BEST COFFEE EVER! I Think?... - Here's How to Never Forget a Favorite Again
I'm not going to lie, sampling coffees from the finest specialty roasters across Tennessee is definitely one of the best job perks I've ever had. The research is delicious.
When I first started planning for Red Eye Bistro, I knew I'd need a way to review, rate, and compare the coffees as I tasted them. 33 Books came to the rescue with their pocket-sized coffee tasting journal. This little book provides a consistent and effective template to rate and remember coffees. It has been the perfect tool for me. Ready to give it a try yourself?
So how does this work?
Step 1: get a journal
Click. Buy. Done.
Step 2: brew your coffee
There are as many ways to brew coffee as their are people who drink it. The important part here is not how you brew it, but that you make notes on what you do. In this journal, mark your brew method in the lower left box.
On a typical morning, here's my method.
I grind about 60 grams of coffee, medium grind. My grinder has measure number settings ranging from 2-18, which mean nothing. Nothing. Number 8 gives me somewhere between 50 and 70 grams of ground coffee, but that amount fluctuates depending on the kind of beans I use and how slowly gravity pulls them through the grinder. Don't trust the numbers on your grinder or coffee maker. They lie.
Why 60 grams? That yields about 30 fluid oz of coffee, which is all I want to drink at once. I've also learned that my particular coffee maker (a basic automatic drip variety that can be purchased for the premium price of $20 at any big box retailer) doesn't brew well with more than 70 grams of ground coffee. The spray head won't even get all the grounds wet, let alone extract all those delicious good-morning-flavors from them. So, 60 grams it is.
Because the measures on my grinder and coffee maker are meaningless, I regularly use a digital kitchen scale for the sake of consistency. I set my filter and basket on the scale, tare it, then add my ground coffee to see its weight in grams. I write that weight in the notes section of my tasting journal. Next I set the carafe on the scale, tare again, and add my water.
The standard ratio I use for coffee grounds to water is 1:16. This ratio varies by preference and brew method within the coffee industry. This one is my go-to because it consistently produces a strength I enjoy and extracts most coffees well.
Let's say today the number 8 on my grinder chose to give me 64 grams of medium grind coffee. I multiply 64 by 16 (I use the calculator on my cell phone) and know I'll need 1024 grams of water.
Does it matter if you don't use an exact 1:16 ratio - or 1:15 or 1:18 or any other you choose? Yes and no. Yes, because whatever ratio you use will ultimately impact the final taste and texture of your beverage. But also no, because there is no single "right way" to make coffee. The important part here is to document how you're brewing your coffee. If it's awful, you can make adjustments intentionally. (What if I add more water next time? Maybe I just don't like Italian roasts.) If it's amazing, you'll know how to do it again!
Since I'm using an automatic drip coffee maker, my brewing process from this point involves no more than putting the grounds and water in the machine and flipping an On switch. There's nothing to document because there are no variables I can control. If you brew using another method - pour over, French press, espresso machine, etc., you may also want to note things like water temperature and immersion/extraction times.
Step 3: pour and sip
Just kidding. Don't sip it yet. Pour and sniff. Our brains strongly connect what we smell with what we taste. Coffee isn't a beverage. It's an experience. Take a moment and explore your coffee. What color is it? Inky black? Light brown, more tea-like? Does it smell nutty, chocolaty, or fruity? Whatever your observation, write that in your journal notes.
Okay, now you can sip.
If you've been to a professional cupping, you know to slurp. The louder the better. If you're trying to enjoy this cup of coffee without waking your dog, kids, next door neighbor, and mailman, it's okay to sip quietly. What's that first taste like? Does your brain go "Mmmm! Good coffee!" or do you make the "oh dear, what happened?" face? Is it enjoyable? Make some notes.
Step 4: sip, document, and repeat
I usually drink half a cup of coffee before I've finished making my notes on it. Why more than a sip or two? One reason is that I'm a slow, methodical person. I'm experiencing this coffee, enjoying the nuances of taste, smell, texture, and temperature. With each sip, I notice something different. Another reason is that coffee changes as it cools. You might notice different flavors in an almost-lukewarm coffee compared to a scorch-your-taste-buds hot coffee. A 5-star coffee for me is one I enjoy from start to finish. It's good steaming hot, chilled, and everywhere in between.
But what about that tasting wheel thingy?
This is where it gets hugely subjective. I sip and think, What does this remind me of? Chocolate! What kind of chocolate? Dark chocolate... the bitter kind. No, bakers chocolate. That's what this reminds me of! If that's a dominant note, I might give it a 4 or 5 on the chocolate line, a 2 or 3 on the bitter line, and write "bakers chocolate" in the notes area. Sip again. Hmmm... sweet, kind of creamy... Dots on the sweet and caramel scales. Linger/finish has to do with how long the taste stays with you after you swallow. Is there a bitter aftertaste? A pleasant smoky sweetness? Add a dot. Make a note. Repeat. When I've gone through the entire wheel, plotting my dots, I connect them with lines. There's my visual for this coffee.
The way I do it is not the way you have to do it. This is your journal. You make notes in a way that makes sense to you. I do dots, then connect them with lines when I finish. Maybe you want to color code yours. Little x's to mark the spot? Sure. Again, the point is to give you a record of experiencing this coffee and a blueprint to make it again or make adjustments for your next cup.
Rating is completely subjective as well. Did you like it? Would you drink it again? If you were giving this coffee an online review, how many stars would you give it? Make your marks.
Step 5: end at the top
The last step is what would seem like the first. Fill in the top half of your journal page with all the roaster's notes for this coffee: where it was grown, what the roaster named it, who the roaster is, when they roasted it, etc. Sometimes I add a line for MASL: meters above sea level where the coffee was grown. All these details combined make the coffee in your hand the unique beverage it is.
Why not do this first? It is at the top of the page, after all. In a word, psychology. I know we're going deep here, but doing this part last helps eliminate confirmation bias. If the roast says this coffee is a light roast, single origin Ethiopian with notes of blueberry and honeysuckle, that's what I'll expect to taste and think I do taste, even if that bag was mislabeled and I'm actually drinking a medium roast blend from Honduras and Mexico with natural notes of cherry and walnut. We as human beings tend to experience what we expect to. Believing is seeing. So, as much as you can, ignore the bag until the end. Just taste your coffee. When you're finished, it's fun to see if what you tasted is similar what the roaster advertised.
Because I'm in the coffee business, these little journals have become an invaluable tool to keep track of the coffees I've tried from roasters all over the great state of Tennessee. My growing pile of books is a key factor to determine which coffees you eventually see on our virtual shelves at Red Eye Bistro. Honestly I have so much fun mapping my daily coffee experiences, I just had to share it with you.
You can pick up your own tasting journals here. Let me know how you decide to use yours!
Amy, Founder of Red Eye Bistro