Barista Magazine

APR-MAY 2019

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and explaining our taste experiences is extreme- ly complex and daunting," says Joe Marrocco of Mill City Roasters. "Don't worry if someone disagrees or has a very different experience. We all have different memories and ways of explaining our experiences. Trusting yourself will ease your mind and allow you to focus on the taste while also being relaxed enough to fully experience what you are tasting." HOW TO PRACTICE TASTING "We put things in our mouths every day because we need to in order to survive, and we may even say, 'Wow, that tastes good,' without really analyzing why we feel that way," says Ever of Cafe Imports, whose palate development classes involve tasting food rather than coffee. Learning to taste mindfully is the best way to start grow- ing as a coffee taster. To start, go to the grocery store and choose fi ve types of citrus (or chocolate, berries, nuts, spices … you get the idea). Now re- ally taste them. Pinch your nose to notice how the acidity of a grapefruit plays differently on your tongue than an orange. Release your nose: How do the aromas create a different sensory experi- ence between the two fruits? What about the zest versus the pulp? Whenever you eat something, whether familiar or new, analyze it. "Go out to eat and obsessively talk about what you are tasting. Preferably with someone who likes you because it can be very annoy- ing," suggests Gerra. "Try a tasting menu at a restaurant that takes risks with their food and let them surprise you with fl avors and ingredi- ents you are not familiar with." Our industry has some great tools to help you become more comfortable and calibrated with coffee tasting. The Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel—a joint effort between the Specialty Coffee Association and World Coffee Re- search—displays common tastes and aromas found in coffee, organized fi rst by basic descrip- tors, then by more specifi c ones. This is how you should train your brain. For example, once you start to recognize a coffee is "fruity," try to narrow it down. Are you tasting more berry or stone fruit? If it's berry, is it strawberry or blueberry? The more familiar you become with tasting coffee, the easier this thought progres- sion becomes. To expand your fl avor experience further, try exploring other industry fl avor wheels, like beer or wine. While trying different foods on your own helps establish your personally calibrated palate, the Flavor Wheel lexicon established a reference guide (available for free online) that cuppers across the globe use as a standard for describing fl avor. Every descriptor on the wheel has an item (e.g., "fresh green grass" or "popsicle sticks") that is used to relate a common experience. For example, if you aren't sure what "un-ripe" smells like, your reference is grapefruit peel. Exploring these lexicon ref- erence samples is another excellent professional development activity. To practice, open the reference guide and choose a section of the fl avor wheel ("fruity - berry - strawberry") and follow the sample preparation instruc- tions provided ("thaw strawberries in refrig- erator overnight") ("Sensory Lexicon," WCR PDF). Go through the samples and take notes on how each one smells and/or tastes. Try to commit those descriptors to memory. Then, go through the samples blind to see if you can name the reference. The next time you have a fruity, berry-like coffee, you'll be able to recall those descriptors and discern whether it's more strawberry or blueberry. Once you become more comfortable with tasting coffee, introduce a cupping form into your practice. The cupping form goes beyond just naming fl avors and evaluates different attributes (acidity, body, aftertaste) by using a numbered scoring system. The sum of these categories provides the overall coffee score, with 100 being an unattainably perfect coffee and anything below 80 considered "not specialty" grade (though the intricacies of the grading system is a class in itself). As Gerra explains, "The form forces you to consider each attribute and evaluate it equally. It keeps individual bias and agenda in check." It's OK if you're not immediately calibrated with your cupping group. One of my fi rst times using the SCA Cupping Form, I scored a Kenyan coffee a 70 (below specialty), while everyone else in the room scored it a 97 (outstanding). I was horrifi ed, but I used that moment to calibrate myself. Having never had a great Kenyan cof- fee before, I considered the grapefruit acidity and sun-dried tomato tang as "off " compared to the chocolate-caramel Latin American coffees I was used to. The next time I was evaluating a Kenyan coffee, I knew those were prized attributes and scored accordingly. In all of these activities, it's important to taste and evaluate coffee with other people, es- pecially those whose knowledge can help guide your palate. By doing so, "We reinforce the lan- guage, make the experience more memorable, and work out the social insecurity of speaking about our personal experiences clearly," says Joe of Mill City Roasters. Speaking out at a public tasting can be intimidating, but getting feedback from others is the best way to grow as a taster. Everyone has to start somewhere, so ask questions, trust yourself, contribute your thoughts to the group, and most of all, don't get discouraged. SOURCES CITED: Holmes, Bob. Flavor: The Science of Our Most Neglected Sense. W.W. Norton & Company, 2017. "Sensory Lexicon." World Coffee Research, vol. 2.0. 2017, ments/20170622_WCR_Sensory_Lexicon_2-0.pdf. TASTING TIPS FROM COFFEE PROFESSIONALS "The question that I ask myself over and over is, 'How does it feel on my palate, in my nose, in my body?' Ulti- mately, [our sensory team] is approving something that will be the centerpiece of someone's sensory experience. We want them to have a good time, so we have to ask ourselves that question over and over." —Jim Kelso, Stumptown Coffee Roasters "I'd absolutely recommend reading really romantic, ethereal food writing, like MFK Fisher, Clementine Paddleford, Ruth Reichl, or Frank Bruni's stuff. Any- thing that really goes into the ways that texture, aroma, and taste are sensual ex- periences and how they affect the person eating them." —Ever Meister, Cafe Imports "Set up a cupping space (even if it's in a kitchen at home) and taste coffee by the cupping method on a regular basis. Sometimes just getting used to the mechanics of cupping can help open up brain space to focus on the nuances of coffee. When someone is just starting out in tasting coffee, they have to learn the dance of the cupping, which can be overwhelming." —Jodi Wieser, Gather Coffee Company "Take some of your food reference sample (orange, for example) and put it into coffee. Tasting that flavor in an assertive way in coffee will jog the mem- ory when it is later tasted in a subtler way in coffee. Finding a flavor through coffee is kind of like finding a partic- ular hue or color when the painting is complex and shadowed. It usually isn't staring you in the face." —Joe Marrocco, Mill City Roasters For those with some experience describ- ing coffee: "Hearing from other coffee folks will only make you a better coffee person. Cuppings are offered by roasters and importers alike, and are often free. I like to go to other people's cuppings to gain not only perspective but to keep calibrated with my peers outside my small cupping circle." —Gerra Harrigan, InterAmerican Coffee 94 barista magazine

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