Here it comes . . . tiny cup, nice crema, intense coffee aroma and then BAMB!! Charcoal in the mouth and down the hatch. The intense bitterness and lime bolts wake you up more than the caffeine! That's the espresso experience right? or can there be more?
Espresso tasting is fleeting and escapes (or tramples) most of us. We usually walk away with a simple wow/ugh opinion and an intense lingering after taste to match. That's probably exactly what a consumer should walk away with; a final qualified experience; consume for personal pleasure, end of story.
On the other hand baristas and roasters are called to formally analyze the espresso and clearly describe and understand why the consumer says "that is awesome! I love that malty lingering taste." We then use this analysis to go back to our recipes and repeat or improve.
Espresso Tasting could be compared to a high speed roller coaster without a seat belt, which easily throws us off the tracks onto our head only to wake up on the other side and say "that was intense". It takes place in less than 2 minutes with only 1-2 ounces of beverage. I've found that formal espresso tasting is the least formalized & understood practice amongst my specialty coffee tasting colleagues.
On the other hand, Cupping (formal tasting of brewed coffee) is a row, row, row your boat experience which last 30 minutes with ample time & liquid to return to each cup of coffee and dial it in. The international protocols are clear & commonly practiced.
In our exploration of espresso we've learned a few tricks for enriching our experience and grabbing onto those loose fast forward thoughts passing through our mind. Here's a few practical tips if you want to practice describing your espresso beyond intensity:
1. Sip the espresso up within 2 minutes after brewing. Sit at the bar and take the espresso directly from the barista.
2. Try to clear your mind and concentrate on the espresso before sipping.
3. Beyond "intensity" try to grab onto one or two principle taste descriptions while the espresso is in your mouth. For suggested words think of fruits, chocolates & caramels.
4. When you've finished drinking the espresso wait a few minutes to clean your palate with water. Take those minutes to relish in the rich aftertaste and grab onto a few more words to describe the espresso; unless you don't like the after taste. In that case drink the water!
At Cafe Verde espresso tasting is a daily barista responsibility which we've tried to uniformly formalize through using the format below. Each shot is evaluated on Aroma, Initial Flavor, Deep Flavor, Texture, Short Aftertaste & Long After taste. Finally the taster assigns a point value and suggested changes.
While it might seem "over done", use of this form has helped us tremendously in dialing in our espresso blend composition and roast profiles.
Put on a seat belt and enjoy the roller coaster.