by Therese Brøndsted, M.Sc.
It is not that hard to get better at tasting. And if you getting better at describing what’s in your mouth … it makes you better at navigating in coffee … and get to better tasting coffee.
under contruction – more to come
If you have only started exploring coffee – the way to improve your tasting skills is to make comparisons. Start with having two different coffees at once and then taste back and forth. Here everybody can taste the difference.
Then ask yourself questions:
Which one is the most bitter ?
Which one is the most acidic ?
Which one tasted the most roasted ?
Which one has the most chocolate flavor ?
By changeling yourself like this you tell your brain that it’s important to notice – and along the way you will develop more neurons on this -> makes you better at noticing what is going on in the taste.
Acidity and bitterness
For some reason, when tasting coffee many people confuses acidity and bitterness. I have often tried to served a coffee with no bitterness and a clear acidity to people – and they say its bitter.
How to distinguish acidity and bitterness in coffee
Acidity/sour comes right away when you take a sip of the coffee. And typical you taste it more in the front of the mouth.
Bitterness you feel in the back of your mouth – when you take a sip it can come relatively quick or it can be delayed so it doesn’t appear until 10 seconds later.
The basic tastes in the mouth
The four basic tastes are bitter, sour, sweet and salt. Later on came umami as number five. In the mouth you also register pungent taste like chili and astringent (dry feeling) and cooling like mint.
Earlier on researchers made a map of the tongue where we taste the different basic tastes. But it turned out that this was NOT the same for everyone.
So you have to investigate for your self. Take something purely acidic and notice where in the mouth you taste it: Is it on sides of the tongue ? Is it on the tip of the tongue ?
Pure acidic is like lemon juice. Or even better: buy citric acid and disolve in water (make sure the citric acid is marked “food grade”).
Pure bitter is difficult to get in foods. A grape fruit is bitter, but also acidic and sweet. Tonic water is bitter, but also contains sugar. Gin is bitter, but the alcohol also gives sensation in the mouth.
Training this will help you distinguish low levels of acidity and bitterness in coffee.
This is not a taste but how thick the coffee feels in the mouth: the viscosity, the texture. It’s like the difference in skimmed/low fat milk and whole milk.
Move the sip of coffee around in your mouth and feel the thickness of it.
Aromas are much more complex than the basic tastes in the mouth (sweet, sour, salt, bitter, umami). We got about 500 different receptors in the nose. An ordinary person can distinguish something like 1.-2.000 aromas. A skilled person can distinguish up to 10.000 aromas.
Aromas in coffee can be things like berry or chocolate. When the coffee has bitterness we tend to think of dark chocolate, when there is no bitterness in the coffee we think of milk chocolate.
Flavor is how our brains synthesize aromas, taste and texture into an overall experience.
This is an overall impression of how well the flavours balance in the mouth. So if the coffee has a sharp acidity its not balanced. If the coffee has a strong bitterness its not balanced. And so on.
A well-balanced coffee is pleasant in the mouth.
More about bitter
Over 550 bitter-tasting compounds have been identified. Some compounds are only bitter to some people, but tasteless to others.
Some compounds taste bitter right away, others take a while, up to 15 seconds.