One of the most challenging parts of enjoying coffee is understanding what you’re tasting! Trying to put into words the flavors we all taste in coffee can be a huge feat. As a professional, part of my job is to come up with “tasting notes” that reflect the coffee, and sometimes even I am at a loss for words for what I’m tasting. This can be even more difficult for a person who wants to learn how to taste coffee at home! Luckily, the skills necessary for developing a palate for coffee is available to anyone. Here I’ve listed five completely practical steps that will help you learn how to taste coffee like a professional!
Eat diverse foods!
Tasting coffee is all about building up memory reserves where you can recall flavors you’ve tasted before. Imagine if all you ever ate was french fries. You would only be able to speak about flavors in terms of what french fries taste like. Fortunately, there are a number of diverse foods available to the average person, and the more foods you eat the greater ability you will have to create new flavor reserves and recall what you’ve tasted, eventually recognizing these flavors in coffee! I recommend trying new dishes at your favorite restaurant, as well as switching up your grocery shopping list to include new things. Vegetables and fruits are the easiest foods to access when trying to diversify your palate.
Think about what you’re eating
It’s easy to eat an entire meal without thinking twice about the flavors that you’re tasting. Every time you eat without stopping to savor the flavors you miss an opportunity to learn and to make memories for recalling later on! What may begin as an average dinner featuring mom’s spaghetti can now become a challenge to evaluate and discover flavor nuances like never before. Try and pick apart the major ingredients first like tomato paste and noodles, then try and pull out very specific flavors like basil and thyme.
Use high quality water to brew your coffee
Since coffee is more than 90% water, the kind of water being used to brew coffee is very important! In essence, the different mineral qualities of the water will either aid or hinder in extracting the best flavors from the beans. Avoid water with no minerals because the absence of minerals will cause an absence of flavors being extracted. Similarly, water straight from the tap generally has too many minerals and will pull unwanted flavors from the beans. The perfect water can be created at home by referencing the Barista Hustle water recipe or by purchasing some Third Wave Water! If you’d rather keep it super simple, try brewing using remineralized bottled water from the store. Try out different brands and see which one makes the best brew.
Drink coffee from all over the globe!
Coffee from the heart of Ethiopia will taste completely differently from coffee cultivated in the Peruvian highlands. Because of this, learning to taste coffee like a pro means drinking coffee from different origins. Try buying two coffees from different origins and tasting them right next to each other! Once you’ve mastered this, try drinking coffee from the same country but with different regions, varietals, or processing methods. You’ll soon learn that no two coffees are the same.
Drink coffee with friends!
One of the best ways to learn how to taste coffee like a pro is to drink coffee with others! It’s one experience to sit by yourself and think about flavors, but gettings the opinions of friends can be extremely helpful. While you may taste candied almonds, a friend may taste something closer to vanilla bean. By discussing the flavor of coffee with others you will learn how to taste coffee in an entirely new way!
Lastly, the most difficult part of learning how to taste coffee like a professional is being humble. Sometimes you won’t pick up on the obscure tasting notes that some people will point out. At other times, you will taste something might not be present due to factors influencing your smell perception. But above all, have fun! Learning to taste the nuances of coffee is a challenge but with these simple tips you can develop the skills to taste coffee with industry professionals.