A word from Geoff Watts, Director of Coffee, Intelligenstia Coffee:
I’m a firm believer that understanding is developed through the act of comparison. Learning to talk about the character of a coffee from a particular origin requires that one have some frame of reference, and if the goal is to figure out what makes a coffee from Kenya great it is important to know what makes it different than other coffees. In other words, what does it mean to taste like a “Kenya”? What tastes distinguish a Guatemalan coffee from a Nicaraguan?
By evaluating coffees in a comparative setting and with an inquisitive, reflective approach one can learn to identify the most essential flavor traits of coffees from different origins. The goal should be to build a reference library of flavors and taste sensations that can become a background against which one can examine new coffees. Over time a cupper will begin to associate particular flavors with geographical regions and different botanical varieties of coffee. Eventually, a phrase like “this tastes like a bourbon from the Santa Ana region in El Salvador” can have some real meaning. It is important to remember, though, that dogma has no place in coffee tasting. Every time I think I’ve got a region figured out, a coffee comes along that shatters my expectations. Keeping an open mind and sense of curiosity is absolutely essential to becoming an accomplished taster.