So, after wading through Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series on tasting you must, by now, be an intrepid taste explorer. You have a firm grasp on the difference between tastes and flavors, and have probably begun using your nose and tongue to discern them in the foods you eat and beverages you drink.
Huzzah! You’ve arrived! You’re a taster! Congratulations and welcome!
But those things that you are putting in your mouth; are they good?
You like the taste. You like the flavors. But will others?
So we come to the crux of it. Evaluation. Using our talents as tasters to not only determine the presence and description of tastes and flavors but ascribing a quality to them.
To answer the question, “What’s good?” we must first answer the question, “What does good mean?”
The Specialty Coffee Association has developed an evaluative process to assess different sensory elements of coffee on the cupping table and to assign scores for each element. Ultimately this evaluation leads to a score out of 100 with higher scores inferring higher quality and those coffees commanding a higher price per pound.
At the heart of the SCA evaluation are words. Words like poor, fair, good, very good, excellent, outstanding and exceptional. Each of these words connoting a different score and value. Describing the “Flavor” of a coffee being evaluated as “Poor” makes the “Flavor” component of the coffee worth four points; if the “Flavor” was described as “Very Good” it would receive seven points.
In the coffee world “good” simply means that the coffee being evaluated delivers on expectations. It is inoffensive, and has some small positive attributes. A coffee that is good isn’t considered a specialty coffee.
In the Specialty Coffee community cuppers like me, and so many of my friends and colleagues, spend inordinate amounts of time cupping coffee together and talking about what we cup so we can be calibrated in how we evaluate and grade coffee. We do this so that “good” means the same thing to all of us.
We participate in industry developed training and testing programs set up to ensure this calibration exists within the broader community of coffee buyers and graders. In 2010 I certified as a licensed Q Grader by completing a battery of sensory tests and evaluations over the course of five days. This certification program is still in operation and is being run by the Coffee Quality Institute .
The SCA has developed an entire education stream designed around developing coffee tasters with the introduction of their Coffee Taster Pathway education program.
It makes sense that industries develop their own language of quality and education programs to teach that language. But how do you do this at home? How do you determine whether a food or a beverage is “good”?
The simple answer is to talk about what you taste. Talk about the new beer you’re trying when you’re out on a patio with your friends. By building a discussion around what you’re tasting your group will naturally discuss and determine quality. I find that discussing tastes, flavors, and quality is easier when I lead off with a statement like, “Wow. I really like/dislike this new Muskrat IPA.”
A simple statement of liking invites a response from the folks you are with. Someone else might agree, others might disagree, but all of a sudden you’re talking about tasting. The tricky bit comes next, when you ask the killer question… “So what did you like/dislike about it?”
Now you’re getting into it. You are working towards an understanding of whether your friends/colleagues/family/group agree with your quality assessment and most importantly, you’re talking about why?
Together, you and your group of tasters will discuss the different tastes and flavors of the food or beverage on the table and will eventually ascribe a qualitative value. It will be “good”, or “great”, or “awful”. But the tasting group will have decided.
Can you disagree with the group? Sure! But this doesn’t mean that the food or beverage is “good”. It just means that your degree of liking is different.
Ultimately, whether or not you “like” something means only a little in determining whether a food or a beverage is “good”, that qualitative assessment belongs to the broader group/community.
So there we have it, A Matter of Taste.
Thanks for reading, please feel free to reach out via our firstname.lastname@example.org address if you have any questions or comments about this series of posts.