Thinking of doing a coffee tasting in Bogota? Here’s a guide to get the most out of it.
In the first part of this series we discussed what gadgets are necessary to cup or taste coffee, what the coffee evaluation involves, and what points to keep in mind when evaluating it. Now we’ll go into the details about the characteristics you should look for to evaluate the cup of coffee you have before you. You’ll want to have your pen and scoring sheet with you while you try the coffee.
The dry fragrance (sometimes called dry aroma) of the ground coffee should be evaluated. That simply means you should sniff the dry grounds.
After the grounds are infused with water, they are left for at least three minutes. You’ll see a thick crust form over the top. Now comes one of the most exciting moments in the cupping – when the barista carefully breaks the crust with a spoon, releasing what is appropriately called the break aroma. Now you can sniff again. Now you can rate fragrance and aroma.
Note: fragrance and aroma are two words to define the same thing (the smell) but fragrance refers to dry grounds and aroma to wet ground.
At this point you want to forget the aromas because you’ll be moving on to the next phase: flavor.
So, now slurp your coffee. What? Didn’t my mother teach me never to slurp? Well, sometimes it’s necessary, and not just when you’re eating hot soup. You want to make sure you get the brew all over your tongue and palate to fully feel the flavors and get a sense of the body.
Flavor – what is your fist impression? Slurp the coffee to get it all over your tongue and mouth. Your tongue registers different sensations – sweet, sour, bitter, savory – all over the tongue.
There are tastes common in many Colombian coffees: floral, fruity, citrus, vanilla, chocolate, sugar cane (panela), nutty.
Of course, whatever gets the idea across is good, so if it tastes like fresh cut summer grass, well, that’s you’re take on it. What’s important is to get the idea of what you taste across.
Concentrate on flavor and aftertaste, and rate them.
Acidity, Sweetness, Body
Now the coffee has cooled a bit more, which is just the right temperature to taste again. My reaction when I first heard this was, “WHAT!? I don’t want cold coffee.” The reality is that cooler coffee is better, since you can detect more flavors. This is the moment to rate acidity, body and balance.
Acidity is important to coffee, since it gives it a bright, sharp taste. Acidity is the tangy, tart taste. When it gets sour it went too far and deserves a lower score. Take a slurp and concentrate on acidity. Does the coffee feel fresh and bright? Is it mild? Too intense?
This is also when you can judge how sweet it is (as in not sour or green or astringent). Sweetness balances out acidity.
Body is how the coffee feels in the mouth – concentrate on your tongue and the roof of your mouth. Body can be heavy or light – and both can be pleasant.
Balance, Clean Cup, Aftertaste
Balance is simply how it all works together (complementing and contrasting flavors) – flavor, acidity, body and aftertaste (finish). You don’t want a bitter cup or a weak, tasteless one.
Judge how uniform and clean the cup is. A clean cup is when the total flavor experience is free of defects.
The aftertaste (finish) is the positive taste that you feel even after you’ve swallowed the coffee – how long it lingers and how positive that taste is.
So how did the coffee rate? Did it meet expectations? Did it reflect the particular flavors for its origin? This is your personal opinion, so express yourself!
So how should the final score be calculated?
- If it’s below 80, it’s not specialty coffee.
- Specialty coffee: from 80 on up
- Good: 80-84.99
- Excellent: 85-89.99
- Outstanding: 90-100
Of course, all this takes time. After doing several coffee tastings, sipping many coffees side by side, you can begin to distinguish one taste from another, understanding the structure of each particular coffee. But in the end, all that matters is – was the coffee good? Was it great? And that is up to you.
Interested in learning more about coffee tastings in Colombia? Join Flavors of Bogota for our Coffee Shop Tour.