Over the years, the degustation—or tasting—of coffee has transformed into an art form, much like wine tasting or gourmet cuisine sampling. This evolution is particularly pronounced in the specialty coffee market, where each bean is not just a unit of flavor but a story of its origin, cultivation, and craftsmanship. In this burgeoning landscape, the role of the specialty coffee buyer has become increasingly critical. These individuals, often armed with a wealth of knowledge and an acute palate, serve as the gatekeepers of quality. Organizations like the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) have been pivotal in standardizing this coffee evaluation process, setting protocols that guide us in appreciating the subtle nuances of coffee.
Cafe Imports Analytic Cupping Score Card. Credit: Cafe Imports
When judging and scoring coffee, the SCA focuses on several key attributes:
- Acidity: Contrary to popular belief, acidity in coffee is a positive trait. It provides the "brightness" and sparkle, enhancing its complexity.
- Aftertaste: Also known as 'finish,' this refers to the lingering taste or sensation after swallowing. A pleasing aftertaste is often an indicator of a high-quality coffee.
- Aroma: This is the first interaction you'll have with your brewed coffee. Aroma sets the stage for the flavor and can range from floral and fruity to nutty or spicy.
- Balance: No single attribute overshadows the others. A balanced coffee will offer a pleasing proportion of acidity, aroma, body, and flavor.
- Body: This describes the weight or thickness of the coffee on your palate. A coffee with full body may feel creamy, like whole milk, while a light-bodied coffee might feel more like water.
- Clean Cup: This means the coffee is free from any off-flavors or defects. It's a clear expression of the bean's inherent qualities.
- Flavor: This is the overall perception of aroma, acidity, and body. It's the holistic experience of drinking the coffee.
- Sweetness: A good coffee should have a certain level of sweetness, counteracting its inherent bitterness.
- Uniformity: In a cupping session, coffee is often brewed from multiple beans of the same batch to ensure consistency in flavor and attributes.
Enhancing Attributes Through Roasting
Roasting is where the alchemy of coffee happens. The roast profile—how long and at what temperature the beans are roasted—can drastically impact the coffee's final attributes. For instance, a lighter roast might preserve the bean's inherent acidity, while a darker roast could enrich its body. Roasters use this process to highlight the most desirable combination of attributes in a specific coffee.
Blending different types of coffee is another fascinating aspect of achieving specific flavor profiles. For example, combining a bean with high acidity with another that has a fuller body can create a well-balanced and complex cup. It's like creating a culinary dish, where each ingredient serves a purpose in the overall harmony.
Understanding the attributes of coffee and how they are enhanced through roasting can significantly enrich your coffee experience. It empowers you to appreciate the complexity and craft that go into every cup. It's a journey of flavors, textures, and aromas—a journey well worth taking.
So, the next time you sip your coffee, you'll not just taste it; you'll experience it.
If you're intrigued and want to dig deeper into the fascinating world of coffee profiles, the following resources are excellent starting points:
- Specialty Coffee Association's Resources: The SCA website offers in-depth articles, webinars, and courses on coffee tasting and scoring.
- Books on Coffee Tasting: Titles like "The World Atlas of Coffee" and "The Coffee Dictionary" offer comprehensive guides to coffee flavors and origins.
Coffee Cupping Apps: These mobile applications help you track your coffee tasting experiences and better understand various flavor profiles.