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I've been home-roasting coffee for over a year now, starting with stovetop pan roasting, then moving up to an air popper, and then a small roaster this Christmas. I'm at the point where I can tell a light-roasted, acidic Ethiopian from a dark Indonesian blend, but beyond that I'm frustrated by my inability to pick out specific flavors from one coffee to the next.

Anyone have any tips/tricks for developing this? Or some qualities that vary across coffees that are easier to taste for along with vocabulary to describe what I'm tasting?

18

There are several approaches that can aid in developing your palate.

Cupping

The preferred method of tasting coffee. This requires only a cupping bowl and spoon. Dose out coffee, pour in the hot water evenly, and at 4 minutes skim off the top to remove the crust while carefully not disturbing what has settled at the bottom. Wait about 12-14 minutes for the coffee to cool to a desirable drinking temperature, and slurp the coffee with the spoon.

Types of flavors

There's a variety of descriptions you can use to describe the coffee. Try describe everything. The mouth feel: is it full bodied or light? The acidity: Is it citric or stone fruit? The Smell: What are the aromatics?

Note keeping

Every time you taste coffee, keep notes of what flavors you taste. Basic notes of chocolate or smoke are fine, more nuanced flavors like cherry or plum may come out. Don't be afraid to write exactly what comes to mind. If the coffee tastes like captain crunch then write it!

Comparing coffee

Don't just taste your coffee by itself. Compare it to other roasts you've done. Compare it to coffees from other cafes as well. Note the differences.

  • 2
    Just a practical note to this answer: There are workshops organized everywhere to learn how-tos, and to meet passionate people too :-) Most workshops I have attended are quite cheap, even free sometimes. A nice thing with workshops is to discover new beans, and to taste a larger "scale" conveniently. – Eric Platon Jan 29 '15 at 1:20
  • What would you say are some of the easiest binary oppositions to discern? Full-body vs. light and acidic vs. non-acidic were ones I was able to pick up early on, but things like 'citric' vs 'stone' fruit I can't even being to taste. – Justin Jan 29 '15 at 23:52
4

I would (with some bias) highly suggest reviewing all of the coffee you drink using Gastrograph Review for iOS or Android.

This will help you directly address the problems you state in your question:

  1. It will help you better resolve specific flavors
  2. it will help you learn to differentiate specific regions and processing methods
  3. It will help you understand you preferences (the flavors you like or dislike)
  4. it will keep a log of all the coffee you drink and enjoy

You can see a tutorial for how to review here.

  • 1
    I'm downloading the app now. It looks pretty cool. Can anybody tell me why this answer had a score of -2 when I found it? – Ben Ogorek May 4 '15 at 18:00
  • @BenOgorek It's been down-voted because people think it's an advertisement. Thank you for the kind words! – JayCo May 4 '15 at 22:58

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