Sensory science and coffee consumption- As discussed in Section 4 of this chapter, specialists are better at describing products than consumers, though the difference is not significant. Experts can sometimes be swayed by their own quality standards and personal preferences. As a result, experts disagree about what constitutes quality and are frequently separated from customer motives and preferences. In the coffee industry, sensory and consumer science has become the go-between between coffee professionals and consumers. It’s assisting in the shift from “follow me, I’m the expert” to “we, the experts, understand you.”
Sensory scientists put the consumer at the center of their work. They assist marketers and developers in understanding the types of coffee experiences that customers want. Sensory and consumer scientists are tackling problems like why and how customers accept or reject a certain coffee experience as the subject evolves. In essence, sensory science aids in the enrichment and facilitation of consumer communication in order to steer them to coffees that will deliver enjoyable experiences.
The different actors in the coffee value chain describe quality differently (Leroy et al., 2006), and sensory and consumer science has revealed that the definition of quality varies both among specialists and between experts and consumers. When coffee stakeholders define quality more clearly, researchers and developers may more easily design and measure quality goals. This quality circle, which brings together professionals, customers, and science, aids in the alignment of methodology and vocabulary, as well as the definition of quality outcomes.
Today consumers are at the heart of the debate around coffee quality. Preference mapping shows that consumers are segmented in their coffee preferences. For example, whether experts like it or not, dark roasted bitter coffee pleases about one-third of consumers across Europe (Moskowitz and Krieger, 1998). Experts, on the other hand, tend to value highly acidic coffees with exceptional ratings, even though there has not yet been a study to determine the size of the consumer segment that might find this coffee appealing. In addition, the shelf life for quality in cups is based on acceptance limits which find their true relevance when involving consumers. For this reason, Manzocco and Lagazio (2008) proposed a prediction model for consumer acceptance and rejection of the shelf life of brewed coffee.
Beyond the experts and how well consumers like a particular coffee, it is important to understand how the description of the coffee can influence the perceived level of quality- Sensory science and coffee consumption
Vocabulary is an important bridge that sensory and consumer scientists have developed to try to help the whole coffee community communicate on the same level. Expert wording, as seen in Section 4, helps consumers better anticipate the experience the coffee will deliver, so expert voices certainly provide a certain level of trust and influence on the consumer perception of product quality. Conversely, the words themselves can also mislead. Herz and von Clef (2001) showed how verbal positive or negative labeling can influence the perceptions of odors in perfume in what she calls “olfactory illusions.”
In reality, sensory and consumer science has become the keeper of a common language that all stakeholders in the coffee industry can understand. This common language is now used by cuppers, developers, and marketers. Everyone’s coffee experience will improve if this language is extended to all stakeholders, from producers to consumers. Of defining and giving reference fragrances for the sensory descriptions associated with coffee, tools like “Le Nez du Cafe’, Edition Jean Le Noir” or the Coffee Lexicon by the World Coffee Research can aid.
Alignment Among Experts and With Consumers
Refining the coffee vocabulary to improve alignment among all stakeholders is an ongoing process. Some aspects of this, such as agreeing on the cocoa or jasmine notes or defining acidity on a general basis, are relatively easy. However, it becomes more difficult when trying to draw the line between qualitative and unpleasant acidity, such as the fine acidity of the best green coffee origins and acidity that occurs during coffee staling. Coffee has its pool of general concept terms including quality, sweet perception, intensity/ strength, fine acidity, and complexity that needs to be more specifically defined to improve understanding and meaning, not only with consumers but also among the coffee experts themselves.
The wine industry has led the way with the fairly recently developed concept term “minerality.” This term, which references the very low concentration of minerals in wines, makes an improbable direct link between the soil where the vine is grown and the emergence of mineral notes in wines (Maltman, 2013). In Rodriguez et al.’s (2015) study, using a free word association exercise with the term minerality, Chablis winemakers produced slightly more words, which were more consensual than those of consumers. They developed a structured representation including the origin (terroir and soil) as well as the sensory properties (chalky, shellfish, freshness) of the wine. In contrast, for burgundy wine consumers, the concept of minerality was limited to the terroir. However, for both groups, minerality was seen as a positive descriptor of quality.
As a quantitative subject, sensory and consumer science is gaining traction in the coffee market, complementing or correcting the sensitive qualitative experience of the coffee cupper. It links abstract analytical data to more tangible sensory evaluation and taste characteristics that determine the final cup result. As a result, sensory and consumer science are used as process factors for terroir characteristics, green coffee physics, roasting profiles, and chemical aromatic composition.
Bhumiratana et al. (2011) proposed an experimental design to measure the impact of three green coffee origins at three roasting degrees on the sensory aroma profile from a trained panel. This showed that the roast degree had a higher impact than the coffee origin before concluding that consumer testing is necessary to identify the key attributes that might impact acceptability. Miyai et al. (2010) found that sensory descriptions from trained tasters were connected with the origin, roast degree, and nonvolatile aromatics in ready-to-drink chilled espresso. Bitter and full-bodied beverages linked to quinic acid and pyroglutamic acid were detected in larger proportions in a dark roast in his study. Light, green-tasting beverages, on the other hand, were linked to greater levels of citric acid, chlorogenic acid, trigonelline, and formic acid in a light roast (Sensory science and coffee consumption)
Tolessa et al. (2015) created a methodology that employed near-infrared spectra to determine if Ethiopian green coffee beans might be classified as specialty coffee. The significant association between the near-infrared spectra and the specialty coffee scores derived on 86 samples of dry, wet, and semi-washed Arabica from three areas of Ethiopia’s Jimma zone led him to this conclusion. The results of the investigation demonstrated that this instrumental measure may accurately predict and hence replace human sensory evaluation, saving time and money. It’s important to remember, however, that these prediction models are only valid within the sensory space of the samples and conditions chosen.