f the 1970s – where no one could taste that their fancy restaurant coffee had been secretly replaced – the general public’s concept of coffee tasting has not evolved much beyond that. However, coffee tasting is well established in professional circles, with international standards for the procedure, a somewhat standardized vocabulary, and a common set of criteria. (Elswhere on this site, I outline the common criteria used for all the coffee reviews in this guide: brightness (or acidity), aroma, body, flavor, and – particularly for espresso – crema.)
There are professionals in the coffee industry who perform this task routinely, not unlike a wine sommelier, through a process formally known as cupping. Yet instead of the elegance and refinement often associated with wine tasting, sucking, slurping, and spitting – and a series of other guttural gymnastics beyond the tolerances of acceptable dining etiquette – characterize the cupping ritual. (Part of this is because coffee cuppers are more often tasting for defects, rather than for ideal flavor, before purchasing a large shipment of coffee.)
For all the perceived snobberies that can accompany wine tasting, coffee tasting can rival many of them. Both have an agricultural foundation with significant sensitivities to climate, regions, and estates. Their qualities are significantly affected by numerous environmental, ingredient, and equipment factors – and by human technique. Both employ the use of blends to bring out more well-rounded characteristics.
And if you presumed wine was a far more complex tasting affair than coffee, you may be surprised to learn that coffee possesses over 1,500 aromatic and flavor compounds – compared with approximately 200 for wine.
Here’s one espresso rating in SF:
Blue Bottle (SOMA) comes up top, followed by Coffee Bar in Portrero
Ritual & Four Barrel take 3 & 6th tied with notable others. SF Espresso is coming of age… Will update the post as I get more ratings/tastings
More info from the same source, coffeeratings.com
Body is a measure of the density of the espresso. Sometimes called mouthfeel, it reflects the weight of the coffee solids that make it into the cup. The deepness and richness of an espresso’s color is also a measure of its body.
I rated a full-bodied espresso higher than one that’s thin, weak, or diluted. Therefore I often gave a shorter pour – or an espresso made with the same amount of coffee but less water – a higher rating. A shorter pour is more likely to possess its own natural sweetness, and a longer pour is more likely to taste bitter.
An espresso shot is called over-extracted if an excessive amount of water is used to draw the flavors out of a given amount of coffee. Not only does an over-extracted espresso taste weak and bitter, but also it generally contains more caffeine – which is mostly derived from the water-soluble elements of the ground coffee. Therefore, a properly made espresso is neither bitter nor more caffeinated than a typical cup of joe.”
“Aroma is the smell of the brewed espresso. A great espresso aroma is good enough to “eat.” The senses of taste and smell are highly intertwined, and a flavorful espresso made from freshly roasted beans typically releases a delicious aroma when served.A not-so-good espresso aroma is flat, stale, or smells more like cheap drip coffee. Equally bad is an espresso without a discernable aroma. A good espresso often derives a lot of its pleasant aromas from its crema, so the two criteria are loosely related.”