Are you ever frustrated trying to taste the "juicy apricot notes" or "deep spicy cocoa undertones" described on the coffee label? Professional coffee tasters go through training to help them develop their palates and acquire a common language for describing what they taste and smell in the coffees they taste. You don't have to go through formal training to develop your palate for tasting the nuances in coffee, though. Discerning the flavors and textures in different coffees is largely a matter of practice and attention. If you're looking for serious training, you can sign up for classes through various coffee bars and barista schools. If you're just wanting to figure out how to taste the differences between different coffees, these 10 coffee tasting tips can help you develop your palate.
Keep a coffee tasting journal. The first step in developing your palate is to increase your awareness of the flavors you're tasting. One of the best ways to do that is to to write them down. You don't have to journal every coffee you try, but commit to journaling at least once a week to help raise your flavor consciousness. If you're an avid apper, you might like one of these apps to make it easier.
Taste coffee unadulterated. You wouldn't dump sugar or milk into your beer or wine before tasting it, so why do that to your coffee? Additions affect the flavors, aromas and mouthfeel of your coffee, distorting the actual taste.
Broaden your experience. It's a standard rule for just about any type of education. The more experience you have, the better you get at picking out specific nuances. It's fine to have a favorite coffee, but if you want to improve your palate, the more coffees you sample, the better you'll get.
Make opportunities to compare different coffees side by side. If you know identical twins, you may have noticed they're difficult to tell apart when you only see one of them -- but when they're standing side by side, their differences are obvious. The same thing applies to coffees. When you taste two cups of coffee side by side, their differences stand out.
Give coffee the sniff test. What you smell is a large part of what you taste. Before you take your first sip of coffee -- in fact, before you even brew it -- sniff it. Take a big whiff to sense the different aromas that are unlocked when you grind the beans, when the coffee blooms and you pour it. You'll be priming your senses to truly appreciate the flavor when it hits your tongue.
Try the same coffee different ways. You may see this described as a "vertical tasting" -- tasting the same coffee prepared by different methods. Coffee preparation makes a difference. Sometimes it's subtle. Sometimes it hits you in the face. Either way, it's a great way to put your palate to the test.
Let coffee cool slightly before tasting. It's pretty commmon knowledge that ideal brewing temperature for coffee is between 195 and 205 F.. By the time it's poured into your cup, the temperature will usually be about 180 F. Drinking coffee that hot is a great way to scald your taste buds, making it difficult to taste much of anything. The ideal tasting temp is in the 140-150 F. range. Let your coffee sit for a few minutes before taking that first sip and you'll taste far more of the flavors in the cup.
Taste your coffee at different temperatures. Many coffees have layers of flavors that reveal themselves as the coffee cools. Take your time between sips to enjoy the unfolding layers as they develop, as well as to allow yourself to taste the "finish" -- essentially, the aftertaste of the coffee. Take a sip of water between sips of coffee to clear your palate so you get a clean taste. (This is a general rule for coffee tasting anyway!)
Try, try again. As your palate develops, go back and try coffees from earlier in your journey again. You'll be surprised how much more you can pick up as you become more educated.
Learn more about developing your palate. These are some very general tips. If you want to learn more, check out some of the blog posts and articles below about coffee cupping and developing your palate.