How to taste coffee like an expert
As this year’s precious harvest arrives on British shores,
our Tea Expert shares his exclusive tasting notes ahead of the tea’s impending sale to the public
Whether you like to start your morning with an invigorating jolt of java or linger over a post-prandial cup in the evening, for many, coffee forms an essential part of daily life. And yet, due attention is rarely paid to this most time-honoured of beverages, which has been enjoyed since at least the 15th century, when the first credible records of coffee-drinking emerged from Yemen. Rather like a fine wine, a high quality coffee is rich and complex, full of aromatic notes to savour with the senses.
The East India Company pioneers first began trading coffee in the early 1600s, selling primarily in Persia and Moghul India, and by the end of the 17th century the Company had become the most successful importer of coffee in the British market – a legacy that still influences the coffee-drinkers of today. Here, we dissect the coffee-drinking rituals from the past and guide you on how to develop a deeper appreciation of coffee with our expert tasting guide.
First, allow the time coffee deserves. Coffee tasting, as with any tasting done well, is not something to be rushed. Carefully choose the coffees you are going to taste. We recommend between three and five, so that the nuances between each can be compared, though of course you can add more. Beginners may wish to select coffees from different countries, to build up an appreciation of terroirs and characteristics, while more experienced coffee tasters could hone their palate by sampling multiple coffees from a single region.
Before brewing, smell the beans or grinds to appreciate its initial aroma. Make sure you are using fresh coffee, brewed with clean water – if you are using tap water, try to filter it if you can, to ensure a pure taste. At this stage, it is worth saying that the brew method – for instance, cafetiere or French press – will have an impact on the liquor produced. For the purposes of a tasting, it’s best to go with espresso or filter to ensure you experience the coffee at its purest. Similarly, avoid adding milk, cream or sugar, which can overpower coffee notes.
Once the coffees are made, it’s time to appreciate their aromas on the nose. Tilt the cup over the bridge of your nose and inhale deeply, pausing to consider the different qualities between each cup. How would you describe the aroma? Is it earthy, floral, fruity or perhaps closer to caramel or chocolate? Additionally, how does the fragrance of the brewed coffees compare to the aroma of the beans or grinds?
It is now time to taste. Keeping your eyes closed, start with a small sip before following with a larger mouthful that allows air into the mouth, which helps to aerate coffee and bring out its flavours. As with the aromas, try to discern what the flavours remind you of. Let your palate run wild – there is no such thing as a wrong or silly answer. How does the flavour change and evolve on the tongue? Note individual characteristics, such as acidity or sweetness, as well as how it feels on the palate – one coffee may be full-bodied, while another is distinctly smooth. Consider too the aftertaste – is there a long lingering finish, or does it finish abruptly? By comparing and contrasting the different qualities found in each coffee, you will start to hone your tasting skills and develop a newfound appreciation for your daily brew.
At The East India Company, we can help you to continue your coffee education journey with our curated range of rare beans and signature blends sourced from far-flung lands, from Ethiopia and Tanzania to Jamaica, Hawaii and beyond. For something a little indulgent, we recommend our Tiger of Mysore Mocha or Red Dragon Mocha Java varieties, both of which feature rich chocolatey notes with Mocha blends. Alternatively, with its enticing combination of Java, Colombian, Brazilian and Mocha beans, our Director’s Blend offers a robust yet balanced cup with notes of fruit, spice and chocolate.
Discover more about our coffee range here.