Last night while working at my holiday job, I had the fortunate experience of getting to taste some coffee with a local expert. Allen Leibowitz, one of the managing partners of Zingerman’s Coffee Company, stopped by with two very different coffees and led us in a tasting.
Now, I love coffee, and I have my snobby little habits (Flavored coffee? Ugh!) but I have to admit, my knowledge of coffee is woefully incomplete. Never fear – Allen to the rescue.
Allen started by describing some of the world’s coffee regions, and some of the characteristics typically found in coffees from those regions. I say “typically” because, much like wine regions and varietals, the spectrum can vary greatly from bean to bean.
A fun fact that Allen shared that I wasn’t really aware of (although it made total sense when he said it) was that the darker you roast a coffee, the more body and nuance you are roasting out of it. So while a dark-roasted coffee may taste quite strong, you are actually missing out on the more subtle flavors and tastes that characterize that particular bean.
Allen brought two coffees with him. We tasted them blindly, discussed what we tasted, and then, using our newfound knowledge, guessed where they might be from. We tasted the coffee in wine-tasting style: smelling it (inhaling deeply), then slurping a good deal of air into our mouths with the liquid. The purpose of the slurp was two-fold – it cools the coffee down while at the same time making sure it goes all the way to the back of your mouth and coats your tongue, so you get all the taste sensations.
Our first coffee smelled amazingly floral and had a very prominent blueberry characteristic and some citrus notes. We guessed (based on information shared by Allen) that this coffee was Ethiopian, and we were correct.
Our second coffee was more nutty, very smooth, and actually tasted a little bit sweet. We guessed (correctly again) that the coffee was Brazilian. Allen told us it was one of the best-selling coffees that Zingerman’s Coffee Company carries.
I had certainly never tasted coffee in the same style or with the same thought process that I would use to taste wine. It was an eye-opening experience. I learned more about coffee in half an hour than I had learned in my whole life prior to last night. I encourage you to get a few bags of some different types of coffee and try them out – see if you can detect the differences. I’ll bet once you start looking, you’ll totally be able to.