Coffee, How-to Guides

Tea and Coffee Tasting for Beginners

Although coffee and tea offer very different flavours, the approach to tasting these hot drinks is surprisingly similar. Tea and coffee tasting for beginners can seem quite overwhelming. How do you take notes describing flavours? How do you detect different flavours and distinguish between similar ones?  You may not understand the flavour or simply may not have the vocabulary to describe what you are tasting.

One thing is for sure, our minds (and maybe our taste buds) are heavily influenced by those around us. If I state that I detect green peppers in a Kenya coffee, others will detect it as well. If someone else announces that they picked up on cocoa notes in a Brazil, I am more likely to detect them as well.

Recently, the team at 80 Stone Coffee visited a friend from Roqberry teas and we tried a whole range of high-quality coffees and teas. We have written this blog to share our experience with our readers and give an insight into the language used while carrying out tea and coffee tasting.

Roqberry Tea and Coffee Tasting

In 2007 at the London Coffee Festival, I heard someone talking about coffee tasting like tea. Many years later, after the birth of 80 Stone Coffee, I found myself running a number of cupping and tasting sessions. Here, I heard many people say ‘hey this coffee tastes like tea’.

Recently, I met Kim from Roqberry Tea. She does a lot of food and tea pairing and was intrigued to do a joint tea and coffee tasting / pairing session. We weren’t sure where to start, but we wanted to experiment.

Coffee Tasting Selection

I put on the table 3 coffees:

  • Haru, a classic washed Ethiopia coffee from Yirgacheffe ( light, bright, floral, herbaceous)
  • Viani cundinamarca from Colombia washed (raisins, pineapple and milk chocolate)
  • Hafursa, a beautiful pulped natural from Ethiopia (strawberry cheesecake, blackberry, dark cocoa finish)

Tea Tasting Selection

Kim put out a selection of 7 teas:

  • Cocoa & Joe black tea (with puerh and coffee beans, cacao nibs)
  • Raspberry fondant (Black with freeze dried raspberries and cacao)
  • Citrus grey (black with natural bergamot flavouring and lemongrass)
  • Rooibos with caramelised hazelnut and cacao
  • The Big Smoke: Black Assam, Yunnan and Lapsang Souchon
  • Masala Chai with cardamom cloves ginger
  • Bloom box, all florals.

Tea and Coffee Tasting Notes and Process

For the coffee we decided to brew following the standard cupping protocol and for the teas we poured 8oz hot water on teabags.

After letting beverages cool down a little, we started tasting the coffees and comparing with the teas.

The first thing we realised was that the bright acidity in the coffees was overpowering the smoother and more delicate acidity in the teas. I was hoping that my Haru and its bergamot/floral notes would complement her Citrus Grey with bergamot and lemongrass. But the toasted notes in the coffee were still overpowering the delicate taste of her tea.

What I discovered was that the teas were great for palate cleansing. Kim later explained that this was one of the characteristics of some teas, and also why they work so well with certain kinds of food.

Moving from one cup to another, we both agreed that that we could work with my Hafursa and her raspberry fondant. The Hafursa held the cooler temperature well, it didn’t become too bright and its acidity wasn’t too overpowering. It seemed we had to work a little on increasing the body and mouthfeel of the tea and reduce a little the body of the coffee. Possibly longer brewing time in the tea and lower dosing and increasing ground size particle in the coffee.

Outstanding Tea Tasting

Amongst her selection of amazing teas, there were a couple that really got my attention.

The cocoa and joe black tea, with coffee beans, cocoa nibs and Phuer, was absolutely fantastic.

Another one was the big smoke. She explained that smoking in some teas can be a great quality in tea, whilst it is not in coffee (with some exceptions). The smokiness in her big smoke was really sweet, not ashy like in dark roasted coffees. This reminded me of some lightly peated whisky.

Coffee Tasting with a Twist

I didn’t have any dark roast with me, but I had in the freezer some top grade robusta that I use sometimes during training. Inspired by her idea of putting whole coffee beans in a tea bag we decided to simply pour hot water on top of whole beans with the Robusta, the Haru and the Hafursa. Let them cool and taste.

This was more like it! I was really surprised by the Robusta, it gave a sweet dark roasted nutty taste with very little body. The Hafursa beans didn’t give up any of its fruitiness but only some sort dark of toasted almonds and cocoa. Whilst the Haru’s floral personality still came through along with strong toasted notes.

We were finally getting somewhere, the mouthfeel between the whole coffee beans brews and the teas was now very similar. The Haru started to make more sense with some of her most floral teas, in particular the bloom box, made only with flowers.

Final Thoughts on my Tea and Coffee Tasting Experience

It seems to make coffee and tea work well together, we really had to think outside the box. We had to move away for the standard 60gr per litre with coffee, the grind size also needs to change dramatically.

During the tasting Kim from Roqberry Teas explained that it is very common to blend tea leaves with something else like flowers or other herbs. When she asked if it was something I had done with coffee before, I was taken by surprise.

I know in some cultures they mix coffee with cardamom and with cinnamon, but this isn’t widely popular. This got my brain thinking and it may be something worth considering for speciality brews in the future. Maybe we could try brewing coffee with something else like cocoa nibs or roiboots.

In our shop we had a client regularly ordering coffee with chilli flakes and another with a slice of lemon, if it worked for them it could work for everyone else.

If you have any suggestions about coffee pairing or want to hear more about our coffee tasting experience, please get in touch with our team and we would be happy to help.

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