How to develop coffee tasting palate?

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Sardonic_Sardine

#1: Post by Sardonic_Sardine »

Just out of curiosity, how has everyone else developed their coffee tasting palates? Has it mostly been through coffee? Tea? Was it systematic or just from random experience?
"Really great things are evident to anybody who's paying attention." - Charles Babinski

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bostonbuzz

#2: Post by bostonbuzz »

Get two coffees next to each other and put the differences into words. The coffee flavor wheel will help immensely.
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pacificmanitou

#3: Post by pacificmanitou »

No substitute for tasting. I cook a lot, so I have a good understanding of how a lot of different things taste. Tasting a variety of coffees helps you to know how those tastes manifest in coffee itself, and roasting teaches how to make those tastes prevalent.
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Boldjava

#4: Post by Boldjava »

Evaluating coffees (3-5 days off roast, pourover preps) on a somewhat weekly basis taught me to pay attention to tastes, mouthfeel, body, acidity, flavors, nuances. Discipline. Attentiveness. Long, slow process.

That in turn led to paying attention to tastes in foods. This too is a long, slow, delightful process.

No end in sight.
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another_jim
Team HB

#5: Post by another_jim »

The best raw training is triangle testing: set up two cups of one coffee, one of another, shuffle, and pick the odd cup. If you can tell apart coffees from one region easily, e.g. Kenyas, it means you re sensitized to the factors that make Kenyas distinct. The more you know a region, the easier it becomes. Once you can do this with a lot of regions, you will be good taster.

Don't worry too much about telling which one is better or worse -- if you're posting here; you'll find that part obvious.

Describing coffees is its own discipline, distinct from developing taste discrimination. Part of it are also more subjective. The best you can hope to do is to describe the same coffee and coffees from the same region consistently and usefully over time; without worrying too much whether your descriptions matches those of others.

Buy Lingle's book and taster's wheel for the vocabulary (available at the SCAA store and often Sweet Maria's). If you are willing to spend the money, get the Nez du Cafe so you can link aromas to words -- personally I find this less useful, since the aromas from randomly selected spice and perfume bottles are just about as reminiscent of coffee aromas as the ones in the kit.

The big divisions on the taster's wheel: fruit, flowers, caramel, dry distillates, everyone will identify the same way -- these are quite objective. But even a group of experts will describe the more specific flavors randomly; here consistency with your previous descriptions is the main goal.

The best way to do this is by identifying where the coffee comes from (see the discrimination section), then using the recognized descriptors for that region to describe the coffee. For instance, if you identify a coffee as a Sumatra; feel free to use "earthy," "woody," "tobacco," "juniper," but bend over backwards to find other words if you taste stuff that reminds you of strawberries and peaches.
Jim Schulman

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peacecup

#6: Post by peacecup »

Nice post Jim, i'd like to try a little of that. Can one do this with a simple Melita pourover brew method, or does one need more sophisticated brewing methods?

For starters, is the coffee tasted warm or cool, and what is the standard brew ratio?

PC
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markk100

#7: Post by markk100 »

Good day Andre,

I might suggest that you not develop a palate specific to coffee, rather leverage multiple disciplines to develop an awesome palate.

While I'm far from an expert on the subject of cupping, judging, etc when it comes to coffee, I have over the years developed an above average palate in my estimation.

It started with food, then led to cooking, then wine, now coffee. I can say with absolute certainty that my previous forays in food and wine has helped me develop my palate for coffee too. My suggestion would be to taste and SMELL everything (don't forget the olfactory piece to taste). I used to and still frequent farmer's markets and I shove my nose in just about anything someone will let me, I smell every dish put in front of me at a restaurant (yes, I'm that guy planting his face in the plate in the middle of a crowded restaurant), I cook a lot, and I dissect best I can every glass of wine I pour or is poured for me.

My wife thinks I should stop talking about X vintage and just drink it, I'd enjoy myself more. Maybe, but I enjoy tasting this way, and after I'm satisfied, I do 'relax' a bit.

With respect to coffee, temperature is important to note...I prefer personally to let a cup sit for a few minutes before jumping in...espresso, I often times pull into a room temperature cup (I know this may be heresy, but I taste more this way, again personally) so I can go through the profile more effectively.

This is just my experience and approach, others here surely have more experience; but in a nutshell: Actively develop your palate through diversification, don't forget to smell, and mind your personal temperature tolerances specific to taste.

Hope this helps,

Mark

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Randy G.

#8: Post by Randy G. »

Something like a decade ago I sat in on a beginners roasting session at an SCAA Exhibition. I had been roasting at home and so just watched the paid attendees roast the coffee then we all went in to cup the just-roasted beans. One cup was a remarkably delicious Bolivian. I do not remember what the other was, but I thought it tasted pretty good and said so. The fellow next to me looked at me in surprise and said, "Taste it again and pay attention to the finish." I did just that and it was terrible.

I offer that embarrassing moment as an example to show the value of taking a class of some sort or just spending some time with a knowledgeable person.
Espresso! My Espresso! - http://www.EspressoMyEspresso.com
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another_jim
Team HB

#9: Post by another_jim »

peacecup wrote:Nice post Jim, i'd like to try a little of that. Can one do this with a simple Melita pourover brew method, or does one need more sophisticated brewing methods?
Any method that will produce three cups you can try blind. Standard cupping is by far the easiest, and overwhelmingly used since the prep does not require any equipment at all other than the cups themselves and some hot water.

Smell the grounds, can you tell them apart?
Pour the water, smell the cap, can you tell them apart
Let the cap sit four minutes, push it down with a spoon, let the cup sit another five minutes, then taste, can you tell them apart now?

The trick is not to second guess yourself; always go with your first impression. Remember this is training; you may well blow it at first with similar coffees that are unfamiliar to you; but learn them in a few tries.
Jim Schulman

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SimonPatrice

#10: Post by SimonPatrice »

markk100 wrote:Good day Andre,

I might suggest that you not develop a palate specific to coffee, rather leverage multiple disciplines to develop an awesome palate.

Actively develop your palate through diversification, don't forget to smell, and mind your personal temperature tolerances specific to taste.

Mark
I have to agree with markk100 on that. Developing your tasting palate in general will help you a lot to discern different tastes and to enjoy the experience. You can start by pay attention to everything you smell and taste and try to put words on it. Tasting coffees (or beers, or single malts, or olive oils, or honeys, or...) with others that have more experience than you do will also help a great deal. That's how I, personally, developed my palate for beer which helped my palate for single malts and now coffee.
Patrice
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