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Coffee tastings with the food professional.

As specialty coffee moves out of its traditional cafe-coffee store settings and into the foodservice mainstream, there is a good deal of education that is required of the food professionals who will be asked to throw in their lot with coffee that tastes better. But what does "taste better" mean in an age where even the food professionals fail to have an educated palate where coffee is concerned.

We must first educate the chef to understand the differences between pure Arabica blends and Robustaladen blends and blends extended with palletized chaff, excess water, and cheap Arabica filler coffees. When we have made that much progress, we are in a position to introduce the many varied taste experiences of fine coffee products.

Tasting different coffees alone, or against each other can be a pleasant educational experience. The Cup Test is a wonderful tool. It can be utilized to educate the chef to the basic differences between Arabica blend and Robusta blend tastes, and later to distinguish preferences in varietal blends.

The coffee should be prepared as it would be for the establishment's dining guests. The chef should invite two to four others who have trained palates to join in the testing. Because of the growing influence of specialty coffee roasters, more and more enlightened chefs and gourmet food buyers use controlled cup methods to find the coffees they prefer.

It is best to limit a tasting to less than a half-dozen samples at a sitting. Fine coffees are subtly flavored. The palate and mind become muddled after tasting just a few samples. Where many coffees are to be tested, it is best to schedule several tastings. For truest results, schedule separate sessions for decaffeinated brews and espressos as well.

Prepare for the Test

Prepare all your samples prior to arriving at the test sight. Have everything measured and labeled. Packets of written materials, where appropriate, should be provided for all testers. Know the equipment you will be testing on. Bring a schematic drawing of the equipment, tools, extra filters, and brew basket with you should they be needed.

Preparing the Testing Table

Prepare a "testing" table by making ready the things you will need for your coffee tasting; china or glass cups (all the same style and color please), milk, cream, white sugar, turbinado sugar, artificial sweetener, a large supply of napkins or paper toweling, and sufficient large dessert spoons. Some prefer wine glasses to china cups; these are excellent for funnelling the aromas of coffee to the nose, and for seeing the clarity and color of the brew. Remember though, the color of coffee will look weaker when viewed in a glass than when viewed in a cup. A pitcher of freshly drawn cold water, or bottled spring water and soda-water or other plain crackers should be on hand as they are helpful in cleansing the palate between coffee samples.

Brew Samples by Formula

When brewing equipment has not yet been chosen for the establishment, grind a like measure of each bean sample. Use the same grind setting for all samples. Brew all the samples at the same time. Brew with freshly drawn cold water or bottled spring water. Measure carefully. Brew by the drip method using one level measure (two tablespoons) for each six ounces of almost boiling (195-205 [degrees] F.) water. Dispose of the spent grounds promptly. Stir the beverage to insure uniformity, and decant each in a thermal server (this will maintain each sample at the same temperature and at the same state of freshness). For truest results, testers should be unaware of the brand in each decanter.

When choosing a coffee for existing on-sight brewing equipment or specific brewers already chosen for the establishment, it is recommended that the test parallel the brewing practice of the equipment. Example: to simulate a 3 gallon automatic urn brewing at 16 ozs. of coffee to 2.25 gallons of water using an oxygen whitened paper filter, samples might be brewed in a 1/2 gallon bottle brewer using the same coffee to water ratio or 3 dry weight ozs. of ground coffee to 54 liquid volume ozs. of water. Equipment cleanliness and operation, grind, and water temperature should be checked for accuracy prior to brewing samples. As above, the samples should be brewed with freshly drawn cold water. Fresh grounds should be promptly disposed of and0 the beverage should be stirred to insure uniformity within each sample. Decanting, and blind tasting add to the accuracy of any test.

Espresso coffees should be brewed by espresso brewing system, and taste tested immediately upon brewing.

Slurpin' and Spittin'

When ready to taste fill the cups with beverage, bend down over the brew, cup the vessel rim and your nose with your hand and breath the rising vapors deeply. Wait a moment, then do it again. Repeat for each sample. Note the differences in aroma.

Taste each beverage by heavily sipping the brew from a spoon. A good hearty "soup-slurp" will evenly spray the coffee over the tongue and palate. Wait a moment. Concentrate on the taste sensations. Part your lips and breath in through your mouth gently. Note the aftertaste. Take a healthy spoonful and swirl it around your mouth to get a complete sense of the coffee's flavor. Swallow or expectorate the sample.

Many folks find no need to clean their palate between samples. Others find it helpful. A sip of water, or a bite of a plain cracker followed by a sip of water will refresh you palate.

Taste & Aroma are Different

Aroma is the most elusive of coffee's properties. It is crucial, however, in distinguishing among different coffees. The nose is a much more sensitive and discriminating mechanism than the tongue. The aromatics of coffee are very complex, being made up of over 100 different compounds, each contributing to the one aromatic impression being made in our mind. Concentrate on the impression left behind by each sample's aroma, and how it enhances or detracts from the overall taste impressions that follows:

Taste can be broken down into four distinct categories; sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Caramelized sugars impart sweetness. Organic acids produce sourness. Caffeine, and trigonelline (a nicotine-like substance found in coffee) and various phenolic (phenol is a white, chrystalline, caustic compound derived from coal tar) substances contribute to bitterness. Mineral salts found in the coffee or in the brew water increase the perception of sweetness and decrease sour sensations. Handling techniques and storage and transportation methods employed by those who brought the beans to market may also impart tastes to the beans.

There follows some of the more important positive coffee taste sensations. For a more complete lexicon, see The Basics of Cupping Coffee by Ted R. Lingle, published by Coffee Development Group in 1986 and still available through the Specialty Coffee Association of America in Long Beach, California.

ACIDITY: A sensation created as the acids in the coffee combine with sugars to increase the overall sweetness, sharpness, and dry finish of the brew. This term, the most distinctly positive one in coffee nomenclature, is so misunderstood by folks that Gillies (this author's coffee roasting company) does not use it in our literature. Instead you will read lilt, sparkle, zest, liveliness in place of ACIDITY.

BALANCE: A coffee whose taste characteristics are all the right level for the taster. No characteristic overpowers the others.

BODY: The tactile sensation of the thickness, or weight of the brew is distinctly sensed when coffee is tasted.

MELLOW: A sensation created as salts in the coffee combine with sugars to increase the sweeteness of the beverages taste and aftertaste.

SMOOTH: A sense of creaminess in the coffee caused by a heightened level of natural fatty material from the bean suspended in the coffee. This sensation or richness is also achieved or exaggerated when milk or cream are added to brewed coffee.

SOFT: The absence of any strong or negative tastes in the coffee. A concentration of salts enough to neutralize the acids but not high enough to neutralize the coffee's sugars account for this pleasant taste.

WINEY The agreeable sensation of Burgundy wine-like character found when sugars and acids in the coffee eliminate any sourish elements in the flavor.

In addition to the important taste sensations mentioned above, the temperature of the beverage changes our ability to judge a coffee's character. A very hot brew scorches the palate: all we taste is "HOT." Hot coffee is best enjoyed at temperatures around 170 [degrees] F. Iced coffee is another story for another day (or see "Cafe Hole," Tea & Coffee Trage Journal, August 1991).

After all have tasted the samples "Black," I suggest they try them as many of their customers will--with cream, sweeteners and the like. The coffee that is chosen to by your account's signature coffee should be as pleasing with lightener and sweetener as it was in its unique blackness.

Cup testing is the way to increase your customer's practical knowledge of the differences between coffee varieties, and roaster's products. Educate your staff and your potential customers about fine coffee. The more the professional foodservice folks know, the more reasons they will have for choosing specialty coffees.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Schoenholt, Donald N.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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