A Note on Tasting Notes
Tasting notes can be a confusing thing. When you look at a bag of coffee and see that it lists things like chocolate, raspberries, and brown sugar, it’s easy to interpret that as actual added flavors or ingredients. This isn’t actually the case! Tasting notes are actually note added flavors, but to understand why they list what they do, you’ll have to get into the head of a roaster.
Full of Flavors
Coffee is a lot like wine in that it is full of different flavors. Every aspect of coffee production imparts some kind of flavor. The type of coffee plant, the soil, the elevation, the humidity and light amount, processing, roasting… All of it! It’s really why coffee is so exciting in the first place. There’s just so much that goes into every single cup. For roasters, explaining what coffee might be right for the right drinker can be tough. That’s why tasting notes exist.
After roasting a batch, roasters will do what’s called “cupping.” Coffee cupping is a type of tasting where you use immersion brewing to allow coffee to steep right in the vessel it will be served from, similar to brewing tea. Then, tasters use special spoons to taste spoonfuls of the coffee.The tasters will then take notes on the kinds of flavors they get from the coffee. Again, this isn’t actual, added flavor, but an interpretation of what the coffee tastes like when brewed at its strongest. These notes form the basis of what ends up on the bag, though they may try the coffee in other brew methods before finalizing the notes.
A Dash of Excitement
One key element of tasting coffee is building a realistic profile of what the flavor of the coffee is like through the tasting notes. On the other hand, you can pull out flavors like chocolate and berries from lots of coffees. To help differentiate, often roasters will really dig to try to find the hint of flavor that makes a coffee unique. To an unrefined palate, two coffees might taste the same. Someone well versed in coffee tasting may find unique little elements to show how they differ.
What this means is that you may need some practice before tasting some more interesting and subtle notes. That’s OK! The important thing is to keep trying, and keep developing that palate. The best way to understand flavor profiles of most coffees is as a pour over. So if you’re really interested in understanding the intricacies of different flavors of coffee, putting together a pour over setup is a good first step!
Hopefully this sheds some light on those tasty coffee notes!