Tasting Coffee

This is part I in a mini-series about what it means to "taste" or "cup" coffee. Part II can be found here.

At a recent post-CREMA hangout, our roaster Winston let slip that he had an amply stocked bourbon shelf.

With something a little more zealous than curiosity, Raleigh (one of our seasoned, apron’d baristas) suggested an impromptu, old-fashioned bourbon tastin’. Glassed were procured and portions of that golden Kentuckian liquid were poured--everything was all lined-up and clinical, like the best science experiment in human history.

And what began as Raleigh’s (probably genius?) effort to swill Winston’s bourbon turned revelatory.

“These are, like...different,” Raleigh said as a cartoonish Batman “DUH!” flashed onto the screen. “I mean, they are, like, wildly different.”

Talking through each glass, Winston and Raleigh noted the particular sweetness of one, the almost hot saucian spiciness of another.

One bourbon was aggressively floral, while another was rounded, full-bodied, and earthy. The fifth, the cream of Winston’s Kentuckian crop, was so juicy and clean that they could’ve guzzled the stuff like water (though they didn’t--we swear on Daniel Boone’s coon-skin cap).

Raleigh left--not after several glasses of water, many heaping mounds of Winston’s homemade salsa, and a couple Winston-mandated yoga stretches--astounded.

He knew, obviously, that bourbon, like coffee, was, as he said, “different.” He knew there were different varieties, tasting profiles, and styles of making bourbon. He knew (he claims) that bourbon didn’t all come from some huge bourbon vat beside a horse stall in a dull Kentucky field. But he’d never really paid attention, never tasted and noticed and compared. Or maybe he’d just never had a friend as gullibly generous as Winston.

“Bourbon,” Raleigh said at one point, like some ancient parable being revealed, “is just like coffee.”



That was a true story. But like any good parable, the deeper truth is more important: bourbon, in its many and wildly complex iterations, is just like coffee.

You hear us talk about it all the time: this coffee is fruity or that coffee is nutty; this coffee is bright and tea-like, while this other one is rounder and more full-bodied. Sometimes we’ll go real crazy on you and note that this coffee has a tamarind fruitiness to it, or that another tastes like a bushel of peaches.

We know what you’re thinking:
“Does it really taste like that?”

Well, actually (and amazingly), yes.

You just kind of have to notice it, swap field notes with your barista, or show up at Winston’s house with some coffee and an open-minded palate (maybe don’t actually do that last one).  

That Batman-like “AHA!” moment is coming for your coffee-palate (if it hasn’t already). And we’re happy to be your sidekicks, whether by conversing about our coffee menu, or sipping together at the cupping table.

Winston himself leads free coffee cuppings (that’s coffee-code for “tastings”) every Friday morning at 8am (want to come? email us). They’re just like that impromptu bourbon tasting we had--minus, well, the bourbon.

The great thing about coffee cuppings/tastings? There’s no wrong answer. If you think a coffee tastes like Funfetti birthday cake, then, dang it, that coffee tastes like Funfetti birthday cake. If you don’t taste anything, either--that’s okay, too. Sometimes things jump out at you, and sometimes they don’t.

The important thing--the real reason why any of us get excited about all this--is that you’re paying attention, having a conversation, noticing things, appreciating the beauty and the worth that lies within a single cup of coffee.

We’ll raise our glass to that.  

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