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7 Easy Steps to Become a Gourmet Coffee Taster by Karen Paterson

At Hula Daddy Kona Coffee we show our guests how to taste coffee and how to identify the differences between coffees.  Learning to differentiate coffees isn’t hard. You don’t have to “cup” coffees like the professionals. You can learn that later.  Cupping is easier if you learn the basics of tasting coffee first.

1. Brew two different coffees. For the first time try to get coffees that are dramatically different e.g. Sumatran and Costa Rican. 1-coffee-cups-14645764You can use any brewing method you want just brew each of them exactly the same. However, make sure you are brewing well. Check our the Hula Daddy blog on brewing coffee:  Don’t add cream or sugar, they will mask the flavors in the coffee.

2. Smell the two coffees. Eighty percent of taste is in the aroma. Can you identify any aromas e.g. spice, citrus, flowers, fruit etc? Don’t be surprised if you can’t. Average coffees don’t have much aroma.

3.Sip a little of each coffee.  Note, – in writing, if you want –  the differences using your own language e.g. bitter, heavy, strong, chocolaty, etc.

4. Sip each coffee again do you notice a tingling sensation along the edge of your tongue, like when you drink lemonade? That is coffee acid. Professional coffee tasters like acids because they enhance the flavors of the coffee, average consumers don’t like acids.  Some professional use the euphemism “brightness” instead of “acidity”.

5. Sip each again for flavor; sweet, sour, bitter, harsh, smooth, fruity, grassy, citrusy etc. Don’t overdo it, even the best tasters can only accurately identify three flavors in a food, anything else is fantasy. Look for the strongest flavor, if there is one. Are there complex flavors in the coffee where you can taste multiple flavors as you drink the coffee?

6. Sip each again for body. Does the coffee have mouthfeel or is it light and thin? Think of the difference between milk and chocolate milk.

7. Sip each again for aftertaste. Does the coffee have a pleasant aftertaste or do you get coffee mouth? Can you identify the aftertaste flavors?

You may have noticed that as the coffee cooled you could identify more flavors. Cool coffee is actually more flavorful, but since we don’t drink it that way, we need to taste it at drinking temperature.

Now you have done it! You have smelled and tasted for the same coffee attributes as coffee gourmets: aroma, acidity, body, flavor and aftertaste.

You need to perfect your palate by practicing tasting other coffees.  Some suggestions:

  • Compare the same coffee with different roast levels e.g. light, medium, dark to see how the coffee changes with the roast. You might surprise yourself by finding out you like light roast coffees.
  • Compare the same variety coffee from different countries.  
  • Compare the same coffee from different farms at the same roast level.  

Notice we didn’t tell you what is good and what is bad. The best coffee in the world is the one you like!


Karen Jue Paterson is the owner of Hula Daddy Kona Coffee, a 33 acre coffee farm in Kona, Hawaii.  She is a member of the Hawaii Coffee Association, the Kona Coffee Council, the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, the Holualoa Village Association  and the Specialty Coffee Association of America. She is also the author of a number of articles on Kona Coffee including: Kona Coffee Farmers at a Crossroad How Typica is Your Kona Coffee? and Are Roasters Eroding the Kona Coffee Brand?; Coffee Cupping Competitions – Real or Random Chance?

You can contact her at



  1. Gary Strader says:

    Interesting nice article, well taught lesson for us Karen. I do not claim to be a professional taster, but I will suggest that someone who is interested in tasting some of the delicate flavors, and enjoy the aroma of truly great coffee might get a pea berry coffee and brew ti up.

    The first thing one might notice is the slight scent of chocolate before the beans are even ground. Then when it is brewing it is a treat for me to just pull up a seat near the pot and slowly inhale, breathing in the aroma of pea berry brewing.

    The taste is silky smooth, and you can pick up the hint of chocolate along with a citrus y flavor and aroma similar to Blackberry, and tangerines . I never get tired of it, and would drink my weight in this wonderful brew if I could.

    After pea berry I think a true coffee lover will soon be paying close attention to the beans they buy and brew, and will be hooked like me, always searching for that perfect brew.

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