Unless you learned everything you needed to know about coffee tasting in Kindergarten, Erin Meisler has written a guide to tasting that might interest you. If you think you have “good taste” now, take a look at her instruction, as chances are good that it can be improved – especially in regard to coffee. To develop a more “nuanced palate” for coffee and other foods, you‘ll have to put your nose, tongue and taste buds through some exercises so they learn to distinguish between different tastes and aromas. Some of the steps are downright healthy, but don’t let that stop you. Your taste will not only improve but your body will thank you for stopping smoking. And as for the sugar…. that’s just at the beginning. Indeed, the very first step is to withhold the sugar from that cup of coffee, at least for the first sips. Learn what coffee tastes like on its own, black. The milk and sugar mask the nuances in the coffee. The next step sounds downright decadent, as Meisler suggests tasting MORE FOOD! At closer inspection, it turns out this doesn’t mean gulping down a higher volume of food, but tasting more varieties than you’ve been doing. Savoring every bite, try to relate each taste to a basic item such as grass, honey, nut, floral, etc. Practice on foods, then apply the same procedures to black coffee. The nose is not left out, since smell is so closely associated with taste. Smell the grounds and the brewing coffee, and see if any memories come to mind. Meisler gives a great example: if camping trip memories surface, the aromas might be bringing back the campfire experience, keying you in to a smoky component. Another step is to taste different varieties of the same foods, to try to discern differences in flavors between them. For example, try different varieties of apples and jot down any flavors that pop out at you with each one. Again, as above, practicing with other foods teaches the discernment that can be transferred to the tasting of coffee. The last tip is to quit smoking. Apparently the habit dulls the sense of taste as well as the sense of smell. It’s the fault of the nicotine and tar, which coat the taste buds and nasal passages. Your taste buds need all the help they can get, if you want to pick up flavors that pop. Even wine tasters have commented on how different wine tastes after they stop smoking. You might be amazed. Meisler mentions a taste called umami. This is a fifth taste, added to those of sweet, salt, sour, and bitter. Umami is complex. It’s found in soy sauce, fish sauce, MSG, parmesan – it’s not exactly salty, and not quite sour. Look for it the next time you have soy sauce. When you’re ready to move on to coffee cupping, we have some great coffees to cup, by the hundreds. Enjoy!