During your quest to find the best coffees, you may see some types of coffee with odd-looking descriptions. For example, Kenyan AA coffee is often described as “fruity” with a “sparkling finish.” Tasting coffee requires some practice to train your nose and taste buds, but once you get used to it, you’ll notice all kinds of subtle flavors and aromas in the best-tasting coffees.
Guide to Tasting Coffee
The official term for tasting coffee is “cupping.” When tasting a new coffee for the first time, begin by inhaling its aroma. Much of the flavor of coffee comes through our noses–without our sense of smell, our taste buds would only be able to perceive sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavors. Inhale through your nose and identify any fragrance notes you notice. Is the aroma sweet or spicy? Can you detect hints of specific aromas, like vanilla or blackberry?
During a formal coffee tasting, the next step is to sip the coffee and swish it around in your mouth, noting the flavor, acidity and mouthfeel of the coffee. Finally, swallow or spit out the coffee and pay attention to any new sensations in the aftertaste.
Tasting Coffee Lingo
The best coffee tasters use specific terminology to describe coffees. You’ll be able to better discuss your tasting experiences if you’re familiar with this lingo. Some of the terms you’ll need to know include:
- Acidity: Acidity is a desirable tang that occurs when the natural acids in coffee beans react with the natural sugars. Coffee with low acidity can taste dull and flat.
- Body: Body is the weight and fullness of the coffee in your mouth. Some coffees are thick and rich while others are light and delicate. Think of the differences in texture between a rich cabernet sauvignon compared to a lighter pinot grigio. Coffee has the same variety in weight and fullness.
- Finish: “Finish” refers to the flavors and sensations left in your mouth after you swallow or spit out your coffee.
- Flavor: Of course, this is the actual taste of coffee. The best coffees tend to have much more complex flavors than cheap supermarket brands.