Coffee beans have up to 800 flavor characteristics that our senses can detect. Red wine, by comparison, only has 400. Most coffee connoisseurs prefer mild roasts because the longer a coffee bean is roasted the more characteristics that are burned off.
Tasting coffee is an art form. To detect the most amount of flavor from the coffee bean, it must be tasted properly. Coffee tasting works much like wine tasting. As in wine tasting, coffee tasting has special terms, used to describe the taste of coffee and to find the perfect balance.
Coffee tasting, or cupping as it is called, has to be done the same way every time to ensure that the difference in the taste of coffee beans is not due to outside factors like amount of coffee and water temperature.
The cupping method works in the following way.
Choose the beans that you want to taste.
Take a quarter ounce of coarse ground roasted coffee.
Heat 5 ounces of water to just below the boiling point.
Pour the water over the coffee in a circular motion.
Dip a spoon into the cup (with your nose close to the cup) so that it breaks the top layer of that coffee grinds that floated to the top.
Take approximately half a spoonful of the liquid from the cup.
Quaff it with a loud slurping noise. The noise is made so that you can mix the liquid with the air, spraying it directly over your tongue.
Savor, swish once, and the spit out the liquid.
Using this method, the tongue is able to discriminate among the many subtle flavors of coffee. Different parts of the tongue detect different flavors.
The back of the tongue discerns the bitterness.
The sides of the tongue discern the staleness.
The tip of the tongue discerns specific flavors.
Knowing how to taste coffee is not enough. One must know how to describe the flavors. The terms below are used in cupping. Each of these terms describes certain characteristics of coffee.
Aroma: the smell of the coffee.
Fragrance: the smell of the coffee grinds.
Body: the way the coffee feels in your mouth. This is the feeling of weight and texture.
Rich: the coffee has more than body and aroma. The coffee is buttery and satisfying
Mellow: the coffee has a fully-developed body; not harsh.
Acidity: The verve (for lack of a better word) of the coffee. Arabica beans are famous for having this characteristic.
Acidity is a highly desirable characteristic in coffee. Water that is used in brewing can affect it. If alkaline water is used to brew coffee, it will counter the acidity in the coffee. Purified or filtered water is recommended to get the best and truest taste from coffee.