Happiness Through My Eyes – April :: A Proper Coffee Tasting

Then end of April is upon us, which means we’re already 1/3 of the way through 2014! My favorite months are all lined up in a row, the good seasons eagerly anticipating their turn to shine. April has been busy, but I still wanted to give you something to sink your teeth into for my happiness this month. If you’ve never been a part of a coffee tasting, you’re about to… get ready, get pumped, and love some coffee. To continue forward in the Happiness Through My Eyes blog circle, please join Anna Francken owner of Anna Francken Photography in the Netherlands as she delves into the joys of her heart for April. Anna and I met in Amsterdam in Sept of 2013 and I was delighted to find we had so much in common! We share a love for sealing wax and wax seals, old school dip and fountain pens, pretty mail, delicious food, wine and of course, coffee. Be sure to check out her post for this month! Her photography always makes my heart happy… AND she writes in Dutch & English, ’cause that’s how she rolls!


Once upon a time, long long ago, I was a Starbucks barista. Yes indeed. I was the shiny happy face that greeted you while you placed your order or chatted it up with you asking about your life as I handmade your custom Starbucks beverage. Aside from all of the caffeine deficient crazy folks that would stumble into our store, I really did enjoy this job. I had awesome co-workers, a fantastic boss, received a free pound of coffee every week, and free drinks while on shift {practically every day}. Don’t be fooled though, the job was hard work. I remember when I first started and my boss told me that it would take me about three months to have all of the drinks memorized and the step by step process of hand crafting a drink perfected. I thought she was nuts. I was the elitist overly smart kid with a masters degree… how hard could it be? I have never felt so foolish in my life. It was the hardest I have ever worked to be good at something. My inability to multi-task bit me in the ass every single day. However, when I finally managed to learn the system, I became pretty good at it and grew comfortable enough to build relationships with the regular customers in our store.

Kirsten Ashley Photography | Happiness Through My Eyes | April 2014  | A Proper Coffee Tasting

As a part of your training, you are taught how to properly conduct a coffee tasting. You can probably guess how ridiculously excited I was. Like a kid being taught to make sugar cookies for the first time. Starbucks, ever the corporate system, gives all of their employees a coffee passport. This book literally looks like a passport but contains all of the corporate information on each coffee blend as well as your own notes once you have completed a tasting of each blend. Guys, you know me… I’m an eager beaver over-achiever. I lit up like a slot machine on a jackpot pull. “You mean I get a handy dandy notebook to tell me all about the different kinds of coffee AND I get to write in it too?” Jaw dropping excitement. They even give you a sticker {GOLD STAR!!!} for each coffee you taste so you can “check it off” in your passport. If you make it all the way through and taste all of the blends, you are then promoted to a “Coffee Master”. Sadly, I never made it… our store was always too busy.

To conduct a tasting there are equipment essentials. You will need :: a french coffee press or italian moka pot, coffee grinder, whole bean coffee, water, and paring treats to bring out the flavors in you coffee. If you don’t own a french press, some of my favorite brands are Bodum, La Cafetiere, & Le Creuset or this pretty red press. I would go ahead and spend the money to purchase a nice one. The one you see pictured in these photos is a thermal press, which is really nice if you brew a full pot, and want to keep it warm and refill your cup. A french press is traditionally used to conduct a coffee tasting, but living in Europe has also made me a fan of the Italian moka pot. This three piece coffee maker produces a stronger espresso-like cup of joe that is extremely flavorful and packs a caffeine punch. Which method is better? It really depends on your personal preferences. The French Press will give you a rich cup of coffee that is a far cry above what comes out of a percolator, while the Italian moka pot gives you a traditional European style cup of coffee that has a similar consistency to espresso. If you are a true coffee lover, you will be delighted with either coffee brewing appliance.

There are several key components to a coffee tasting which include properly brewing coffee in a press, tasting characteristics, and the tasting process.  Lets start with grinding the whole beans. If you don’t want to bother with grinding your own, most coffee shops will happily grind your beans for you at the correct coarseness. The pro’s of having your own coffee grinder, is that the grounds are fresh and can make all the difference in taste. The image above shows the difference in grinds. The french press grind is more coarse than what you would put into a coffee percolator. I tend to grind mine a little finer because I really enjoy strong coffee. But be aware that the finer your grinds, the more coffee sludge will magically appear at the bottom of your cup of joe, kind of like tea leaves. I don’t mind the sludge, but it really bothers some folks. Most french presses are eight cup presses and will require a quarter pound of coffee grinds if you are measuring using a scale. Your press should also come with a coffee scoop that measures slightly bigger than a tablespoon. For my everyday coffee, I use six scoops for a full press, even though the instructions say to use eight. This may or may not be because my husband and I have different definitions of what “strong coffee” means. Your press will also come with instructions that tell you how many scoops you need to make a proper pressed cup, so have no fear!

To brew coffee in your press, measure the appropriate amount of grounds into the bottom of your press. Boil water on the stove using a kettle or saucepan {don’t laugh, I did this before we owned a tea kettle when we were first married}. When the water is boiling or your kettle is screeching at you, pour enough boiling water to fill your press leaving about 1/2″ to 3/4″ space at the top for the lid recession. DO NOT press the coffee. Let it sit unpressed for FOUR MINUTES. I know it’s painful to wait, but I promise you it’s worth it. When your timer dings {because you set a timer for FOUR MINUTES right?}, gently push the plunger down to press the coffee. Be careful not to press too fast or coffee can spurt out of the spout and burn you. It’s not fun and makes a huge mess. Also hold the whole contraption steady. I have a friend who smashed her press to smithereens… completely by accident. {facepalm.} Note that the longer you let the coffee sit in the press the stronger the brew will be. 

Now on to the characteristics of a coffee tasting. There are four “tasting terms” that are important to note while tasting your coffee blends. This is very similar to wine or liquor tastings, so if you’re familiar with either of those techniques, you’ll feel right at home! The four terms are: Aroma, Acidity, Body, and Flavor.

  1. The Aroma is all about how the coffee smells. The scent of the blend is directly related to the flavor of the coffee you are tasting. It is important to smell your coffee first because it is a well known fact that what we smell directly influences what we taste. Example terms of descriptive aromas are:  earthy, spicy, & floral.
  2. The Acidity of your coffee in a tasting doesn’t refer to how it would rate on a litmus test, it is referring to how it reacts to your palette. As you taste the coffee you will taste the acidity on different parts of your tongue, the front back and sides. Highly acidic coffees are often described as “bright, tangy with a crisp clean finish”. This is similar to how citrus tastes in your mouth. Low acidity coffees are smoother and more mellow. The taste tends to linger longer in your mouth.
  3. The Body of the coffee means the weight of it. Does it feel light or heavy in your mouth? Starbucks had us compare it to the different between non-fat milk, whole milk, & heavy cream. Full bodied coffees will linger and coat your tongue where lighter bodied blends will have flavors that dissipate quickly with a light finish.
  4. The Flavor of the coffee refers to how the coffee tastes. It is helpful to pick out the bolder flavors first and work your way through the blends complexities. Different people taste different things first, which is why it’s really fun to do this with a group. Some example flavores are cocoa, cherries, hazelnut, citrus, or vanilla. Paring blends with different foods can really enhance the flavors in the coffee, causing you to taste them immediately. See below for different food pairing options.

There are five steps to tasting your coffee: Smell, Slurp, Location, Bite & Slurp, and Write. Below you will find each step explained in full detail.

  1. Take a Big Whiff :: Just like in the explanation of the aroma above, smelling your coffee is the first step to tasting your coffee because your sense of smell is directly related to what you taste. Cup your hand around your mug, stick your nose in and take a big whiff. What do you smell? What kind of flavors pop up? Notice anything in particular? Discuss the aroma.
  2. Slurpity-Slurp :: I know your mother taught you to never slurp… but Momma ain’t here. Acutally, slurping your coffee is the best way to taste it because it allows the liquid to properly coat your tongue to ensure you get all of the flavors. So go on, slurp it up!!
  3. Location, Location, Location :: As you are slurping, note where the flavors are hitting your mouth. Is it the front, or back? Does it coat your mouth? Do the flavors die away quickly? Take mental notes
  4. Take a Bite & Slurp Again :: Now it’s time to pair food with your coffee. Take a small bite of your food pairing and spread the flavors out in your mouth. Now take a small slurp of coffee again. Note how certain flavors are greatly intensified. What are those flavors? Do different foods bring out different flavors? Which flavor is the most powerful?
  5. Write it Down Y’all :: Be sure to write down all of the information gleaned above about each coffee you taste. Much like tasting wine, it can be fun to keep a notebook of different coffees you have tasted from different regions. This way you can always look back and compare. Not to mention keep track of which coffees were your favorite and which ones you didn’t like at all.

Above you see some of the foods I enjoy pairing with coffee tastings. Good staples are good quality chocolate {milk & dark}, lemon cake, berries, nuts, cinnamon, & vanilla, & caramel. I also wanted to let you know which foods pair best with the coffees pictures in this post.

  • For Ethiopia Blend :: Pairs best with lemon and herbs. Citrus-y savory foods like lemon bars or lemon rosemary sables would be a great pick!
  • For Gold Coast Blend :: Pairs best with maple, chocolate and caramel. This blend goes AWESOME with breakfast and the lotus cookies paired above. It also happens to be my favorite blend from Starbucks!
  • For Komodo Dragon Blend :: Pairs best with herbs, cinnamon, & oatmeal. This coffee is extremely earthy so it pairs well with earthy natural foods.
  • For Tribute Blend :: Pairs best with chocolate, berries, and vanilla. Taste the flavors zing when paired with cherries or cranberries!

So there you have it. You are now educated on how to conduct a proper coffee tasting!!! W00t!!  This can be a really fun party to plan as an excuse to get your girlfriends together. Most of the time, people have done this with wine or liquor, but never with coffee. I am always amazed at what I find that I don’t enjoy. It’s never what I would have expected! I hope that you will go forth and taste your heart out. Coffee lovers of the world unite! I also want to shout-out a HUGE thank you to my father for sending SIX POUNDS of Starbucks coffee all the way to Germany. His kindness and love inspired this months happiness, for what could be better than opening a 14″ x 14″ box full of caffeine??? Thanks Dad! I love you!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my happiness for the month of April! Don’t forget to continue around the world to the next blog in the circle written by the lovely Anna Francken HERE! Be sure to leave a comment and show her some love!

Until next month y’all! May you find a small bit of happiness in every day.

Did you know that you can have posts from Kirsten Ashley Photography’s Blog sent directly to your email? Be sure to sign up here! Emails not your thing? Then check out Kirsten Ashley Photography’s Blog on Bloglovin! Here you can follow along just like on the old Google Reader and never miss a post!







Leave a Reply