Earlier this week, I was sent a package with the same coffee roasted three different ways. The only information I had was numbers to identify each coffee alongside a view that the coffee marked as 02 was the best the roaster had developed. This is significantly less information than I have ever worked from in a cupping. Last week, when I cupped the same coffee roasted two different ways, I knew one was lighter and one was darker. But, without such information I was able to eliminate bias in my cupping. I was tasting every coffee blind, for the first time.
In my cupping, I learned three things:
It takes a long time to analyse a coffee.
Coffees can change quite a bit as they cool down.
The differences between coffees in a cupping can be very small, at least toward the beginning of the cupping.
All of the coffees smelled slightly differently but all I could get from the aroma was "toffee." I was not able to confidently write any other tasting notes. This is perhaps a reminder that there is no need for me to write extensive tasting notes when I am not sure what I am tasting. On my first sip, I felt like all of the coffees were roughly the same. I was unable to pick out any differences.
And then the cupping changed.
As the coffees cooled, I was able to pick out a few more characteristics in each coffee. I focused on acidity, sweetness, finish, body, and flavours as usual and worked my way through these qualities in each coffee. I found that the first and second samples tasted better than the third. While all of the coffees were very similar at the start of the cupping, differences appeared as I took a more critical eye to each coffee.
One of the coffees had quite a bitter finish. This coffee, like the one that was roasted too dark that I tasted last week, tasted a bit bitter toward the end of the cupping. The coffee was not altogether undrinkable but I knew that the coffee could be better. A good coffee still tastes good even once it has cooled. One of the coffees, I later realised—after revealing which samples were which, for what that is worth—was more acidic than the other two.
In my last few cuppings, I have often said "X is more Y than this coffee." Comparing coffees makes it easier for me to discern differences. One of the coffees had quite a light body. Another coffee had what I thought was quite a heavy body in relation to the one with the light body. On further tasting, I grew to appreciate this heavier body. The body balanced well with the toffee flavours in the coffee.
My notes from the cupping are somewhat inconclusive. I feel like I should cup all of the coffees again to develop a better impression of them. I am still very new to cupping—especially two or more of the same coffee—and so I expect that it will take time to build my palate. Nonetheless, I am pleased that I was able to pick out differences in the coffees. I thought at the beginning that the coffees were all the same but then I was able to pick out a few details about each coffee.
This cupping was less about flavour and more about the other characteristics that make up a coffee. I do not feel like any of the coffees introduced a new flavour that was worth writing down, even though they were roasted differently. I suspect this is because roasters are only bringing out what is in the bean, at least for light roasted coffees, and I was tasting the same coffees over again.
I am excited to try these coffees again. What did I miss? How will the coffees taste in another blind taste test? These are questions I hope to answer for myself in my cupping tomorrow morning.