the man responsible for tasting and Quality Scoring all the coffees on our Coffee Menu (plus the ones that aren’t good enough to make it on). He’s already sampled more than 1,000 coffees since the start of this year and, given how busy he is, he’s a pretty chilled out guy. Coincidence? We think not.
Below, Will shares his top tips for coffee tasting, which should help you reach that perfect place between ‘zen’ and ‘caffeinated’:
1. Stop what you’re doing.
In order to get the most from the coffee, you need to concentrate. You wouldn’t neck that fancy bottle of wine you’ve put by and this is kind of the same. Good coffee deserves your full attention and besides, it’s good for your mental well-being to stop multi-tasking from time to time.
2. Brew with love and care.
Whether you use a cafetiere, V60, Aeropress or espresso machine, our brew guides will help you to show your coffee the respect it deserves. Common mistakes include scalding it with water fresh from the boil and rushing the process meaning the coffee doesn’t have time to release its flavours. Taking your time over coffee making can be a wonderfully therapeutic thing to do, especially first thing in the morning.
3. Let there be light.
Sit somewhere comfortable and well-lit. Why? As well as being good for your feng-shui, light has a big impact on how we assess flavour. Official Guidelines released for Quality Scoring by the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) state that judging should take place in ‘a well lit room with no interfering aromas’.
4. Choose the right mug.
Did you know that black mugs can wreak havoc with your perceptions of taste balance? The journal Flavour have reported the colour of your coffee cup can have a psychological impact on the taste of your coffee, turns out a white mug enhances our perception of bitterness.
5. Wait a moment.
If your coffee is too hot when you take your first sip, you’ll burn your tongue and be forced to swallow it before you’ve had a chance to taste it. To taste the coffee properly you need to be able to hold it in your mouth and roll it round your tongue without any burning. It might look mouth-watering but this is the moment to put your willpower to the test.
Inhale and exhale through your nose, while you hold the coffee in your mouth and roll it around your tongue. Flavours are actually experienced, not on your tongue, but in the space behind your nose (called the Olfactory Bulb). Breathing deeply will help you experience the flavours more clearly. How often do you really pay attention to what you taste and where you taste it? This is your chance.
7. Compare and contrast.
If you can, try tasting two different coffees alongside each other. Comparison helps to make tasting less abstract, plus it feels kind of luxurious too.
Wondering what you’re looking for? Take a peek at what the judges look for when deciding on coffee Quality Scores…