Improving and refining your palate is hard and needs a lot of practice. We are all different and have unique palates. What I might think tastes like apples, you may think is pears, but we all must be calibrated to score that coffee an 83. I wanted to share the way I have developed my palate over the past few years. Repetition is the only way you get better, so never stop cupping.
1. Start by understanding your palate.
This isn't critical but it's good to know the taste zones of your palate. This can differ depending on what you consume.
2. Breaking down the main components.
I think one of the most important parts is to break down what you're tasting into the following categories:
Focus on one category every time you cup. It's a great way to understand each category until you are happy with your progress. Take plenty of notes. I've created a little spreadsheet that you can fill out when cupping.
3. Articulating flavour.
Articulating flavour is one of the harder things to do. Start by introducing different foods to your diet that you may not eat regularly. Flavours are all about memory. Your brain is a memory bank, it will remember aromas, flavours, acidity, sweetness and textures of all the foods you eat and will translate it when you're cupping.
4. Taste the flavour wheel in sections.
To start understanding flavours a little more, use the coffee flavour wheel like a tasting wheel. For example: taste all the nuts on the flavour wheel or taste all the citrus fruits. Break them up into small groups and taste.
5. Keep a tasting book.
Write down all the coffees that you cup and keep a record of them with your flavour notes. You will find the same words popping up with each origin. It also gives you critical information about different origins.
6. Do your cuppings blind.
Always try and cup blind. Perception can really alter your judgment. Once you know the origin flavours tend to just come to you. Reveal those origins once you have tasted and taken notes of that coffee.
7. Understand and use the SCAA cupping sheets.
The most important tool. You can download the cupping protocol here . Use the sheets and score that coffee.
8. Perform triangulations.
Triangulations are a great way to pick slight differences in coffee. They also teach you a way to compare cups for quality control. They're very easy to set up and super useful for your development.
9. Take every opportunity.
Don't just rely on the cupping you did at work today. Take every opportunity to taste coffee. Whether it's filter or espresso or even a latte, think about it and take a mental note.
10. The life of coffee.
Taste the same coffee over a couple of weeks and document the changes. Understand what a fresh coffee tastes like compared to a two-week-old coffee.
11. Taste different acidities and PH levels.
It's important to know what acidity you're tasting. Citric, malic, phosphoric, acetic and tartaric are the main ones to know. Research foods that have these and taste them. All acidities have distinctive attributes that can be determined quite easily.
12. Cup everyday.
The more you cup the better you will become. It's as simple as that. Concentrate through every cupping session.
Training your palate is a hard task but super fun if you are dedicated and want to learn. These points should set you on the right track to become a better coffee cupper. I hope this helps you a little. Enjoy.