Ask the Coffee Lab: How Do You Become a Coffee Taster?

By Winston

Discussing a cupping session at the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. Coffee Lab

How does someone become a coffee taster?  Did you go to school for it?

Can you imagine being paid to drink coffee? We are! We joke in the lab about how fun it is to say, “Yes,  I get paid to drink coffee.”

Let’s talk vocabulary first. Coffee taster is sort of a generic word for anyone who has to evaluate brewed coffee in some shape or form. We have employees at all our production sites who evaluate coffee and they’re part of the quality teams that dot our landscape at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc.

Some folks are on Development teams making up new concoctions and recipes all the time – and naturally they do a lot of tasting. In the Coffee Lab, when we want to change a recipe for a blend, we brew up the proposed change and taste it. At that point we’re all coffee tasters.

Generally the coffee tasters are employees who show an enthusiasm and interest in coffee and sensory evaluation. You might be one of those people – the kind who revel in good food and are fussy about what they eat and drink. They have a great nose. They’re the kind of people who walk into a room after Julie Ann has left 30 minutes earlier and say, “Did I just miss Julie Ann? I can smell her rose water perfume” or other redolent scent that no one else in the room can smell.

In some cases, there are some sensory tests we put employees through. One of the harder ones is putting very small amounts of salt, sugar, and bitter in water and asking them to distinguish which one is which and what the mix is.

If we are evaluating coffee for purchase, then we call that cupping. Cupping is coffee tasting, but it has the slurping and spitting. There are more protocols and processes than tasting and the training is a little more rigorous.

There’s no school per se for coffee cupping, but there are many courses and training. The Coffee Quality Institute (www.coffeeinstitute.org) has the famous Q Grader Course. A five day, 24 test course, it’s rigorous, thorough, exhausting and hard to pass. At least for me it was, but pass I did!

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