Sunday, June 20, 2010

Tasting Notes

Last weekend, I went to a wine tasting with my family at Naked Mountain Vineyard in Markham, Virginia (Visit them at: A disclosure, though: I have no developed palate for wine. I rarely drink it and know nothing about it, save it’s alcoholic and may have come in contact with some viticulturist’s feet.

Nevertheless, I was engrossed in the descriptions on the wine menu at Naked Mountain, noting the flavors within different wines, be it a Chardonnay with pineapple and lemon or a Merlot with leather and tobacco. In this way, being a dedicated coffee drinker and coffee roaster in training made me feel like I could get a grip on wine tasting. Simply, coffee and wine sales both rely heavily on marketing the differences in flavor between their respective varieties.

My impression, however, is that most people are the opposite of me, that is, the average wine drinker is more comfortable describing the taste of a glass of wine than the average coffee drinker would a cup of coffee. Bearing this in mind, I wanted to put together some thoughts about tasting notes for coffee that, while far from being universal, could help stimulate your coffee-splashed taste buds.

Here are, strangely enough, descriptions of common descriptors in coffee tasting:

“citrusy” – Tangerine, lemon and other citrus fruit flavors are easily detectable in high-acid, medium roast coffees, such as Tanzanian Peaberry or Kenyan AA
“floral” – Also common among high-acid, East African coffees, these lighter roasts flaunt their fragrance and may even have a chopped-up, flower-like residual resembling tea leaves when ground
“earthy” – Customary in describing Indonesian coffees, these low-acid, medium roasts can taste and smell like a day in the sun spent gardening amid damp soil and friendly fungus
“smoky” – Dark-roast coffees and their added carbon content should cleanse the palate with a bold, almost burnt finishing taste that defines traditional European tastes
“grassy” – Latin American coffees often carry this tasting note, evocative of something fibrous that a grazing animal would eat, like hay or roots
“nutty” – Like trail nuts, an oily or viscous feel can pervade the finishing tastes of many Asian or Latin American coffees
“spicy” – Reminiscent of baked goods or incense rather than Mexican food, medium roasts can tingle the tongue with cinnamon, clove or pepper
“sweet” – Coffees that fall between dark and medium roasts often carry a mellow, sweet taste without tartness, like chocolate or caramel

So next time you visit Blanchard’s and pick up a pound, make sure to give us some feedback on your own opinions, likes, and dislikes of the coffees you’ve tried…because no matter what the baristas say, at the end of the day, everyone gets something a little different out of their cup.

Post jotted by Java Junkie Jonathan

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