Just wanted to know if anyone had any advice on how to further develop one's palate. We've been doing public cuppings at our shop recently and it's a lot of fun and a great way to practice recognizing characteristics of our coffee. I'm just wanting to move beyond an elementary understanding of taste (i.e. dark vs light, acidic vs flat, heavy vs light mouthfeel) and really move toward pulling out specific flavors when I taste things. This would not only benefit my own tasting but help in describing coffees to customers.
A great tool to develop a higher level with your palate is to invest in a "coffee aroma kit". The kit is called "Le Nez du Cafe", which translates to "the scent of coffee". It has been a great tool for not only myself, but for our other baristas as well. It helps as a training tool to recognize and identify different smells that will in turn train your mind to recognize certain aromas on your palate. You can check it out on www.espressoparts.com. Of course you can train your palate the old-fashioned way....practice, practice, practice. I felt the same way when I first began cupping, but now it is amazing the characteristics I can pick up.
The Nez du Cafe is very helpful. I've also found that developing one's palate has lots to do with just getting in touch with the right language outside of cupping. Get a bunch of different kinds of roasted nuts and talk about nut flavors. Next session, use dried fruits. Next, try fresh fruits. With each, talk about varying levels of acidity and sweetness, finish, body. With these flavors more readily available to your vocabulary, you'll find yourself drawing on a wider range of terms during cupping. Also, if you have coffee professionals rolling through your town always invite them to cuppings. Outside influence is always tremendously helpful in generating new conversation.
I'm just beginning the same process. I feel a lot of pressure to throw crazy descriptions in cuppings but mainly i just taste coffee. One thing that is helping me a lot is to look at this color wheel. start in the center with more basic flavors/aromas and work your way out as you get better.
I struggled with this for quite a while, and am just now starting to have the lightbulb go on. The thing that is pretty difficult with coffee (at least to me) is that all of the fragrances and aromas are appearing totally out of context. Its like tasting random foods blind. Ever watch the tv show "Top Chef" and see all of those long-time chefs fail to identify things like ketchup and apples in the "blindfold palate" challenge?
The suggestion to taste bunches of stuff is a good one. I'd wonder if it wouldn't be useful to do that activity blindfolded, just to work those particular neural pathways.
It seems to me like the discussion aspect is important too. For example, if someone in your cupping group says she tastes beef stew, talk about it. What aspect of beef stew is she perceiving? The beefy flavor? The texture? An herb that her Mom used in her recipe? Sometimes it can be frustrating, but sometimes clarifying questions like this get you to think more about what you taste and smell. The guy that leads one of the regular cuppings here in CLT does this, and it has been really helpful for me.
I'm actually pretty excited to be attending one of Counter Culture's Cupping Leaders classes tomorrow at our local training center. Sounds like they'll spend a bit of time on flavor identification. I'll try to post back Friday with any more ideas on this.
Oh, and if you don't already, start cooking. The improvisational kind is best - where you start with a basic idea, then "taste and adjust". Taste the ingredients, paying special attention to the impact that each one makes to the final dish's flavor, texture, and aroma. Note how ingredients change with temperature and different cooking method.
Are you enjoying Barista Exchange? Is it helping you promote your business and helping you network in this great industry? Donate today to keep it free to all members. Supporters can join the "Supporters Group" with a donation. Thanks!