Understanding Coffee: Deciphering Tasting Notes
Written by Alex
When we launched our rebrand back in November 2021, you may have seen our highlight post explaining our tasting cards. These cards come clipped to every bag of coffee you buy and are served alongside every pourover in our café.
The intention is to invite you, our customer, into an honest and informative discourse about the coffee that you are drinking. Some of the information that we will provide to you includes the origins of the coffee, the way it was processed, and its traceability.
We’re really passionate about providing you with all the information, from the names of our farmers and producers, to the companies that help to import our beans, provide fair pay, and increase available quality training at origin.
In this blog, I will be offering a deep dive into a different purpose of our tasting cards – exploring the differences between flavour and tasting notes and explaining how you can advance your own sensory knowledge when tasting speciality coffee.
Flavour vs. Tasting Notes
The flavour of a coffee is often thought of as a holistic experience – combining all elements of the drink, from the aroma to the mouthfeel.
The tasting notes should then be seen as tools to express and relate to the flavour that is perceived in the final product: a pourover or espresso, for example.
This differentiation is important because of the individuality of our palates. The tasting notes provided alongside our coffees are interpretations of the flavour perceived by our Head Roaster or our coffee importers.
This means that you might interpret different notes in the flavour of our coffees or be able to relate different flavours to your experience. However, Cartwheel has multiple accredited Q-Graders, which means that we’re confident that our tasting notes can point you in the right direction when it comes to picking a coffee you’ll love!
Our Head-Roaster and our owner are both accredited Q-Graders (aka a fancy accreditation for professional coffee tasters – it’s kind of a big deal, ok). Essentially, a Q-grader is someone credentialed by the CQI (Chartered Quality Institute) to grade and score coffee to industry standards.
The Q-Grader exam is a course for advanced cuppers, to test their ability to consistently, and accurately, grade coffee according to grading standards and protocols.
Not only is this an essential skill to decipher tasting notes from often complex flavours in coffee, but it also ensures that the coffee we choose to import and roast is the best quality that we can find. Before selecting the coffee that we send out to retail, we will always perform a cupping to select our favourite flavours, and the best quality, before arranging a larger import.
Cupping is a tasting exercise that helps us to discern the tasting notes from a brewed coffee. It can also help our roaster to dial in roasting times, to ensure that every batch is tasting as we intend, without any unwanted flavours from under or over-roasting.
Putting freshly ground coffee into a cupping bowl, we will initially assess the dry fragrance of each coffee. Next, we bloom the coffee without stirring, and again assess the wet aroma. After a few minutes, we break the crust (the grounds) floating at the top of the coffee with a spoon, causing them to sink.
After skimming the foam and remaining coffee grounds from the surface, we will taste the coffees at various time intervals with a tasting spoon. These stages allow the coffee to cool, revealing different notes within the flavour.
The best way to taste a coffee is by slurping from the spoon, to aerate the liquid and coat the entirety of your mouth. You might get some odd looks if you try this at home, but we assure you it’s the right way to do it!
Where to Learn More?
At Cartwheel, we’re proud of what we do, and we want to make our knowledge accessible. Whether good coffee is your hobby or you’re just getting started with your setup, it can be really beneficial to get some insight from an experienced roaster or barista!
If you’re interested to know more about coffee tasting, espresso making or home brewing, check out our available workshops to refine your skills! Step-up your espresso game or hone both your brew skills and discernment of flavour.
For more exclusive access every month to the best coffees we have to offer, plus free cuppings at the roastery, one of our subscriptions could be for you! Our subscription page will take you through a detailed, customisable plan so that you can have your coffee, your way, when you want it.
So hopefully this blog has given you something more to think about when you next grab a bag of coffee or a pourover in-store. Always make sure to check out the extra info on our taste cards and give them a recycle when you’re done! Test your own skills and see what notes you can discern from the variety of flavours in our coffees; who knows, you might be on your way to becoming the next best Q-Grader as we speak…