Tasting Coffee – Brown Bagging It

2010 January 8
by Joe Johnston

I love a good story. What I am not keen on are coffees with a lovely story that is designed to make one feel good about their purchase (and the premium price) while not delivering in the cup. That is why I favor and savor brown bag tastings! The results are often surprising and occasionally embarrassing.

The basic idea is to separate the story from the cup. Do a cupping of  range of coffees you are interested in without know which is which. I suggest using french presses or drip cones rather than the traditional cupping technique used by green coffee buyers. It is also best to hide the whole beans, rather than show them as a part of the process, as coffee cognoscenti can recognize bean shape/size, defects, and degree of roast. Try to do everything as consistently as possible. Ideally, you will invite a panel of coffee lovers and people with a well developed culinary palate. Have them secretly rate each coffee, writing down descriptors of aroma, flavor, body, finish and overall impression. Compile the results and discuss.

Now is the time to add the story back in. Assuming a coffee is wonderful in the cup, adding back a rich, true story of the coffee’s grower, land and the roaster only makes the coffee experience better. Product knowledge adds another layer of enjoyment and helps one appreciate the effort taken by many people to provide that enjoyment.

One Response
  1. January 11, 2010

    Blind, secret, objective cupping’s as well as a consistent and scientific method of brewing are the only true ways to analyze coffees. Do not be influenced by the psyche of coffee and be ready to compare without the packaging. Marketing is usually the biggest tool that a massive manufacturer of coffee has to influence a target audience. The brown bag is a great tool because makes us all equal in this experiment. Do pay attention to the date of roasting not the expiration date.

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