Becoming A Better Taster
When I started working in coffee I experienced a lot of frustration with not being able to identify or taste as well as others at the cupping table. That frustration overshadowed my excitement about my new job and distracted me from the experience of tasting new coffees.
I quickly learned that to become a better taster, I needed to begin incorporating a few things into my routine. Here’s what has helped me become a better coffee taster:
- Taste coffee in different ways, primarily in a cupping.
- Cup coffee with other people, silently and in conversation.
- Cup frequently. Every week if possible, or every day.
- Be intentional and present during a cupping session.
Tasting Coffee in Different Ways
Cupping is a standardized practice to evaluate coffee for quality, according to the SCA. The way that we consume coffee daily is very different from tasting in a formal cupping. Instead, we should take the time to set up a cupping in a controlled environment and familiarize ourselves with the practice. We have a video on our YouTube channel about our cupping protocol and tools.
Who should attend a cupping session? Anyone can cup coffee, but you should make it a priority if you’re roasting coffee and serving it to others. Baristas can get a general idea of the coffee they’re working with by cupping it first. Roasters use cupping sessions for quality control, greens evaluation, and profiling.
In addition to regular cuppings, it’s also helpful to taste coffee brewed using SCA protocols. Use a standard ratio and water temperature with a brew method of your choice. This allows you to understand what a customer might experience when drinking their coffee. It also allows you to experience the coffee in a different way. New flavors might present themselves and the body might be showcased a little differently.
Tasting coffee both in a cupping and brewed using SCA protocols expands your palate and strengthens your tasting skills with time.
Cupping With Others
When I cupped coffee at the start of my career, I didn’t receive much feedback from others. This made it difficult to calibrate on flavor vocabulary and descriptors. Now, I’m cupping weekly as part of the education team with Bryant and Lauren, and we end the cupping by sharing our tasting notes.
Initially, this allowed me to get a base understanding of where I was with my tasting skills. We’d discuss our notes for each coffee’s flavor, aroma, and body, and I would ask questions about how what I tasted was similar to what they experienced. I would look for a connection in my notes to theirs and use that to better describe flavors moving forward. After some time, I recognized a common language used in cupping coffee and the importance of incorporating it into my vocabulary to calibrate with other other tasters.
With consistency, you’ll begin to taste and identify flavors, aromas, and origins. Tasting new coffees and different roasts will help you broaden that vocabulary. Through regular cuppings, you’ll be able to identify your weaknesses. If you drink a lot of dark roasts, you may have difficulty discerning flavors in lighter profiles. Or perhaps distinguishing between regions is more difficult than you would like.
As I mentioned previously, I’m cupping weekly with Bryant and Lauren, ensuring a consistent routine for progression. Without regularly cupping and tasting coffee we can’t expand our palates to taste and smell more accurately. As with any skill, practice is key, and the more we make it a habit the easier it becomes.
Aside from more technical practices, one thing I’ve incorporated into regular tastings is simply stepping up to the cupping table with a present and intentional mind. My outcome from cuppings have shifted in a more positive direction. Previously, I would go into a cupping with no real direction or plan. Changing my perspective from what I can’t taste or smell to how can I take this opportunity to expand my knowledge has helped tremendously. Being intentional with what your cupping is supposed to achieve and what you want to get out of it will be beneficial to becoming a better taster.
Attending a cupping session can be intimidating, especially if you’re new. I know it was for me. Some things to remember when you’re at the cupping table: it’s okay not to have the same notes as everyone else. At the beginning of your cupping journey, you may not be able to taste or smell the same things as others around you and that’s okay. Take that opportunity as a learning experience, ask yourself more questions, and trust your initial instinct on what you taste and smell.