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Heighten your chances in coffee cupping competitions.

Have you ever "lost" in a coffee tasting situation, even though you knew you were right? What happened? Your success depended on a cup test. Your product was perfect, but you lost. Why? Let's look at the possible reasons.

Because there is no absolute standard of quality in coffee tasting, judgement is subjective, and rests in the end on the palate of the beholder, in the sense of taste. Of course there are secondary considerations beyond taste in evaluating a brew, all part of what might be called "nature's foreplay," preparing the coffee lover for the ultimate pleasure of the drink.

One lies in the nose, the sense of smell that picks up what are actually flavor elements too volatile and unstable to remain in the liquid state or even in the bean itself while grinding or brewing.

Another sensory delight is in the visual appearance of the liquid in the cup, to say nothing of the graphics on the package containing the coffee, or even the esthetics of the surrounding area, i.e. is it a camp in the forest, an elegant dining room, or the ambiance of a modern gourmet store? And touch gets into the act as you feel the warmth of the cup in your hands and the exotic pleasure of that soft brown liquid touching your lips and coursing through the erogenous zone of your mouth and throat.

Even sound plays a bit part. Have you not felt a tingle of anticipation from decanter to cup, as you hear the promise of fulfillment from the telltale trickle of that magic liquid?

Yes, coffee is an art, with the ability to appeal directly to the emotions, bypassing people's intellectual awareness. And even lacking absolute standards, like a fine painting a cup of coffee can be good or bad art.

Of course not everyone is an artist. As with a painter, the coffee artist makes presentations hoping for public approval. But with coffee, it is done in the form of demonstrations of the product.

While the evaluation of flavor in coffee may be a subjective thing, it is always done by comparison, even if we are unaware of it at the time. The prospects hold in mind the memory of their particular standard of excellence, whether or not a sample of it is on the scene of the demonstration. It is in this presentation of our art work for comparison, our cup of excellence, that some of us are too careless in recognizing the need for objectivity.

There are an infinite number of situations you can get into while testing coffee with a prospect. One good example of the need for objectivity is in trying to "match" a new blend to one that, for whatever reason, the customer wishes to duplicate. There are many variables in presenting a cup of coffee for this kind of test. There are rules to follow, some more important than others. After 42 years of doing this kind of thing, I offer here some tips in making a comparison between "ours" and "theirs."

First, you have to recognize, in the name of objectivity, that it is important to have your coffee side by side with the one being matched. Don't rely on their memory of what you are comparing to. If you do your chances of success are slim.

People doing the tasting are amateurs. Some will have a sharper sense of taste than others, but all will want to have an opinion. And those with a poor sense of taste whose opinion needs to be recognized, can be dangerous.

If you are content your coffee is a good match, and if the test is being done with more than one person, try to identify those who have at least some talent for tasting. The best way to do this is by serving each person three cups, asking them to "pick the pair." But without being devious, have all three cups the same. Most people in this test will assume there is a pair and one single cup, and will "pick the pair" just in the name of having an opinion. Of course, those who do this, automatically disqualify themselves from further testing.

When comparing two brews of coffee, make sure all things are equal. Several rules are worth following, both in brewing and in serving.

On Brewing

1. Assuming we are dealing with ground pre-packaged coffee, make sure the opposing coffee is not too stale for proper comparison. If it is to be whole beans ground on the spot, grind your sample at the same time as the competing one. Otherwise, if the sample being compared to has been ground in advance, it will get a better extraction than yours, as the [CO.sub.2] emitted from very fresh coffee repels the water, and yours will be under extracted.

You must also beware that, although you have matched the taste, the green coffees used may not be the same, thus the bulk density of the coffees may be different. From a volumetric system of dispensing regulated by time, not weight, as in a grinder, the actual weight of the two samples may be different. Strength relates to weight, not volume. On the other hand, lower density means higher bulk, slowing the infusion period of coffee and water contact through the creation of a deeper filter bed in the brew cone, giving higher extraction and the illusion of greater strength.

2. Always make the two brews on the same brewer.

3. Always personally make, or at least supervise, the brewing. You must know what has gone on in this process, no matter where you are or how much respect you have for the integrity and capability of the person doing the brewing.

4. Make the second brew immediately after the first. As soon as the water temperature has recovered. This will insure that there has been no material change in the first brew through holding too long on a warmer plate.

5. Run one pot of water through before beginning the test. Most brewers have mechanical thermostats, and the range of temperature loss before the main element kicks in may be 8 [degrees] F or more. Thus when you approach any brewer, you do not know the actual temperature of the water in the tank. By waiting until the temperature has recovered, you can be sure the coffee is being made at the maximum temperature of the brewer for both pots.

6. If the brewer is not of the Cafe 98 type automatic which is precise in water measurement, make sure you use the same amount of water for each brew. The decanters used should be of the same make, as they vary in size and, if used as the water pouring device, could create differences in brew strength.

On Serving

1. Mix the finished brew by pouring one or two cups out of and back into the decanters. Fresh brewed coffee may layer, and eventually, through convection currents, will mix, but don't take a chance if the test is being done as it should be, right after brewing.

2. The test must be done blind. Mark the bottoms of the cups, and switch them around so that no one knows which is which. Don't make the mark too obvious, so that it can be seen through a translucent bottom. The psychological effect or knowing which coffee is which before declaring a decision is devastating. In such a case you will almost surely lose.

3. Beware of china cups. They may have been washed with detergent, and there could be a residual effect that ruins coffee taste or aroma. The cups may be of different weight, absorbing heat and creating different temperatures. The best containers for testing are insert cups with holders. They are translucent, enabling the comparison of coffee color. The coffee in them cools faster than with foam cups, and modern insert cups are free from any noticeable taste or odor.

4. The coffees being tested must be at the same temperature. Don't trust to luck on this. Use a thermometer. Unless you are using a Cafe 98 type thermal server, one decanter has been sitting on a burner waiting for the other one to be made, and its temperature will be higher or lower than the second brew. The specific gravity of liquid coffee gets heavier as it cools (watch a hydrometer rise in a beaker of cooling coffee). This means that the cooler the coffee, the thicker (stronger) it will seem to the taster.

5. Make sure the temperature in the cups is no higher than 140 [degrees] F. I have found peoples' taste perception to be poor above that level. An experienced taster may slurp from a spoon, making the liquid cooler entering the mouth, but don't count on that. A spoon can be cooled by dipping in a glass of cold water before each sip, but don't count on that either, as the results may be uneven.

6. Most buyers assume that all coffee should be tasted black. Persuade them that they should prepare the coffee as they always do, with cream and/or sugar, Otherwise, they are tasting what to them will be a foreign drink.

7. Don't let the buyer vote too soon. Most amateurs will sip coffee when hot, holding it in the front of their mouths. To get a full perception of what the coffee offers, a full swig must be taken, and washed thoroughly around in the mouth to pick up every nuance of flavor.

By following simple, objective rules like these, the seller can insure that a professional approach has been taken, and the buyer can be insulated against making important mistakes in the value judgement of the coffee.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:coffee taste test techniques
Author:Daw, Stuart
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Previous Article:Interview with Ted Lingle, SCCA executive director.
Next Article:Germany continues tea promotions.

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