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Coffee Tastings, Explained

Posted by Bean & Bean on
Coffee Tastings, Explained

Learning to taste and appreciate the many flavors in coffee is a skill that requires a good bit of practice. One of the best ways to train your palate is by attending a coffee tasting. If you’ve ever attended a wine tasting, it’s essentially the same idea. In this case, a highly-trained coffee professional will prepare several different coffees for participants to taste and guide everyone through the process of how to taste them. Here’s a quick breakdown of what it's like to attend one.

What is a coffee tasting?

A coffee tasting is simply a way to taste and compare multiple coffees at once (again, just think of a wine tasting). There might be a theme involved, such as different coffees from a certain origin—or it may just be a random assortment of whatever is on hand. The aim is to truly taste coffee and understand complex flavors and notes!

Most coffee tastings take place in the form of a “coffee cupping”, which is a standardized method used by coffee professionals around the world to objectively taste and evaluate flavor. When done professionally, tasters use a special “cupping form” to assign scores and take notes across various categories; such as fragrance, aroma, acidity, aftertaste and sweetness. Tasters are also looking for any off flavors or defects that may be present. 

Coffee tastings don’t have to take place in this professional context, but the cupping method is often still used since it's a convenient and efficient way to taste multiple coffees at once. In a more “casual cupping” setting, tasters are looking to taste for their own enjoyment rather than to evaluate flavor. 

What to expect during a coffee tasting?

Since most people have not tasted coffee via cupping, you can likely expect a quick demonstration and walk-through of how to cup coffees. Be sure to pay attention if you want to get the most out of your experience! 

Most cuppings involve 4-10 different coffees to taste, so unless you want to get super wired, it would be a good idea not to have any coffee prior to the tasting (although it’s absolutely ok to spit out your coffee, just like in a wine tasting). 

It’s also good etiquette to avoid wearing fragrances (including heavily scented lotions) when attending a coffee tasting as they can affect how you and others smell and taste the coffees.

What will I learn during a coffee tasting?

Expect to get an in-depth look into the specialty coffee world! A good instructor will not only show you how to cup coffees properly, but will also explain how to perceive each individual aspect of flavor. As an example: how to taste the difference between a coffee with a rich, full body versus one that has a more delicate mouthfeel.

Additionally, you’ll learn about each individual coffee that you’re tasting, everything from the processing method and roast profile, to information about the origin and the story behind the producer. And if that information isn’t readily presented, don’t be afraid to ask questions. A cupping is an excellent opportunity to dive deep and get nerdy about coffee, and most coffee professionals are more than happy to share their knowledge. 

How to attend a coffee tasting?

Coffee roasters will often host coffee cuppings open to the public at their roasting facility. Checking with your local coffee roasters would be a good place to start. Specialty coffee shops will also sometimes host cupping events, so be sure to inquire at your neighborhood spot as well. 

If there’s nothing available locally in-person, virtual coffee tasting events are also tons of fun. In fact, we offer virtual tastings here at Bean & Bean! Our tasting class comes with a kit that we mail you, containing everything you need to have your own cupping at home. If you’re interested, shoot us a message at events@beannbeancoffee.com and we’ll work with you to set up an event!

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