This week we embarked on the Coffee Mind Online Sensory Training Programme. It is an online course which includes a comprehensive sensory training kit, which they post directly to you. So far, we have been thoroughly impressed by the content of the course.
Over a series of posts, we will be sharing our activities and key learnings from the course, helping you to improve your own coffee tasting.
Why do Sensory Training?
When we taste coffee, we want to be able to distinguish the different tastes and flavours, just like we would with wine or food. Also, we want to collaborate with other people who taste coffee, so we can share our insights, and speak a similar language which we all understand.
The Difference Between Tastes and Flavours
Coffee generally has two predominant tastes, bitter and sour. Bitter like dark chocolate, and sour like lemons. Even with no training, most coffee drinkers able to detect them, even if they can’t put the correct name to them.
But did you know that there are actually five main tastes with coffee? They are: sweet, sour, bitter, salt and umami
However, we often get taste and flavour mixed up. Taste comes from the taste buds, whereas flavour is detected through the nose both externally, through sniffing, and internally, as aroma wafts up from your mouth.
Flavours and Aromas
Flavours and aromas are abundant. They are not just driven by what we smell, but also by our cultures. Someone in the UK will probably know the flavour of malt vinegar and have fond memories of fish n’ chips. Someone in Southeast Asia is likely to recognise a sweet grapefruit like pomelo and the juiciness of a fresh salad.
Mapping Flavours and Aromas
The great news is all the tastes and aromas can be combined into a map for reference, split into major categories such as ‘Fruity’, and subcategories such as ‘Mango’. Below is the Flavour Wheel from CoffeeMind.
What Can You Do to Learn the Map?
There are a number of exercises which can be undertaken to build sensory skills. Each one is designed to highlight similarities and differences. By using specific tastes such as sugar in water, herbs and spices, and essential oils of aromas – it is possible to say “this is what sweet tastes like” so that in time, when you taste a coffee, you have a strong mental reference.
With smell alone we were challenged to guess the spice! Not as easy as it may sound.
Within the flavour wheel there is a spicy category, containing liquorice, coriander seed, pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon.
The kit contained ground samples of these spices, along with a pair of red glasses. Wearing the red glasses made it impossible to spot the colours of the samples, which meant that guessing the spice could only be done through the sense of smell.
Wear a nose clip and taste a jelly baby.
Doing this highlighted how hard it was to perceive a flavour without being able to smell. There was sweetness and some crunchiness on the tongue but that was about it. Take the nose clip off, and within seconds it was easy to tell the flavour.
There are five main tastes which are sensed by your tongue – sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami (savoury). The flavours we sense are mainly driven by aromas and our noses. To master finding flavours in coffee, we have to train our brain to recognise tastes and aromas/flavours and attach a name to them. Sensory training is the practice of doing just that, strengthening the connection between what we taste and smell and our brain.