A quick overview of the analysis that goes into tasting coffee, whether it be espresso, brewed coffee or on the cupping table.
When purchasing and evaluating coffee, we use a process called cupping. This technique is used internationally to taste and evaluate coffees. When we're purchasing and scoring coffees at origin, evaluating roast profiles and quality control, or educating on the differences between growing regions, we'll use the method of cupping.
Sweetness: How sweet is the coffee? Very sweet? Not at all? We generally agree that sweetness is a good thing, the more the better! It helps bring balance to a coffee and give it a round tasting experience.
Acidity: We break acidity down into Quality and Quantity. A coffee could have a very high acidity but its quality may come through unpleasant and described as sour or sharp. Alternatively, a coffee could have a very low acidity but can achieve high quality and described as soft and delicate. When tasting coffee, the acidity comes first and is what brings the more interesting tasting notes of fruits and florals.
Body: How heavy or light the coffee feels in your mouth when you're tasting it. This is purely the tactile feel of how the coffee sits in the mouth. Some common adjectives for body: Heavy, Full, Rich, Juicy, Tea-Like, Soft, Sharp... You get the idea.
Flavour: One of the most interesting things about coffee is that it contains over 800 aromatic compounds, making it very flavour complex. Depending on the variety grown, environmental conditions, processing and brewing techniques, the range of flavours tasted in coffee can be wide reaching.
Determining flavours in coffee takes practice, especially with coffees that are highly complex and require several tastes to discern all the different flavours going on. Below is a tasting wheel that from the Specialty Coffee Association, showing the vast array of flavours as well as body adjectives.
Balance: This is how much all previous aspects of taste fit into a harmonious balance with each other. If one of the elements of the beverage is lacking then taste balance is sacrificed. It's when all the elements compliment each other perfectly that we gain a highly balance coffee. Balance is something we strive for in sourcing and brewing.