Coffee is a taste experience similar to wine appreciation. In fact, many of the techniques are the same and coffee connoisseurs are referred to as sommeliers. Hosting a coffee tasting for friends or co-workers is a great way to learn about different coffee varieties from around the world and perhaps find one that you love.
Planning can be approached from a ‘high-low’ perspective. If you don’t have access to the preferred inputs, look for the ‘low-cost’ alternative. You’ll need some supplies and maybe a quick intro on how to brew coffee with a French press.
High: The recommended supplies are: three 750ml or larger French presses, three single origin coffees, a timer, a kettle, and some glasses with water to cleanse the palette. View this tutorial on how to brew with a French press.
Low: Use small bowls to ‘brew’ coffee in micro-batches for each person according to these instructions. Starbucks recommends using their blends Veranda Blend, Caffe Verona, and Pike Place but you can use any three distinctive blends. Kicking Horse is a wonderful Canadian alternative to Starbucks.
For this exercise, the beans are steeped, much like tea. For everyday drinking, a French press allows the oils to emerge, whereas filtered coffee traps them. It also produces a nice caramel-colour crema, or the foam that forms on top of espresso drinks.
Coffee is actually made from the coffee cherry and the bean is the seed inside the cherry. A varietal is a single-origin coffee bean with unique characteristics based on gôut de terroir, or the way soil and climate affect the taste. Sipping three varietals at the same time allows you to assess different flavours.
Comparing the smell of ground beans before steeping them can give clues about the taste. Do you smell characteristics such as earth, peppercorns, florals, or nut? These will be more prominent when the coffee is tasted. Write down your first impressions to compare and discuss.
Alternate coffees between tastes. Is there a flavour or level of body that stands out as appealing? Can you taste berry, cocoa, or citrus? Are there lingering flavours?
When tasting, try to determine how acidic the coffee is. Would you say it’s bright and tangy? Or quiet and mellow? Body refers to how the coffee feels in your mouth. It may have heavy or light body depending on the type. Indonesian varietals are typically heavy while a Costa Rican is light. The depth of roast can affect body so that a ‘blonde’ or cinnamon roast will be lighter than an Italian roast. This flavour wheel will help you describe the taste.
Generally, coffees from Central America have a bright, sunny personality that some people consider a breakfast bean. This is in contrast to coffee from Indonesia, which has a deep earthy or spicy flavour. African coffee is fruity and floral with a medium body. Colombian is the variety that most people think of. It’s considered to be a balanced taste and is often used for coffee house blends.
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