How We Taste Coffee
Every one of our coffees is roasted by hand, every day, by our skilled roasters. We also sample every one of our coffees, every day, to ensure quality and consistency. The way we do this is to taste the coffee using a process known as a cupping. This is a specific way to analyze each roast in a controlled manner. Here are the steps we take when we taste coffee to ensure that you are getting the best cup each and every time.
SETTING THE TASTING TABLE
At our roasting facility, we have a large round wooden cupping table. The table spins like a lazy Susan, so you can sit in one spot as you taste. We typically taste around 8 different coffees at a time. After roasting, the beans are placed in a small tray with a label identifying the coffee and roast date. In front of each tray are placed three 6-ounce ceramic tasting cups.
PREPARING THE COFFEE SAMPLES
Each cup is filled with 10 grams of the whole bean roasted coffee. Then we grind the coffee from each cup individually, and pour it back into the tasting cup.
The first step to taste coffee is to smell it, both the beans and the grounds, before water is added. This is known as the fragrance of the coffee. The next step is to heat a kettle of fresh water until boiling. We take the kettle off the heat for a minute or so, and then start to fill the tasting cups with the hot water. The cups are all filled to the brim to ensure that they are uniform and contain the same amount of water. We smell the coffee again, in the “wet” stage prior to “breaking”.
After a couple of minutes, tasting spoons are used to “break” the crust that forms on the top of the cup. As we “break” the crust, we smell each cup of coffee again for a third time. After all of the cups of coffee have been broken, any remaining grounds or crust on the top of each cup is skimmed off the top and discarded. Now we have evaluated the aroma of each sample.
HOW TO TASTE COFFEE
Once the samples have cooled a bit, it’s finally time to actually taste the coffee. Each cup of coffee is sampled using a tasting spoon that is rinsed in warm water in between each sample. The process is to spoon out some of the coffee, and then slurp it strongly into your mouth. This is similar to tasting wine, in that you want the coffee to cover the entire tongue. This will ensure that you are hitting all the taste buds, and are able to taste the many different components that make up the flavor of a particular coffee.
Coffee contains over 1000 different aroma compounds. The three main components we analyze are acidity, aftertaste, and body. We also taste coffee at various temperatures, that is, we want to taste them when they are hot as well as when they have cooled. This allows us to see how they change with temperature.
As you can imagine, we end up tasting a lot of coffee at Charleston Coffee Roasters! So again, just like wine tasters, we often spit the coffee after tasting in order to control the amount of coffee and caffeine that is consumed. The vessel you see in the picture below is called a coffee spittoon, and has been in use by Lowell (our President and Chief Roaster) since his time as a coffee importer.
After the tasting process, we compare our notes to be sure all coffees meet our high standards. Then it’s back to roasting, so we can continue to bring you the very best and freshest cup of coffee every single day.
If you would like to learn more about our roasting process, be sure to check out this Q&A with Lowell!