Tasting, or cupping, coffee is a fun process and at its best when experienced and shared with others. First, start by simply smelling the coffee right when it's freshly ground. Then, smell it again after is it has been brewed. Compare the two aromas--in what ways do they seem alike or different? Beside the obvious coffee smell, what does each aroma remind you of? Plants? Flowers? Fruits or vegetables? Wood? Earth? Let your mind and descriptions be open. Next, taste the coffee. For the fullest flavors, we recommend you slurp it by quickly and lightly taking the liquid into your mouth, so that it spreads evenly over the entire surface of your tongue, thus reaching all of your taste buds at once. This should be fun! Don't be afraid to make loud noises and fully enjoy all the flavors that you can detect. If you're comparing coffees, it's best to taste several different coffees side by side. This way, the comparisons and differentiation are fresh in your mouth and in your mind. Be sure to prepare all the samples the same way, so they are consistent. Finally, grind and brew the coffees, and judge their merits on the following qualities:
We evaluate the fragrance of the just-ground coffee, before it's brewed. The coffee's fragrance can speak volumes about the coffee's origin, and the care of its processing.
We judge the aroma of the brewed coffee. Coffee's aromas vary dramatically from origin to origin. Some have floral qualities, others offer citrus and fruit, even wood and earth.
Acidity, or brightness, is not the PH level of the coffee, and an "acidy" coffee won't upset your stomach... instead, it will make your taste-buds tingle. Bright coffees offer a pleasing tang on the tongue.
The diversity in coffee's flavor from origin to origin is astonishing... even coffees from the same origin surprise us!
The coffee's body is the sensation of weight or texture that it offers on the tongue. Full-bodied coffees may be buttery or even syrupy.
We call the sensations that remain in the mouth when the coffee is gone its finish, or aftertaste. Some coffees impart a sweet, lingering finish; others are more direct, even abrupt.
Evaluating a coffee's balance is really about how all its individual flavors and taste sensations come together. Balance tends to separate good coffees from great coffees, in which the overall composition is somehow greater than the sum of its parts.
Throughout the evaluation process it's important to keep in mind where a particular coffee originates. For example, qualities that are highly desirable in an American coffee—bright, citrus aromas and clean, polished flavors—are not the same qualities that are desired in coffees from Indonesia, where a more muted acidity and a lush, flavorful body is the norm.