Learning to taste better
Hello, my dear fans of good coffee! Today we are going to focus on the nuances and learn some useful things about tasting. Some people are lucky to have a very refined palate or to be born with a more sensitive sense of smell than normal, this is what has made for example many perfumers famous. Thats´sthe exact this type of person that has the ability to find the flavor of a specific fruit or to perceive a defect in the coffee cup. This is why well-developed senses are a valuable tool. This allows them to enjoy much more of their preparations, in addition to how fantastic this goes to them for their career in the coffee industry.
The good news is that although some of us were born with a more sensitive palate than others, tasting coffee is a skill that can be learned. You can also develop an excellent palate for wines, cheeses and all kinds of foods. Imagine how wonderful those jobs are in which they pay you to go to try a lot of delicious things! But this doesn´t fall from the sky, good tasters are people who practice, practice and practice.
7 tips to develop your perception and become an excellent taster:
1. Drink liters and liters of coffee
First, you will have to know the drink you want to work with, that is, besides cultivating and studying coffee in depth, you will have to drink a lot of coffees (not all together, of course. There are also some special cups that are used in the professional tastings, to spit the sips immediately after tasting). Ok, you will tell me: “I already do that”. And I’m sure you know a lot. But you have to try all the varieties that you can. Try different origins and different roasting profiles of different roasters, it will help you distinguish the huge variety of profiles and flavors we can find. In addition, it will be a good idea to point out in a little notebook everything that you perceive while tasting, so you can build your sensory perception.
2. Eat fruits and sweet things
How can we recognize something if we have never tried it before? A good taster should be comfortable with a wide range of flavors, and in the coffee industry flavor with fruit notes is the most common. So I recommend you to try as many fruits as possible. In addition, the water contained in the fruits is naturally distilled by the plant, if you get used to eating a variety of fruits and vegetables your entire digestive system will be perfectly clean. If in the place where they are, or that certain season of the year, does not allow the tasters to obtain certain fruits, they use a trick as simple as it is fun: they train with sweets. Many sweets and candies have similar flavors to those of fruits. I bet you didn´t expect that one. Keep in mind that the amounts of sweets needed to practice are minuscule, we won´t spoil our smile with tons of sugar.
3. Know the basic flavors
It is clear, you can not start to taste coffee and then be differentiating between the notes of lychee and those of yuzu. The best you can do is to start familiarizing yourself with the basic flavors: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami. Next, solutions to train and recognize these flavors:
- Sweet: 24 g of sucrose per liter of water
- Acid: 1.2 g of citric acid per liter of water
- Salted: 4 g of NaCl (salt) per liter of water
- Bitter: 0.54 g of caffeine per liter of water
- Umami: 2 g of monosodium glutamate per liter of water
4. Use the sensory lexicon
The professionals of the sector train with their team using the Sensory Lexicon of World Coffee Research (WCR), the same one on which the coffee flavors wheel is based (which is another thing that would be interesting for you to master, I give you a sample photo just above). The lexicon and the wheel contain numerous flavors that you can experience in one cup – although not all – according to the WCR. The flavor lexicon was invented to create a standard language in the coffee industry, with a scale of reference and intensity of 1 to 15 “. It is a great tool to improve sensory abilities.
5. Use the Taste Map T100
The aromas set of the Flavors Map T100 is another tool with which some coffee professionals train once a month. This set contains the 100 common aromas of coffee, so it is very useful for those who want to develop the palate. In fact, there is even a championship in which the tasters must classify the different essences correctly, the World Aromaster Championship. In addition to helping you develop the ability to distinguish different flavors, this map is also good to learn how to calibrate the senses. With time you´ll be able to describe notes right as a professional.
6. Practice with organic acids
In coffee there are different types of organic acids, such as citric, malic, phosphoric, quinic, tartaric or lactic acid. And each one produces a different taste sensation. If you can recognize and describe them, you will understand and appreciate your coffee better. What we should really understand is not the intensity, but how this intensity reacts on your tongue. With practice, you will be able to recognize the intensity, even if it is combined with a different acid.
How? Test yourself with this:
Prepare a soft coffee (50 g of coffee per liter of water) Divide the coffee into 5 cups:
- Cup 1: reference cup. Do not add anything
- Cup 2: add 0.2 g of malic acid
- Cup 3: adds 0.2 g of tartaric acid
- Cup 4: add 0.2 g of phosphoric acid
- Cup 5: add 0.2 g of lactic acid
Try the five cups, and compare the most acidic ones with the reference cup. Do the tasting again, this time blindly, and identify each acid.
7. The triangulation method
Triangulation is another excellent training with which you can evaluate your palate, both in a competition and in your work. In addition, it is very easy to adjust the difficulty. To make a triangulation, place three cups with labels A, B and C. Two of them must contain an identical coffee and the other one a little bit different. Your goal is to correctly identify which cup contains the different coffee. This is a very challenging and fun exercise. The less difference there is between the coffees, the exercise becomes more and more difficult. You can play with different origins, processing methods, roasting styles and even samples of different batches of the same farm. Exciting, isn´t it?
Towards a champion palate
Start today! Go to the supermarket and buy some sweets and fruits; prepare a coffee triangulation and read the WCR Sensory Lexicon. Sure you have fun and soon you start to see the results of your training.
Before leaving, I leave a link to a note from my other website where I´ve resulted second in the championship of tastings of Spain, look here.
Thank you for your interest in always improving.
In love with coffee and service