The Tasting

Espresso tasting is having the ability and knowledge to consciously recognize components of the aroma, specifically the set of fragrances that are released from the cup, and the body or tactile sense of viscosity.

There are four phases in tasting espresso:

Visual Analysis – upon being served a cup of espresso, immediately look at the contents to evaluate the crèma. The perfect espresso has a thin crèma crossed by faint streaks.  It is 3-4 mm deep and boasts a color ranging from hazelnut brown to more intense cinnamon shades. It should last for at least 2-3 minutes. This is the first indication of quality.

A dark brown dotted crèma with reflections which appear to be gray indicates a high Robusta content in the blend.  A dark brown crèma with a clear button or a hole in the middle indicates that there was over extraction. This can be caused by any of these factors:

  •  the shot time was too long
  • the grind was too fine
  • the temperature, or water pressure were too high.

Espresso with a light and thin crèma indicates under extraction this can be caused by being extracted in a short time, with a lower dose of coffee, too large of a grind or because the temperature, or water pressure, is too low.  The cream should also be strong, elastic and permanent; if moved with a spoon, the hole should close within a few seconds. The consistency comes from proteins, fats, sugars with high molecular weight and other colloidal substances emulsified during the preparation of gas contained in plant cells. The same components determine the persistence duration of the crèma.

Olfactory Analysis – next is the smell test; stir the coffee as the crèma seals in the aromatic essences and bring your nose to the cup then breathe deeply for a few seconds. You can almost feel the aromatic intensity of the coffee; along with notes of roasting you can pick up fresh and light scents such as flowers, vegetables or fruits, from jasmine to almond. Our ability to recognize individual scents originates from references to memory: the smells are recognized by analogy with what we have experienced and learned in the past.

Tactile Taste Analysis – At this point you begin to sip the liquid, letting it flow around the entire mouth. The taste buds transmit sensations to the brain and can assess the balance between the flavors and the proper harmony of bitter and sweet. At the side of the tongue you feel the sensation of freshness for a few moments, indicating the level of acidity; normally coffee with a high percentage of Arabica highlights this note. With the first sip you can also examine the tactile balance of the coffee; especially the body, or the feeling of a pleasant roundness and creaminess in the mouth, created by oils and sugars.  The body is one of the particular characteristics of espresso and must possess the right smoothness and viscosity. Once sipped you can feel an astringent sensation in the mouth (i.e., roughness and friction between the tongue and the palate, caused by the reduced lubrication capacity of the saliva due to tannins and woody substances in the coffee) which should not be too high in a good espresso.

Aftertaste Analysis – after tasting, you feel a second wave of aromas, with the exhalation of air through the mouth; the retronasal perception returns anew, and more precise flavors, like butter, chocolate, vanilla, and caramelized sugar are discovered. These are common parlance we improperly call flavor, stay with us long after drinking an espresso.