I'm a bit curious
I tried the search function but found nothing on this topic.

How do you guys go about developing your taste palette?
As often as I can, I cup as much coffee (and pull as espresso) as possible.
Some coffee is easier to distinct between than others.
But sometimes you just get that real complex cup of coffee and you don't know where to start on describing it.

I first try to figure out the prominent things like the Body and or the acidic values. I try my hardest to look at nothing that might hint to the flavor of the coffee before I decide on what I think. But sometimes I'm really stumped. It's like the combination and complexity is too much to pick apart.

I'm just a bit curious as to how some of you go about this. What's your thought process? Should I just not think so hard about it and appreciate the coffee for its nature? haha

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I would just say to try as many new things as possible. even if you know that you don't like something give it a try. eat things alone and in combination with other foods. if your a beer drinker then start picking out the flavors that you pick up. also start drinking wines and whiskeys. in order to keep your palate keep using it.
and have fun with it.
The best way to develop your pallet is to cup with other people, I find that it's in the discussion of what we're tasting that i grow the most.
Check out M'lissa Muckerman's blogging about the tastings she led at Octane in ATL:

http://coffeerevelation.wordpress.com/2007/11/06/exploring-our-tong...

They basically had one tasting with items that exemplified the 5 different taste sensations and then did a whole tasting devoted to each (as well as other things like nuts and fruit).

Another great thing to do is to taste things that you think you've found in a coffee. For example, if you find yourself wanting to say that a coffee has almond in the flavor, then go out and a confirm that you have that taste correct.

I know that the SCAA partnered with Flavor Dynamics to put together a tasting kit, a la "Le Nez du Cafe" (but for flavors obviously). I think it's somewhat pricey and I've never heard any reviews, but it is supposed to have examples of the most common flavors found in coffee.

And I second the cupping with others comment, even if it is with people who aren't experienced cuppers. It'll give you a big boost of confidence when you say "I thought I tasted...." and someone else lights up with a "Yeah! I got that too!"
Build your vocabulary. I lead cuppings with baristas twice a week, and have started to begin cuppings with what I call "calibrations". The other week, I got together as many different types of nuts and seeds as possible. We munched on these for a few minutes, trying to find similarities and differences between them, putting them into groups, picking them apart. Then we tasted coffee, with the idea of nuts still fresh in our minds. That made it a little easier to pick out almond versus hazelnut.

My idea about the development of perception, or what you might call connoisseurship, is that what matters is the difference between things, (to understand what the flavor "almond" is, you need to understand how it is unlike the flavour "hazelnut").

My advice is to put as many things in your mouth as possible. Whenever possible, put them next to each other for the sake of comparison. Take notes. Branch out with the words you use, considering flavours in spatial or temporal terms, (how quickly does a flavour move over your palete? what shape is it? is it a hardwood or shag carpeting?). Draw a picture of your flavours. Taste things with other people. Make friends with wine and scotch snobs. Eat things that make you cringe. Don't smoke.
The "Nose Of Coffee" set is pretty impressive and a nice reference tool. It is also an investment. There are corresponding posters. Check out SCAA Website.

Nuances in Tennessee whiskey, pipe tobbacco aromas, and foreign food has helped my cupping skills.
You can also use wine tasting skills/terms but remember to hold your little finger out while slurping, and you have to be careful when verbalizing any coffee to wine comparisons since some folks are sick to death of that kind of talk!!!

All your study and practice will pay off when someone comes to cup with you from another roaster, importer, or grower, and when the silent cupping is done you all have similar notes.

Another thing I enjoy is telling the chef what spices you think he used in preparing your dinner.


Have fun.
i think there are a few key things that will help you develop your palette. but the most important thing, i think, is to remember that your palette is exactly that... YOUR palette. noone can tell you what you are tasting except you.

that being said, i think there are 3 things to focus on when trying to work on your cupping...

first is to stick to the basics. you are on the right track by trying to discern the body and acidity before looking for poetic, or romantic flavor descriptions. beyond body and acidity try to distinguish the fragrance (dry grounds) and aroma (wet grounds).

second is practice. practice, practice, practice. being an expert cupper is dependent on your ability to develop your sense memory. the only way to do this is to cup every day. i would try to get in a routine. same time, best in the morning, everyday. try to cup away from distractions. i know this is hard as a barista working in a busy shop, but what you can try is coming into work 1/2 hour early so you can set up in back and taste unimpeded.

third is comparisons. alfred peet always told his employees and customers that tasting is comparison. you need to give a coffee something to be compared to in order for its individuality to shine.

hope this helps...
a few things.

I heard once that trying to pick out a flavor while "tasting", is like trying to remember the liscense plate of a passing car. Your tongue is different from evry other tongue on the planet. Our taste receptors vary in concentration and location from person to person. Also they do not perform on the same level from day to day, as the get fatigued like the rest of our body. So my main point is that if you cup a coffee one day and don't get anything, cup it again in a few days and maybe you will have a new perception. This repetitive tasting also helps to confirm what you learned previously.
You might want to snag a copy of of Ted Lingle's book on cupping. I find that most people don't lack the palette discernment as much as they do the vocabulary to describe what they're tasting. You might also want to consider an aromatics kit so that you are in the habit of accurately identifying what it is that you are smelling/tasting.
One easy and fun way is to cup with as many other people as possible.
It's not as difficult as it sounds.

Cup often, and as much as possible.

Taste everything. Food, spirits, etc. If it's edible, taste it.

This tip has been brought to you by me, who first read it from Tim Wendelboe.

There is no "magic bullet". The way to train your palate is to give your palate a broad array of sensory experiences.
Thanks to Matthew for bringing this up and to everyone for a great discussion. I'm also fascinated by this topic and want to develop my sensory skills. I've only done cupping a handful of times, so I'm new to it and have a lot to learn, but I'd consider my overall palate pretty good. I'm a total foodie and experimental cook/baker and love trying all kinds of new things. This has helped me a ton, as many of you have mentioned. Now I just need to learn to apply it to coffee.
Most flavors in coffee are hints of other flavors, or combinations that don't come close to, but remind you of other flavors.

This is why picking out flavors in coffee is difficult for beginners. It takes a well-trained palate to introduce the notion that a certain flavor may even be present, because in coffee, it's not in its normal flavor profile form, and it may be easily missed by someone who isn't used to "looking" for such things.

Just try to associate as many flavors as you can to what you're tasting in the coffee. I'm not sure if I have a great palate or not, but my vocabulary isn't bad. lol

teresa said:
Thanks to Matthew for bringing this up and to everyone for a great discussion. I'm also fascinated by this topic and want to develop my sensory skills. I've only done cupping a handful of times, so I'm new to it and have a lot to learn, but I'd consider my overall palate pretty good. I'm a total foodie and experimental cook/baker and love trying all kinds of new things. This has helped me a ton, as many of you have mentioned. Now I just need to learn to apply it to coffee.

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