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October 2009 Newsletter

Astute customers may notice there's a bit of a theme to how the
special coffees are being presented. This month's special is an old

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

Where the August Kenya was all about acidity and the September
Costa Rica was flavour intensity, the Yirgacheffe is fruit and
flowers. Sweet jasmine fragrance and definite hints of aromatic
citrus in the cup.
Which leads in to the techniques and terminology of coffee tasting.
The "standard" work was originally produced by Ted Lingle, author
of "The Coffee Cuppers' Handbook", and former executive director of
the SCAA.

The human mouth experiences 5 taste sensations, sweet, sour, salty,
bitter and umami, the last being the mouth's reaction to MSG, a
common flavour enhancer. Most of the sensation we actually
interpret as taste is really the product of our sense of smell.
This is probably why the definition of the ultimate in coffee is
"one that tastes the same as it smells"!

Professional coffee tasting technique can be summarized as the Big
Sniff, the Big Slurp and the Big Spit. The sniff is for smelling
the coffee, of course. A superior coffee will have a strong, pure
aroma with no disagreeable smells. Then comes the big slurp,
basically an attempt to inhale a mouthful of coffee without choking
(takes a bit of practice), after which you swish the coffee around
inside your mouth to determine its overall taste, body and balance.
Projectile spitting into a spittoon is another art which must be
learned if you don't want to wear brown shirts permanently.

After the show is over, the big question is - what does it taste
like? - and hopefully the answer is "COFFEE!" However, the overall
taste can usually be defined in terms of "sourness" - the level of
acidity, "sweetness" - caramelised sugars formed during roasting -
"bitterness" - undesirable taint at the back of the mouth - and
"body" - lipid (oil) content contributing to mouthfeel.  The more
subtle flavour nuances, such as "blackberry", "gamey", "maple
syrup", "toast" are generally features of the aroma, an attempt to
describe the overall flavour by analogy to known tastes. This is
where Ted Lingle came in with the descriptions he invented in his
attempt to standardize the terminology.

He characterizes flavours and aromas in easily understandable
terms, allowing you to describe a coffee as "Sweet, with a mellow
acidity. The aroma is flowery with hints of citrus. The medium body
rounds out the flavour into a balanced whole."

Which, just by the way, is the description of this month's special

Learning to taste coffee is almost entirely a practical affair,
with of course a lot of paperwork attached. "If you don't write it
down, you never tasted it."  These days professional palate and
nose training kits are available from the SCAA and there are
actually "supertaster" competitions held at conferences and Barista
championships. Even judges at these events must be able to pass
basic taster exams.

Finally, a gentle warning for all my interstate customers that
there will be no coffee roasted or shipped on the first Tuesday in
November. Every year we get queries from customers who are
unfortunate enough not to be living in Victoria, where the "Race
That Stops a Nation", the Melbourne Cup, is a public holiday, and
for many people a 4-day weekend.