Sensory analysis is the scientific approach used to assess the properties of a product using the senses, i.e. sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. It can be carried out on any product, utilizing different senses.
When it comes to coffee, sensory analysis is carried out by professional tasters using standard protocols, specific tests, selections and rules.
What sort of impact does this type of analysis have on quality control in coffee?
First of all, coffee is a raw material and a type of food, so it is not always stable and the same. Due to its natural origins, coffee is a fruit that is constantly changing. When a plant flowers and then bears fruit, it is subject to changes in atmospheric conditions, the soil and temperatures. It is never exactly the same as it was the previous year.
However, people do not conduct sensory analysis to decide whether they “like” or “don’t like” coffee. The purpose of the process is to assess the characteristics of coffee using a strict international tasting system called the cupping protocol.
In the step shown above, the crust of the coffee is broken four minutes after brewing starts. Breaking the crust brings out as much of the aroma as possible. During this stage, the cupper gives a final AROMA score in the international SCA Cupping Form.
If coffee is grown and harvested in Colombia and then shipped from there to Italy, it is impossible to know if the qualities for which it is sold, bought and drunk remain unchanged unless it is tasted by Q Graders and assessed in accordance with standard criteria not only in Italy but also in its place of origin. That is why a local Q Grader in Colombia follows the cupping protocol and prepares a standard sample.
Q Graders are people who are specially trained to assess the quality of coffee. In the countries of origin, they use the “cupping protocol” so that they can count on international standards for coffee evaluation criteria. It’s essential for the tasting panel to be well balanced and impartial because the scores are used to gauge the quality of green coffee and thus establish its economic value. Meanwhile, in the roasting plant Q Graders carry out quality checks on the batches of green coffee that have been bought.
The “cupping protocol” is a sensory analysis procedure that cuppers use to assess the quality of coffee. It helps them to identify any faults and taints, and the pleasant flavours and their qualities, as well as the intensity of sensory characteristics, then put it all down in black and white. Basically, it provides an overview of the potential of coffee, which can be refined and fine-tuned during the roasting, blending and extraction processes.
How does “cupping” work? A sample is divided into five cups and tasted. Each cupful is weighed and ground individually, with a brewing recipe of 55 g/litre and a large grind size of 850 microns.
The sample is divided into five cups in order to paint a broader but more precise picture and make it possible to isolate any faults and taints in a single cup, rather than all five. That means that only the cup in question will be marked down on the cupping form rather than all five, so the sample can still get a decent score if the overall quality is high enough.
Details of all of the characteristics of the sample are entered in the cupping form, thus clearly establishing the value of the coffee that has been tasted not only on the economic front but also in qualitative terms.
The cupping protocol provides a clear, standard framework that can be used to assess and rate coffee.
As you can see, sensory analysis has an indispensable part to play if you want to drink a good cup of coffee.
If you’d to find out more, take the Sensory Skills Foundation course at the @saperecoffeeacademy, where we make knowledge into know-how. And we do it well. For info: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Enjoy your coffee!
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