I have medium trained taste buds, I would say. Their usual workout consists of alternating cycles of pasta and rice with veggies after a slow warm up in the morning with oatmeal and fruits. There are variations from time to time: a huge salad or different types of veggie soups, a good piece of steak and red wine.
My taste buds’ favorite exercise is Thai Style with exotic labs of lemongrass, coconut and spicy curries. They even went through a hard training for a Chili competition a couple of years ago. Still they are getting a challenge every now and then when I try something totally new. Which is easy in New York, because food from all over the world is available here.
One sunny Saturday, I had a surprise for my taste buds. They where still a little sleepy when we went out of the apartment in the morning to attend a coffee cupping at Toby’s Estate.
Dan, the coffee educator, explained to us five coffee scholars that a coffee cupping is a procedure with which coffee roasters find the best coffee to buy. Also this is how the aroma description gets on the package. I always wondered who comes up with descriptions like ‘Root beer, pineapple, lemon…’ Root beer & pineapple?!
Everybody got a coffee grading form and wondered how many categories are to be taken care of: fragrance, aroma, sweetness, acidity, body, flavor, finish, cleanness, balance.
The coffee cupping steps:
1. (Dry) Fragrance: Stick your nose deeply into a glass which contains freshly grounded coffee. Don’t stick the nose into the coffee though. Take a deep sniff. How does it smell, what does it remind you off? Repeat the procedure with the next glass that contains the same coffee. Is it different? Shake the glass, is the smell now different? What does it remind you of? Grandma’s Chocolate Cake? Old pennies? Repeat with the other four coffee types and note done everything.
2. (Wet) Aroma: Pour hot water over the coffee in each glass. The coffee powder gathers on the surface of the water and builds a thick crusty layer. Smell again. Is it different from its dry state? What do you think of? Wet cat? Green beans!
3. Aroma: With the nose closely over the glass, push the coffee crust down with a spoon and take a deep breath. Stir softly. Did the smell change? Root beer now? Or wet hay? What does the smell remind you of?
4. Taste: Remove the coffee powder left on the surface and take a spoon full of coffee to taste it. Slurp it in quickly, no matter the sound *Scchrrrrp*. How does it taste? Write down all associations.
We walked in cycles around the table, like perfumers, scenting and sniffing, like wine-tasters, slurping, gargling and drooling. What a workout for nose and tongue! Avid taste buds were overwhelmed with sensory diversity and I heavily failed in giving each detail a name or association. I found descriptions like ‘wet forest and mushrooms’, ‘Coca Cola without sugar’ and ‘old, dusty wood’. Taste description is really, really hard.
I’d love to train that more often. Is there a taste description class somewhere out there? This is NYC and so far I thought there is everything possible and available in this city. Do you know a ‘Taste descriptions for cooking books’ class or a course for Food-and-Drink-Label writer or likewise? Please leave a comment and let me know.