What the bag says:
“Deep caramel flavours, with lingering notes of lemon peel and cashews”
What you think:
“This tastes like… coffee”
Is there a divide between what you read on the bag and what you’re tasting in your mouth? Probably. Grapes? Those taste grapey. Chocolate cake? Chocolatey. Our expectations of what things should taste like and what we actually taste usually sync up.
But what if you are trying to describe flavours to someone who has never tasted grapes or chocolate cake? Let’s make this harder, can you describe to a foreigner what durian tastes like? “A raw garlicy custard, doused in gasoline… but delicious?”
This is the problem with coffee. The baseline flavour for (most) beans is “coffee”. But for good coffees (for example fancy single origin, specialty grade beans, i.e. everything in our shop) there are other tastes in there. These small taste differences add up to making coffee from origin A very different from origin B.
If you want to get those caramel, lemon peel, cashew flavours from your cup, you’ll need a different approach.
Now there’s no need to produce a silver tasting spoon, noisily take a slurp and write down poetic tasting notes in a leather-bound journal. All you need is 30sec to be mindful of what’s in your cup.
First, stop and smell the coffee. What does it smell like? Your brain will give you a dumb, “smells nice” answer. Make your brain work harder, try and pin down what you are smelling reminds you of. Aromas evoke memories of the food and drinks that we all have tried before. Paint a picture in your head of what you are smelling.
Is it sweet?
Is it sour?
What kind of sweetness is that? Is it sweet like fruit? More neutral like the caramel candies of your childhood? Or is it a darker sweetness like the burnt top of a Creme Brulé?
Keep in mind that there is no correct answer. It’s 100% based on your past experiences with food. Your “burnt top of a Creme Brulé” might be someone else’s Dan-tat (Eggtarts) or Azuki beans to someone else.
Got that mental picture? Ok Good! Next we sip.
Hey, don’t gulp that coffee down! Take it slow. Chew it. Allow it to spread across your tongue and mix in some air. This will help your taste buds and nose get a full picture of the coffee. Engage your brain a bit. Does it taste like it smells? Are there new flavours in there?
While you’re chewing your coffee also consider how the coffee “feels”. Yes, it feels wet, duh. But I mean, is it light like a tea? Is it heavy like cream? Does it leave a bitter taste? (If it’s a good coffee it shouldn’t!).
Now that you have a full mental picture of your coffee there’s one more thing to note. Do you like it? Why?
It doesn’t really matter if your mental image matches what’s written on the bag. Our tastes come from our personal experiences and your experiences will never the author on the bag*.
What matters most is that you can associate your preferences with the tasting notes. It’ll help you discover more coffees you love and less wasting cash on the ones you don’t.
Now go out there and explore! Coffee appreciation should always be simple and enjoyable!
*Unless you’re a professional taster, then these tastes are rigorously standardized.
Have a good cup of coffee!