Ever since I switched into developing coffee and tea drinks, I often get the question “So do you like it more than sauces?” In all honesty, both products have really different ingredients and processing that it’s hard to compare. With dressings and sauces I got pretty comfortable playing around with oils, vinegars, and spices to get a certain flavor profile and consistency, so I figured coffee products should be easier right? Isn’t it all about coffee, chocolate and milk? Ummm yes and no.

This is what my first cupping sessions sounded like (cupping = the formal evaluation of the coffee/cocoa/tea product with the customer or marketing peoples):

Panelist 1: Sample A had more creamy notes, with the vanilla upfront and the cocoa pleasantly mild.
Panelist 2: Yes, I agree, in Sample B the coffee was too strong. It’s that god-awful robusta isn’t it? You can’t taste the cocoa at all! And it had no body!
Panelist 3: Ugh B… it tastes so earthy, almost like dirt. I’m tasting coffee first, then the milk, then that offensive finish at the end. Maybe we should try a different blend of Mexican and Colombian. What do you think Joy?
Me: Ummmm…I think I don’t like B either. It ummm, tastes different… Yeah, it doesn’t taste good…

That is the problem with being a newbie in a field where you’re working with people with seriously honed taste buds. At first everything tastes the same! Either that or I get tongue tied trying to find a way to describe what I’m tasting. And heaven forbid if I prepare a cup of coffee wrong. One time I (gasp!) used warm water to prepare a cup (it should be cold going into the brewer). And today I got strange, “you crazy lady” looks after assuming we taste the coffee out of our standard insulated disposable cups (you MUST use ceramic or porcelain).

However I never get tired of observing one thing. Sooo, when you taste straight up coffee you have to slurp it. It’s loud and sounds gross to people passing by but it’s a funny sight when you see a room full of people doing it. After slurping you spit it out. Usually there is a spittoon but a lot of times the tasters resort to using a regular old cup since that’s the most handy. Inevitably the sample cups and make-shift spittoons get mixed up and people end up sampling other people’s…well you can guess the rest…