The 4 Steps Of Tasting Coffee Like A Professional

There's a lot to be said about learning to taste the nuanced flavor profiles of your favorite wines — but what about other craft beverages, like coffee? The world of coffee (and coffee tasting) is complex and intricate, too, from the origin of the beans to their roast to the size of the coffee grind. Luckily, when it comes to tasting coffee, there are some helpful guidelines to help you taste your brew like a pro. Just remember these four distinct steps: sniff, slurp, locate, and describe.


When you complete these four sensory-attuning steps for a coffee tasting, or even simply slowing down to taste your morning cup of joe, the process can reveal subtle complexities that you might otherwise miss. Upon assessment and over time (with more coffee tastings and practice with the etiquette), it will be easier to identify the coffees that you like and their attributes. After all, there are so many types of coffee roasts to try from a variety of origins, which can affect the flavor and feel of your coffee.

Sniff, slurp, locate, and describe

The first step is taking the time to smell the brew and assess it for fragrance and aromatics; wafting is encouraged. For instance, as you take in the aroma of your coffee, you'll likely pick up on a variety of pleasant fragrances like floral notes or hints of cherry.


Next, intentionally slurp the beverage to help distribute its flavors across your palette while taking in extra air; this gives you a feel for the coffee's initial taste, and further stimulates your olfactory (smelling) senses. In describing the taste, focus in on any elements of sweetness that bring to mind flavors like honey or molasses, acidity (like subtle citrus or tartness), or any notes of fruits or warm spices.

The third step is to locate any mouthfeel indicators — we're talking textural attributes like creamy, thick, or thin — and specific areas of sensation or impacts the coffee has as it sits in your mouth like if it's astringent, mouth-puckering, or velvety smooth.

Then, the final step is to describe (to the best of your ability) the nuanced flavors — consider if it has flavor notes like hints of hazelnuts or berries, for example — and taste qualities of the brew, as well as any lingering impressions like aftertaste.


As you follow these steps, make sure to take note of your own preferences. Perhaps you find that you prefer a smooth mouthfeel or maybe you're partial to the complex tastes of lighter roasts compared to the carmelized notes of darker ones. Over time, you'll learn your own palette and can let it guide you as you purchase future brews. 

Additional coffee-tasting tips

Similar to hosting a wine or spirit tasting, getting friends together for a coffee tasting can be a wonderful way to bond over culinary enjoyment — and daily dose of caffeine. Invite friends over for breakfast, and select various coffee roasts, origins, and blends. Pick up a bag or two from your favorite local coffee shop. If the coffee shop roasts its own beans, it's possible it might also host coffee tastings too.


However you choose to enjoy the four-step process of an intentional coffee tasting moment, make sure your coffee is hot, but let it cool down slightly so the heat doesn't burn your tongue or overpower the coffee's flavor. Serve it black, and have palette cleansers like water and crackers on hand. And if you want to get really serious, keep a note sheet for yourself and your fellow tasters. To avoid bias, it's best not to discuss your opinions and tasting-notes until everyone's had the chance to complete the four tasting steps for each coffee.

You might even notice subtle details, like how your brewing method or water impacts your coffee's taste. While it is nice sometimes to add cream or milk to coffee, you simply miss out on all these subtleties. By taking the time to assess the smell, take a hearty slurp, observe the coffee's presence in your mouth, and describe in detail its taste, you'll increase your coffee knowledge in a way that is as fun as it is delicious.