You’ve heard me share that wine has about 750 different flavor notes and coffee has over 1500. The life of a coffee roaster is filled with sweet aromatics. I am surrounded by the smell of coffee all of the days of my life. I spend many of my waking hours trying to discern the various notes, the mouthfeel, the body, and the best brewing method of each coffee we roast. Which coffee is a great espresso, or an awesome pourover? Which coffee is a great French Press, but a weak Aeropress? Each roaster has different methods that help us “taste” the coffee with precision. Here are some techniques that I have developed for my dream life of violently slurping and sniffing coffee:
1. If you’ve attended one of our coffee cupping parties, you’ve heard me talk about violently sniffing and slurping the coffee. Before you drink that next cup of fresh roasted specialty coffee, bring it close to your nose, and sniff three times violently. This awakens your olfactory system and causes your brain to take a mental snapshot of the coffee notes. When you vocalize your impressions of the coffee or just say that it smells “citrusy,” for example, the next time you smell that same note, you’ll remember the vocabulary word that you used. In this way, you become more mindful of the various interesting notes possible in this complex beverage. By taking dainty sniffs, your olfactory system believes that you’re just breathing. The violence of your sniffing will help trick your brain into discerning what you are smelling. What are you smelling? Is the coffee fruity, chocolaty, or spicy? What kind of chocolate do you smell- dark or milk chocolate? A teacher once told me repeatedly, “You need to be specific to be terrific.” That truth is important in coffee tasting- try to be as specific as possible. You’ll train your mind to enjoy your food and beverages with greater discernment.
2. .The violent slurp helps you to understand many aspects of the coffee- the mouthfeel, body, complexity, sweetness,and the various notes or natural flavors. By aerating the coffee, you allow the liquid to splash across your palate and your teeth. If you choose unwisely to take little, gentle sips, you will miss out on how the coffee feels on the back of your throat, the dryness around your teeth, the physical structure of the coffee that can feel like a bridge across your palate, or even the flavor notes. Let your coffee cool down to at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit before you slurp violently. Your brain is unable to process the taste of food or beverages that are over 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, room temperature or cold coffee are the best temperatures for tasting.
3. When you slurp your coffee for the first time, ask yourself the following questions:
a. What flavors am I experiencing?
b. What is the mouthfeel? Is the coffee feel oily, rough, gritty, or viscous on my palate?
c. Where do I feel the coffee- around the front teeth, in the middle of the palate, or in the back of my mouth? Is there a discernible structure that I feel in my mouth?
d. Is the taste fleeting? Is there a crescendo of flavor and feeling in the front of my palate, but then the coffee quickly dissipates? Does the experience start soft and stay flat throughout the experience?
e. Is there a difference between the aroma that I violently sniffed and the taste when I violently slurped?
3. As if my personal tasting life could not grow stranger, I’ve learned a new technique that may border on lunacy- lip smacking. Yes, I just said lip smacking. This technique is best used for tasting espresso because this beverage spends more time lining your palate. By lip smacking, you are further aerating the coffee. I have learned that unique, unusual ways of tasting coffee allow your brain to think creatively. It may be similar to cross training where you use more of your muscles in different ways for greater health benefits. When you use this technique make sure that the person with you is prepared for an odd sight.
Tasting beverages with a plan helps enrich your experience with the beverage. I’m not a New Age kind of guy, but being mindful of your most pleasant experiences will grow your life. Most of us spend too much time devouring our food without truly experiencing the meal. Slurping or sniffing violently, or smacking your lips, are not only funny and strange to do, but those techniques help you truly understand the various qualities of the beverage. However, be warned. I advocate using these techniques a few times during your enjoyment of your beverage. Using these techniques with every sip of coffee may have deleterious effects: loss of every friend (except for the ones that are crazier than you) and loss of employment due to fear of mental illness. Enjoy your coffee drinking experience with humor, discernment, and creativity.
Frank Lanzkron-Tamarazo is the owner of Chazzano Coffee Roasters in Ferndale, Michigan. He is the author of “God Cries and An Angel Loses its Wings,” published by God and Coffee Consulting, Inc. His next three books will be published in the Spring of 2015. Chazzano Coffee Roasters has won Best Coffee Shop in Detroit from 2010-2014 and Best Tea Shop in 2013 & 2014.