Tasting, Palate Development, and ways to compare coffee

Tasting, Palate Development, and ways to compare coffee

As coffee professionals, we tend to have more developed palates — therefore different preference in flavor profile. As a coffee consumer, you might not have the same access to drinking single origin coffees side by side. Something a barista might prefer could seem sour and not reminiscent of the full bodied cup you are looking for. To bring some context to what a coffee professional defines as a flavor profile, it is important to break down the barrier of words. 

Typically, flavor components are broken down in to three to six separate categories. To cover these categories in a broad sense, we tend to talk mainly about acidity, sweetness, and mouthfeel. The combination of these flavor components can create many different profiles and experiences. Unifying these components in balance is what typically defines a “good” coffee to a wide variety of tasters.

Acidity — 

Acidity is defined as "an effervescence that occurs, typically, on the front of the tongue to the sides of the tongue". Acidity is often times the first aspect in coffee that we perceive. Like natural growing fruit, coffee articulates acidity in different ways depending on climate, elevation, and varietal.  

Acetic — (vinegar) A sharp, astringent ( a chemical compound that tends to shrink or constrict body tissues i.e. imagine your taste buds contracting) form of acidity that often times signifies a defect in a coffee. However, mild acetic acidity might balance a heavily bodied coffee. 

Citric — (lemon, orange) Well rounded but often times described as sour. Citric acidity can range from sharp notes to more bitter, pithy notes. Floral acidity can also fall under this category.

Lactic — (sour dough, yogurt) Not typically used to describe a flavor profile, but completely valid. 

Malic — (apple, pear, rhubarb) Sharpness and bitterness tend to balance here. Malic acidity tends to pair well with sweetness. It can often times be described as a “sparkling” acidity (think apple cider)

Tartaric — (wine, bananas) Tartaric acidity is also associated with bitterness or dryness. Tannins (particulate that exists in coffee. Extracted in the range above 22%) can create a wine-like acidity and bitterness.

Chemical, not just flavor (from Sweet Maria’s) — 

Quinic Acid—  These are the bad guys, and these are indeed responsible for the sour stomach. Quinic acids increase in production the more and more the coffee degrades. Dark roasted coffees are hight in this while low in other flavor contributing acids, and also stale coffees, either coffees that were roasted a good while ago or that were brewed a long time ago (especially if left on a hot plate).

Chlorogenic Acid — Responsible for a good deal of percieved acidity in the cup. For a long time it was simply said that roast level was responsible for the breaking down of some of these acids, but more accurately it is exposure time to the heat during the roasting. Prolonged exposure time can result in a reduced perception of acidity even if the final roast level is fairly light.

Sweetness — 

Roasting and brewing are processes that aim to caramelize and break down sugars.  Sweetness is a direct reflection of this process.  Arguable, most coffees should have perceivable sweetness (it does come from a fruit) even when savory flavor attributes may be more prominent. Consider the type of sweetness when tasting in comparison to the coffees acidity. (i.e. under ripe plum, ripe plum, over ripe plum, or plum jam?).

Mouthfeel — 

Oil and sediment content help to create mouthfeel.  This sensation is literally how the liquid itself sits on your tongue and in your mouth.  Descriptors like viscous, thin, buttery, and round communicate tactile sensation in a way that can easily be tied back to acidity and sweetness.

Balance is an attribute that most high quality coffee should exhibit (as long as the roasting and brewing process are completed correctly) The unison of these tasting characteristics will ultimately help the taster determine his or her preferences and to understand how origin, varietal, and washing processes impact the final product that we serve.

Ways to Taste

Although many consumers and coffee professionals like to focus on the mystery and interaction that goes along with cupping coffee, there are actually better ways to taste and compare coffees side by side.  Cupping is a necessary practice that allows growers and green buyers to distinguish good from bad, excellent from great.  Tasting a large number of coffees (which may be intentionally similar or different) is much easier and calculated with a cupping.  Tasters know that the coffee should brew at the same rate, over the same time, with the same amount of water, at the same temperature.  Consistency in the brew is vital, especially when comparing coffees that might simply be from different lots on the same farm. 

Tasting coffee in a cupping at a farm or with an importer is a fantastic way to predict a coffees potential.  Flavor notes and tasting components are absolutely present during a cupping, however, tasting coffees side by side that have been intentionally roasted and carefully brewed can be an experience that allows the taster to notice distinct differences in origin, process and even varietal. Brewing different coffee on the same device or the same coffee on two different devices (try Wahana Rasuna on Chemex and Clever!) brings perspective to the complexity and potential of the coffees in comparison.

Reference the top resources to see what a palate development as an exercise can look like!

Cartel Brewery sponsoring Press Coffee latte art throwdown

Cartel Brewery sponsoring Press Coffee latte art throwdown

Our friends at Press Coffee recently opened up a new location at Sky Water Apartments in Tempe. To celebrate their opening, they're hosting a latte art throwndown this Friday, May 29.

Cartel Brewery will be there, keg in hand, to fuel the event. Come grab a beer and munch on the offerings from The L.A. Roots food truck and Where's Waffle, who will also be in attendance.

It's $5 to participate in the throwdown, and free to hang out and watch. Signups will begin at 6:30 PM on Friday and the first pour will drop at 7 PM. If you can't make it to the event, it'll be streamed live on Press Coffee's Periscope account.

The event will be held at Press Coffee's new location: 601 W. Rio Salado Pkwy. Tempe, AZ 85281.

Come hang.

Cartel co-hosting "A Film About Coffee" screening event at Mod

Cartel co-hosting "A Film About Coffee" screening event at Mod

The recently-released A Film About Coffee has been making its rounds with screenings across the country. This month, the film makes a stop in Phoenix at local co-working space, Mod.

Join us on Friday, June 5 for the screening of the film at Mod, along with a livestream Q&A with A Film About Coffee director, Brandon Loper. In addition to the film screening, enjoy talks from Mod and Cartel on coffee community, culture, and industry. We’ll also have multiple coffee stations setup that feature a roaster’s table, cupping, and hot brew demos and samples.

Wine and craft beer will also be available from the bar at Mod.

Tickets are on sale now for $25 and includes our tasting stations, 1 drink ticket towards either a coffee flight or beverage, and the film screening. Attendance is limited, so make sure to secure your spot today.

Cox 7 features our green buying process

Cox 7 features our green buying process

From day one, we’ve carefully selected the coffees we roast and sell, whether working with top-notch importers or directly with farmers. We specifically keep an eye out for unique coffees, whether they consist of an obscure variety or are processed in an unconventional way or are simply just extraordinarily delicious. 

Our green buyer visits a select few of the farms we work with each year in order to get a fuller picture of their practices and crops, as discussed in Cox 7's video feature of Cartel.

We talked about in detail our complete coffee buying and roasting process during our video segment, and how our processes extend to the front-lines at our six cafes throughout Arizona.

You can learn more about our process – from green coffee buying to roasting to brewing – on our Process page.

#carteldirectsource: Ludin Reyes, pilot and parter with coffee producers

#carteldirectsource: Ludin Reyes, pilot and parter with coffee producers

On our first day in Guatemala, we were supposed to drive to a northern region above Lake Atitlan. Unexpectedly, protestors all over the country had road-blocked all major highways on that particular Monday. Our guide got on his phone and started speaking very hurried Spanish.

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Cartel's new online store opens plus 20% off orders

Cartel's new online store opens plus 20% off orders

The team at Cartel has been busy at work designing & developing an all-new online store, in addition to our revamped CartelCoffeeLab.com. We’ve spent many weeks building in new features & improving the experience for our customers, and we’re proud to officially introduce it today.

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Cartel introduces new Indonesian coffee, Wahana Rasuna

Cartel introduces new Indonesian coffee, Wahana Rasuna

Coming this week to our cafés and our online store is an Indonesian microlot coffee from the Wahana Estate. This estate is located in the province of North Sumatra and is responsible for several large ‘blended’ lots and a few smaller lots kept separate to preserve uniqueness.

This microlot consists of one-hundred percent Rasuna variety coffee and was sourced between 1250 and 1300 meters above sea level. Fruit was removed from the coffee cherries using the full natural method of drying and milling. This is an example of how exciting Indonesian coffees can be, in spite of common over-generalized expectations.

We taste notes of strawberry, white chocolate with an iconoclastically clean finish.

Free Coffee for Moms on Mother's Day

Free Coffee for Moms on Mother's Day

This Sunday, we're honoring moms on their special day. We're treating them with a free coffee – drip or cold brew – at our Ash Ave., 5th Ave., Sky Harbor, and Tucson locations, all day. Just mention that you're a mom at the register.

And for all you kids out there, go take a walk with your mom, or grab Sunday brunch, or do something special. She deserves it.

#carteldirectsource: Juan Diego & Finca El Culpan

#carteldirectsource: Juan Diego & Finca El Culpan

Juan Diego, along with his family, owns and operates the magnificent estate, Finca El Culpan. I felt an instant kinship with him after learning that he attended Arizona State University in Tempe—a few blocks from both my home and Cartel’s roastery! We laughed together as we discussed the neighborhood bar, Casey Moore’s Oyster House. For anyone who knows Tempe, you can understand how randomly cool it was for me to connect with a Guatemalan coffee farmer over something like Casey’s.

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We're hiring – join our talented team of baristas

We're hiring – join our talented team of baristas

Cartel Coffee Lab is hiring baristas at all six of our locations in Arizona. 

If you're positive, full of energy and interested in learning more about coffee, we want to talk. In almost seven years of roasting and serving specialty coffee, we've expanded rapidly –– now operating six retail locations across the state. We've picked up tons of extraordinary people along the way. Now, we just want to add to the team.

Qualifications include but are not limited to top-notch communication skills, having a high-level attention to detail, the ability to work well with a community, and a desire to uphold quality standards. We offer room for growth into expanded roles in our cafés and our roastery.

Full-time and part-time positions available. Benefits offered for full-time employees.

Apply for an interview by expressing your interest to opportunities@cartelcoffeelab.com.