Learning how to taste and evaluate coffee takes practice. Over time, you develop the sensitivity to subtle flavors, as well as the ability to pick out different characteristics of a coffee. Developing this skill can be an enjoyable pastime. As you taste coffee more mindfully, you will find that it engages your senses, and that your appreciation of a fine cup will grow. Here are some tips on how to tell the difference between coffee flavors.
Different cups of coffee will actually feel different in your mouth, based on the strength of the coffee, also called the body. Some coffee is light bodied, while other coffee is heavy, and there is a continuum in between.
Feel the coffee in your mouth, and think about how thick the liquid is. This viscosity is a clue about whether the coffee is light, heavy or in between. Roll the coffee around in your mouth. Move your tongue through the fluid, and push it against the top of your mouth. Does it feel thick or thin? The thicker the feel, the heavier the body.
Hold a sip of coffee in your mouth, and swish it around. Where do you feel the tingles in your mouth? Different parts of your mouth will be stimulated by different flavors, so make a note of this when you are doing a tasting. All coffee has a certain amount of bitterness, which is noted by the taste buds at the back of your tongue. To capture the taste differences of coffee, focus on the other taste buds.
Sweet tastes stimulate the buds at the tip of your tongue. It won’t be sugary sweet, but if you notice a tingle there, it means the coffee has some sweetness. Salty tastes are noted in the middle of your tongue, on the flat part. If the tingle there dissipates quickly, the coffee has a neutral saltiness. If those salty taste buds tingle for a longer time, then it is called a soft saltiness. The last taste to notice is sour. If you get a pucker effect on the side of your mouth, that means there is the coffee has some sourness.
Our sense of smell is much more sensitive to subtle differences than our sense of taste, so the aroma is where you can pick up unique notes in a coffee. Let the coffee linger in your mouth, as you focus on the smell, then think about the aftertaste, too. When you notice a certain aroma, try to focus in to identify it.
There are 800 compounds that can make up the unique scents in a coffee, giving you notes of different spices, flowers, or nuts. Often, you will notice a distinctive aroma, but not be able to identify it. One trick for this is to keep some samples of different smells nearby that you can check against. For instance, if a certain coffee is known to have hints of cloves, smelling some cloves, and then going back to the coffee, can make that clear.