The coffee industry has seen significant changes in the previous several decades. We used to think of coffee as a one-dimensional beverage consumed mainly for its caffeine content. A substantial market section now purchases coffee for the sensory experience. Coffee tasters play an essential part in this rapidly expanding business, generating choices to meet client expectations.
The coffee has to be significantly free of faults and off-flavors infamous coffee. However, there are numerous taste profiles available in the specialty coffee sector, and the “story” of the coffee and how its sensory profile links to its origin, terroir, and creative process is crucial to its marketing. Coffee tasters are typically interested in the farmer who produced the coffee and certified.
This section will look at the specialists and the sensory testing they do as they use their specialized expertise to create coffees that meet customer tastes.
Experts vs. Nonexpert Tasters: What Are the Differences and Similarities?
Professional coffee tasters are those whose job is directly related to the flavor of the coffee. According to Gatchalian (1981), these specialists are so informed about the product that their judgment is employed in the decision-making process. Although the green coffee cupper is the most formal taster, roasters, brewers, baristas, and sensory tasters all acquire tasting abilities as part of their jobs.
Expert coffee tasters can perfectly correlate a coffee’s flavor with their control features. In Guatemala, for example, cuppers depend on their experience to differentiate the taste profiles of coffee from various valleys and farms.
According to Yadessa et al. (2008), qualified Ethiopian green coffee cuppers can provide cupping ratings for overall quality that are related to the degree of coffee cherry maturity and the physical characteristics of green coffee. Similarly, many roasters can immediately tell whether a coffee is somewhat undeveloped or overdeveloped.
Acquiring years of expertise and developing a sensory universe via constant training and calibration with peers or mentors are required to become an experienced coffee taster. Each year, the world’s most excellent baristas and their coffee are acknowledged at the World Barista Championships and the Cup of Excellence.
Expert Coffee Tasters: Their Role
The expert taster plays a significant role in determining coffee quality. However, quality is an abstract concept, which is difficult to define (Sweeney and Soutar, 1995). Experts decide what constitutes quality, and they describe and categorize it both to meet customers’ preferences, so they can obtain the coffee they want from their suppliers. Their sensory judgment is primarily based on many collaborative tasting sessions with their direct partners and stakeholders in the coffee value chain.
Expert tasters are both trendsetters and guardians of tradition. In recent years, coffee producers in many different regions have experimented with varying processing methods. For example, natural pulped coffee has gained popularity for the aromatic complexity it delivers, even though in the past, this was considered a lower quality product.
Traditionally, Costa Rican coffee is “wet processed” and is characterized by clean, fruit-like acidity and sweetness. By using other processing methods, such as a natural pulped, honey process, producers can create a heavier-bodied but less acidic coffee with more aromatic acids. Previously, the Villa Sarchi was the most typical Costa Rican tree variety, but during the past decade, farmers have planted other varieties from Africa and Asia.
Although Costa Rica has often led coffee innovation, other countries also conduct their experiments. Marsh et al. (2010) showed that a panel of 67 international and local specialty coffee cuppers ranked Indonesian natural pulped coffees higher in preference than the thoroughly washed versions.
According to Donnet and Weatherspoon (2006), Cup of Excellence cupping juries play an essential role in determining the industry’s quality standard. However, this introduces the problem of “typicity,” which is a contentious topic in both wine and coffee. When growing and producing a natural product, the most practicable and available means are initially used to make the product. This could be wine barrels made from a specific type of local wood or a plant variety that is particularly well matched to the growing conditions.
Combining these aspects often results in a unique flavor that distinguishes the growing region and builds a market as consumers expect that flavor. As technology evolves, producers can increase production, reduce variability, or produce a style of product that is known to appeal to a specific market.
These new products may be profitable and appealing; however, they may also risk losing some of the local typicity. This was the case with Bordeaux wines where sophisticated wine-making technology took over the effect of terroir and ultimately the quality ratings of reputable experts such as Parker, Bettane and Desseauve, and Broadbent (Gergaud and Ginsburgh, 2008).
At the same time, like anyone, expert coffee tasters have preferences and often deeply held convictions about what constitutes an ideal cup of coffee. They may also be business people with a financial interest in confident choices. These different roles can cause a conflict of interest when trying to make an objective sensory judgment.
Most specialty coffee businesses are small organizations where the proprietor fills several roles, including conducting a sensory analysis of samples. Many small coffee companies have become successful because they have identified a particular market niche that they are trying to fill. They make judgments based on their beliefs and business priorities. However, these judgments need to be objective to build accurate sensory tests and responses. If we consider the low level of alignment among renowned wine experts in their ratings of 2009 Bordeaux wines (Cicchetti and Cicchetti, 2014), we can see how greatly expert judgments can differ.
Expert Coffee Tasters: Their Skills
Perceptual Abilities – Coffee Tasters
Sensory experts play an essential role in describing and evaluating food and beverages. We rely on experts because they have superior discriminative and descriptive abilities compared to novices. A few studies have tried to verify this assumption by comparing wine experts’ and consumers’ performance in detection and discrimination tasks.
Surprisingly, neither olfactory chemicals like 1-butanol (Bende and Nordin, 1997; Parr et al., 2002) nor trigeminal stimuli like tannin and alcohol had different detection thresholds (Berg et al., 1955). On the other hand, Wine specialists appear to be better than beginners at distinguishing single scents in odor mixtures and conducting triangle tests (Bende and Nordin, 1997). (Solomon, 1990).
Simultaneously, the specialists’ advantage appears to be tied to increasing wine exposure, allowing them to focus on the chemical characteristics that identify the most excellent wines. “Experts don’t have a longer nose,” Edmond Roudnizka explained, “they just know how to use it better.”
Coffee Tasters – Descriptive Abilities
Coffee tasters- We want sensory specialists to explain the organoleptic qualities of food or drinks using a vocabulary gained throughout their training.
Desor and Beauchamp (1974) and Cain (1979) have shown that although practice and feedback improve people’s capacity to recognize scents, it does not enhance their ability to speak about them (Lehrer, 1983).
According to research, experts perceive odors more accurately and consistently than beginners, and their wine vocabulary is more diverse. They can talk, but only to a limited extent. A comparison of expert and beginning vocabulary demonstrates that the expert’s advantage originates mostly from their ability to use particular words to express certain olfactory and taste qualities (Solomon, 1990; Lawless, 1984).
Although expert explanations improve novice performance, it still falls short of experts, demonstrating that expert superiority cannot be explained just by the clarity of their descriptions (Valentin et al., 2003).
Sensory specialists create memory structures that correspond to the feelings observed in various meals or drinks. When asked to describe a food or beverage sample, people recall qualities from similar goods because olfactory notes are often ambiguous (a hint of red fruits, a rose-like perfume, for example). Having clear expectations about the product may aid in identifying confusing notes.
Solomon (1997) discovered, for example, that experts who wrongly recognized a Pinot Gris wine as a chardonnay characterized it with adjectives often associated with chardonnay wines. Similarly, Pangborn et al. (1963) discovered that experts evaluated a white wine tinted pink like a rose’ as sweeter.
Descriptors in coffee are also quite distinct. Green coffee, for example, may be referred to as immature, whereas roasted beans may be referred to as burnt or cooked. At the same time, defining the distinction between specific descriptions, such as identifying the difference between excessively fermented fruit and deep fruit, is an ongoing subject of controversy.
The authors of Cicchetti and Cicchetti’s (2014) expert assessment of Bordeaux wine ratings noted the significant variance in findings for the 2003 Premier Grand Cru Pavie Saint Emilion. One group awarded this wine a low rating, while another gave it a high rating. However, all of the testers agreed that the wine had a fruity note, the two groups assigned differing quality scores depending on whether or not they enjoyed the fruity note.
Expert Sensory Tests in Current Use
Coffee tasters frequently create their methods of tasting. The technical tasting is the most typical method, in which a group of 2e10 tasters describes the coffees. This can be combined with a general sample assessment based on the expert’s evaluation of its quality.
Because coffee is grown naturally, the yield might differ from year to year and harvest to harvest. As a result, proper sample procedures are critical for obtaining reliable data. All sampling methods employ specific sampling procedures to ensure that the samples under review represent the whole lot. Most of the time, they use a standard sampling method known as “cupping.”
The New York Board of Trade uses the “C” guidelines to grade coffee. A “C” lot of coffee is 37,500 pounds of coffee that is “free of any unwashed flavors in the cup, of high roasting quality, and of bean size and color that comply with Exchange criteria” (see Chapter 9). Graders use traditional cupping methods and physical testing (such as defect counts) on the green beans to evaluate whether the lot is free of off-flavors or flaws.
The Q Coffee System “Q” from the Coffee Quality Institute ensures that the coffee satisfies a quality criterion that qualifies it as “specialty” coffee. During the cupping examination, graders also evaluate the sample physically, and it must earn a SCAA/Q score of 80 or greater.
The pass/fail grade is established in both of these techniques. The sample either passes the test and receives a “C” or “Q” certification, or it does not.
There are various techniques for grading coffee, but almost all use a “100-point” scale. This is comparable to how wine is rated. These grading systems quantify the coffee’s relative quality and convey it to prospective purchasers, including consumers.
Numerical approaches are advantageous for comparing coffees; if one is ranked higher than another, we presume it is superior, particularly if the difference is substantial. Frequently, the score is supplemented with nonstandardized descriptions.
Cup of Excellence tournaments employs a scoring system created by George Howell. These contests are meant to choose the highest-quality samples from those submitted; ideally, all of them would pass the Q Coffee System’s Q rating. Panels from the origin nation cup the pieces numerous times, followed by cuppers from the consuming countries. The scores are then averaged and compared to establish ranks and winners. Lots entered in the competition’s final stages are stored in a bonded facility while test auditors gather samples.
The Cup of Excellence form for a single sample is seen in Figure. There are eight categories, each of which receives a score between 0 and 8. 36 points increase this score to 100 points. The qualitative category “Clean” is included, as are the specific attributes “Sweet,” “Acidity,” and “Mouthfeel.” The following four qualitative types (“Flavor,” “Finish,” and “Balance”) include value judgments or ratings for a variety of criteria (“Overall”). There is typically considerable debate about these sorts of characteristics since there is seldom a “standard.” A new contest entry form is presently being created.
The “Q” rating method (Fig.) uses a combination of qualitative feature scores and checkboxes to determine if coffee is classified as a specialty coffee. Five cups are rated using a ten-point scale for “Fragrance/Aroma,” “Flavor,” “Aftertaste,” “Acidity,” “Body,” and “Balance”; “Uniformity,” “Clean cup,” and “Sweetness” are scored using checkboxes (each box represents one cup), and an overall preference category is offered. There is a distinct variety of Robusta coffee.
Other Methods for Finished Product to Evaluate the Quality
Because completed products have so many varied expressions, no standard approach is employed across the coffee industry. The Nespresso Coffee Score Card (Fig. 18.10) demonstrates how the coffee’s key descriptive and qualitative features are scored in separate categories to differentiate between the coffee expert’s quality judgment and the descriptive evaluation of the product.