Sunday, October 05, 2008

Palate Training and Sensory Analysis of Coffee - A Course at William Angliss

William Angliss Coffee Academy not only covers the basics in one of the most well set out training rooms that I have ever seen, but also affers a selection of courses covering more advanced topics. Jill Adams' latest brainwave has been to rope Lindsay Corby from La Trobe University into making the leap from viticulture to coffee culture. Having done the basic 'prepare and serve espresso coffee' course at the academy about a million years ago, I decided to give this course a whirl. Simon James - dedicated latte artist, barista competitor, coffee trainer and somewhat less dedicated coffee blogger - was also in on the action. You can see the flier here on Simon's blog and I'm sure that he will have something to say about it at some stage in the future - be it forseeable or distant.

The entire course involved a good amount of smelling, tasting and spitting. By the end of the weekend, I could hit a pinhead from a mile away. The first day, run by Lindsay, covered some of the myriad of compounds found in coffee. The second day consisted of three sessions in which we cupped coffee.

Day One

The wine world seems to be pretty far ahead of the coffee world in terms of recognising the role that individual chemicals play in the final product and deliberately trying to maximise or minimise said chemicals. Lindsay was enlisted to muster up some relevant chemicals and to guide us through tasting them separately, in combination and in coffee. Part of this involved painstakingly working out the levels to which said chemicals should be diluted and bottling them; a job that I'm glad I didn't have to do:

The chemicals that we covered included acids, sugars, phenols, alcohols and aromatic alcohols and the session was structured around identifying the differences between each and what each does on one's tongue. For example, I found citric acid to have a sharper and brighter presence than malic acid, which, in Lindsay's words, dragged across the tongue.

The later brackets included combinations of the earlier brackets. Finally, the various compounds were tasted in coffee:

Day Two

This session involved three cuppings. It was amusing to see the anxiety and trepidation of those who hadn't cupped before give way to delight as they realised - 'hey, I can actually pick the differences.'

The first session was a totally unique opportunity. A dude by the name of Tony Marsh is running a project in Aceh to determine which coffees should be planted and how they should be processed. The project involves planting a number of different varietals at different elevations (800m to 1500m), processing them in different ways and sending the samples to a number of coffee buyers for feedback. Our first session involved tasting five pairs of varietals; one fully washed and the other wet hulled. The difference between the two is that fully washed is dried in parchment, whereas wet hulled is dried with the parchment removed, giving the coffee its distinctive dark green colouring:

The session vividly illustrated the futility of using origins alone as an indicator of flavour or quality - my cupping scores showed a spread of 18 points across the maximum of 55. (I digress to note that I didn't score in any particularly standardised way - I simply allocated the first sample middle-of-the-road scores and scoring everything else relative to it ... which was kind of odd, because the first ended up being my most highly rated.) The fully washed coffees, which I have usually referred to as 'wet processed' on this blog, generally had higher acidity and lower body than the wet hulled coffees. The group generally felt that the body on the wet processed coffees was quite good and that the wet hulled coffees were slightly dirtier or muddier.

The second session involved Andy Freeman stepping everyone through different roast profiles of the same bean, taken to the same finishing temperature and roughly the same colour/agtron/colorette reading:

In a nutshell, the fastest roast produced a much brighter cup than the bitterer cup produced by the slowest roast. At the end of the day, Andy and I pulled some shots of these two coffees for people to compare head-to-head.

The third session was a bit of a grab bag, people having been asked to bring along their own coffee to see if they could pick it out of the lot. Jill provided a number of African coffees; two harrars, a sidamo, two roasts of the same yirgacheffe and a baggy tanzanian.

Simon and I agreed that the aroma of the harrars made promises that they failed to keep. The yirgacheffes actually tasted totally different, one having been roasted on a sample roaster and one roasted on a shop roaster. I took along the infamous coffee number two, now twelve or so days old, and Guatemalan CoE #3 of 2007, kindly sent along to the session by Mark for the purposes of comparing with the notes on the internet. #2 was not as potently objectionable in cupping as it was in espresso and had mellowed in its old age. I missed it on the first pass, but caught it later on after Jill gave me the tip that it was next to the CoE; it cupped up exactly as my notes for drip recorded. I hadn't tasted CoE #3 before, but it was roasted for cupping and, so, wasn't hard to pick against a field of espresso roasts. Most people thought that it tasted clean and of citrus.

Closing Thoughts

The session certainly provided some in-depth and specific tasting experience that is seldom found elsewhere. The first session of day two was my highlight.

In conversation with others, it became apparent that people live up to the stereotype of Australia being 100% espresso, so I will predict a rash of enrolments in the masterclass. This course appears to have subsumed the espresso-focussed 'pulling shots' course that Chris Natoli ran whilst he was at the Academy and also appears to be pretty good value.



At 11:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As usual, very comprehensive!
Curse your speedy blogging though! ;-)


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