Monday, March 02, 2009

Coffee vocabulary

One cold morning in Baltimore, Maryland, in 2001, when renovations were ongoing at Sisson's Brewpub, a few of us ventured next door to Spoons Coffee House & Roastery. Owners Bernie and Debbie welcomed us, and directed us to a back table where they had arranged several small cups of hot coffee. Each each a different coffee. Some had been brewed from different beans, some were different roasts of the same beans, and some were combinations thereof. All of the roasting had occurred on-site at Spoons.

Spoons Coffeshop roaster

We tasted each --or, in the parlance, cupped each-- without being told which was which, until we had tasted all.

It was a fascinating exercise. Even though we had appreciated coffee before then (and still do), we had been thinking of coffee as more a commodity than a craft beverage. Bernie and Debbie disabused us of that notion. We narrowed down our choices to two different coffees. Spoons blended those two into our exclusive Sisson's house blend.

We didn't become coffee-tasting experts, but we did begin to learn coffee's vocabulary.
Latin American coffees tend to be chocolaty and mild. Coffees from east Africa tend to have a wake-up-your-mouth kind of perkiness that coffee pros call brightness. Coffees from Indonesia tend to be earthy, dark, and more intense.

1. The Scent
2. The First Sip
3. Sweetness and Saltiness
4. Acidity
5. Texture
6. Fruits and Vegetables
7. Spices
8. Natural Sugar
9. The Roast
10. Espresso Notes

10 Ways to Judge Good and Bad Coffee
excerpts from Michaele Weissman:
God in a Cup: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Coffee

By the way, Sisson's Brewpub has since closed; its space is occupied by a sports bar. Spoons Coffehouse and Roastery, however, is alive and thriving.

Caveat lector: I was, at one time, an investor in Sissons.

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