blog from the ceo & superbarista of phoenix coffee, home of the best baristas in cleveland, ohio

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Lessons from the Beans themselves

For the past two weeks, Dawn, James, Carl and I have been going through our coffee offerings and retasting everything systematically, in preparation for the debut of our new bin labels. The new labels will feature more precise descriptions of the coffees, (even the decafs!) as well as quantitative ratings for each one: Roast Level, Body, Acidity and Aroma. It has been great to get re-acquainted with some old favorites, as well as discovering that even I might mistake our Carl's Blend Decaf for regular coffee, it's that good!

Every time I sit down to taste coffee in a focused way (or tea, for that matter), I learn something. And this series of tastings has been no different. For starters, I learned that I can't have Red Beans and Rice for lunch (or curried chicken salad) and still expect to be able to accurately taste coffees that afternoon. Spicy foods over stimulate the sensory capacity of the mouth. I had always heard this, but it was quite another thing to verify it first hand. After spicy food, my ability to identify nuances and to critically analyze the coffees is virtually gone. We'll have to keep this in mind on our trip to Costa Rica!

Apparently it's the same way with our sense of smell. My sister and brother-in-law just got back from France, where they visited the Fragonard perfume factory in Grasse, Provence. They learned about the profession of being a perfumer or "a nose", a person who can recognize about 3,000 different smells. There are about 1000 perfumers in the world, but only about 50 "noses". These people cannot drink alcohol or strong beverages (maybe coffee is among them?), or eat spicy food, and they certainly can't smoke. So, as my brother-in-law said, "that would be lifestyle choice". But they do get paid well and have great job security!

Interestingly enough, I also read recently in mental floss magazine about The International Superior Institute for Perfume, Cosmetics and Food Aroma in Versailles, France. Most students have a bachelors in chemistry or biochemistry. They study olfactory, gustatory and tactile senses. The program last two years and in order to graduate students have to create their own fragrance or other cosmetic or flavored product, and also manufacture, package and promote their own special scent.

Another thing I learned throughout these tastings is that the duration of the flavor profile in your mouth is another metric to keep in mind. For example, Continental Blend has a concise flavor burst. It's simple, maybe at least in part because this blend now contains some Blue Moon, one of our simplest tasting coffees. Yemen and Sulawesi on the other hand, are complex, long lasting, and hard to analyze because the sensations in the mouth continue to change from the second the coffee enters your mouth, and then for several beats after you swallow.

I am noticing as I write this that it's easy to slip into sexual innuendo when describing sensory experiences. Like at the training class I did last night at Sean's Place on Clifton... whew, every other sentence had a double entendre! I think I'll leave this post at that!
Happy coffee drinking to you!


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