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How To Taste Coffee Like A Pro

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Photo: Courtesy of Starbucks.
Until recently, I had no idea that professional coffee tasting even existed. I ordered my soy latte every morning, not really understanding how noticeably different two coffee beans can taste from one another. Then, I took a trip to Starbucks Headquarters in Seattle where, among other things, I was immersed in a full-on cupping experience. (I also got to go behind the scenes of the making of the two latest latte flavors!)

If you're wondering what cupping is, don't worry, I didn't know either. It's just a professional term for a tasting that helps determine the quality of any given coffee. Starbucks quality tests every single batch of coffee that goes out to its customers, which means that a small group of coffee tasters hole up in the "cupping room" at the company's HQ in Seattle and taste a whopping 600 to 800 cups per person per day. (They don't actually drink all that coffee!)

In case you want to replicate what Mackenzie taught me in the above video, Starbucks shared a more detailed description on how to taste coffee, below.

Starbucks' Four Steps To Coffee Tasting Like A Pro

1. Smell (“Paddle & Swirl”): Always smell a coffee before you taste it. Your tongue distinguishes only five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami — but your nose can detect thousands of smells. Cup your hand over the coffee, hold the cup close to your nose, and inhale.

2. Slurp ("Dip & Scoop"): When tasting a coffee, it’s important to slurp it. Slurping sprays the coffee across your entire palate and lets subtle flavors and aromas reach your nose.

3. Locate & Spit: Think about where you are experiencing flavors on your tongue. Is it on the tip and sides? What is the mouthfeel and weight of the coffee on your tongue?

4. Describe: Now that you’ve smelled and tasted the coffee, think about how you would describe the experience. Talk about the aroma, acidity, body, and flavor. What food flavors or other experiences can you compare this sensation to? Citrus, cocoa, and berries are just a few flavors you might taste.
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