We have already talked about expert tasters, people with particularly sensitive and “trained” senses who are able to give a precise numerical evaluation of the characteristics of a product. Today we want to tellabout the experience of some of these experts called to evaluate some new blends for a well-known coffee company: these people are not called to give satisfaction ratings but to measure some organoleptic characteristics.
It’s easy to say… coffee!
We all believe we know how to assess a good coffee but it is not so: coffee is a world, a microcosm, a kaleidoscope of flavors collected in a 25 ml cup, that a good expert taster can distinguish and “measure”.
Many of you may know that there are two main types of coffee known in the world, Arabica and Robusta, and that roasting companies produce coffee blends that are almost always the result of secret selections of different types of coffee, often different Arabica and Robusta together or just Arabica or just Robusta. The blends are always secret because, although the percentages of Arabica or Robusta are indicated on the package, the varieties are almost never indicated.
The beans of the two species are different, more oval and elongated for Arabica – which originates from the Ethiopian highlands – more rounded for Robusta which originates from Central and South America.
Robusta has a stronger and richer taste and it is higher in caffeine, while Arabica is more aromatic and lower in caffeine.
But this is just the beginning! There are numerous organoleptic characteristics of coffee that expert tasters are asked to evaluate: acidity, bitterness, sweetness, body, aromatic intensity … to which a myriad of aspects can be added, such as the aroma of licorice, cocoa, tobacco, toasted almond, hazelnut, wet cardboard. And all these parameters vary not only in relation to the origin of the coffee and the composition of the blend, but also undergo variations over time: it is the so-called shelf-life that is extremely important for a producer to preciselyknow.
You are fascinated by this unknown world, right? So, let’s let one of our experts tell us about their experience!
A sensory test for a coffee blend
Let’s ask a taster to tell us his experience. This is Giovanni, 25 y.o., from Milan, student:
“I am a lover of good food, and I have decided to turn my passion into a job. For this, I study Gastronomic Sciences. I heard about the activity of taster and by pure chance I learned that a selection was underway to identify people with the necessary characteristics. I decided to participate, I was sure I could easily pass the selection. They were looking for non-smoking people, who did not suffer from allergies or rhinitis, who were not color blind, who did not have intolerances or preclusions towards particular foods; of course, a good sensitivity of the palate was required. Furthermore, candidates were required to have a good availability of time because they can be called at any time and they have to guarantee their presence.
There was an initial selection and I must say that it was much more complex and rigorous than I expected: it was necessary to pass threshold tests, that is to be able to perceive some flavors in solutions in which the component was in very low concentrations. Only about a third of the candidates have passed this first stage.
Once I passed the selection, I joined a group (they call it a panel) of tasters and was summoned to evaluate a coffee blend for an important company.
At first there was specific training on coffee with a panel leader, that is, a sensory analysis expert, and even expert tasters from the company were present! Our task at this stage was to fill in a product evaluation form indicating the descriptors, that is a series of attributes, which we would then go to numerically evaluate during the tastings in the booth.
It was a phase of palate”training”: we had to recognize some “classic” attributes of coffeeby comparing them with references: for example, caffeine for the bitter, roasted coffee beans to evaluate the roasting. To the classic attributes, we have added others that we perceived during the training. I did not imagine that the sense of taste could be “trained”!
When the card was finally ready, we moved on to the evaluation in the booths: these are all white booths equipped with sink and computer: the sample to be tasted was passed to us through a little window, identified by a code and at that point we had to give a numerical evaluation for each of the attributes we had identified.
It is a challenging but really very interesting experience, above all I realized that my palate becomes more sensitive and my perception of flavors becomes more and more refined.
I want to clarify that being a taster is not a paid activity, it cannot be considered a job: we only have an attendance fee for our participation “.