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How to help consumers understand the taste of coffee?

We’ve all seen the bewildered visitor to the coffee shop: he looks grimly at the menu, tilting his head sideways. He slowly selects the coffee and then returns it to the shelf, looking even more uncertain. Perhaps he is looking for a barista who can help; he may be too scared to ask.

Coffee shop owners should understand that descriptions of coffee that can be found on packs often only confuse such customers.

To keep your visitors happy and back, you need to help them understand these flavors. So why are some people confused about the descriptions? How can you describe the taste of coffee so that they can understand it? And how can you help them evaluate the entire taste and aroma of coffee?

Ethiopia Irgacheff with floral and sweet lemon notes. Photo:  Jmcronald Wikimedia Commons , CS-CA 4.0

Talk to experts on flavor profiles

To find out how to best convey flavors to consumers, we turned to two experts: Dale Harris, World Champion 2017, Wholesale Director at Has Bean Coffee  in Stafford, UK, and Maxwell Column-Dashwood, owner, three-time UK Champion, and finalist of the World Championship.

This year, Dale has a segment dedicated to taste profiles at Caffè Culture  2018, in London, United Kingdom – a professional exhibition for the 12th consecutive year. It took place October 16-17 and admission to the industry was free.

Dale is responsible for an interactive sensory installation that demonstrates the concepts presented in his program at the 2017 World Cup. another examines how various factors affect our understanding of the profile, how our taste receptors are directed to the perception of taste aspects and more.

Who better than Dale will tell me how we can help guests understand their taste profile?

Maxwell, on the other hand, heads the La Marzocco fryer zone and the caping zone in the west. He is also responsible for launching Coffee Studies , a series of TED talk-esque presentations within Caffè Culture, focusing on exploring innovations and ideas across real-life stories. In other words, he is an expert in caping and running a business (as well as an incredible barista).

Dale and Maxwell shared their best tips to help consumers understand and appreciate taste notes. That’s what we learned.

Natural processing coffee from Guerrero, Mexico; with notes of tangerines, berries and honey .  Photo:  The Fitzroy Espresso Co

Profile and taste notes: what’s the difference?

First and foremost, to minimize confusion, it is important to separate the terms “flavor notes” and “profile (flavor)” .

In other words, it’s important for customers to distinguish between “the notes on the coffee packet and the notes that you can taste,” Dale says. “A profile is a range of different impressions, [while flavor notes] is how we verbalize those impressions.”

Profile is a general perception of the qualities of coffee. It covers everything from aroma to tactile sensations.

What about the taste notes? These are “general taste sensations that we associate with certain things we consume,” explains Maxwell. “They help us describe the unique character of this coffee. “

Why is this difference important? Taste notes are usually very subjective depending on the taster. “The taste that a person calls is an interpretation of the impressions they receive,” says Dale.

This often causes unexpected stress, especially when it comes to the difference between the taste buds of consumers and industry professionals. This can be a challenge for both parties when, no matter how hard they try, consumers are simply unable to feel the characteristics that are present in the coffee as assured by the barista. And, in turn, it significantly complicates the value of coffee.

The coffee is poured into a cup. Photo by  Fernando Pocasangre

Why are flavor notes so complex?

When a guest enters a coffee shop, he or she may be overwhelmed with information. This most often comes in the form of an extensive menu designed to help visitors, but it can ultimately scare away potential coffee lovers.

Remember, at first acquaintance with spashhelti coffee, the receptors are not yet tuned to the perception of the full spectrum. “Many are unable to determine what they are tasting and they have a limited number of benchmarks,” Dale says.

On the other hand, sometimes there is too little information. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see an institution with a minimalist coffee menu (perhaps in response to the stereotype that coffee is all too complicated in the world of coffee).

Although, of course, the lack of additional information about coffee can stop the client, if, of course, he does not have the courage to approach the barista! This can make the taste notes even more inaccessible to customers who are curious about what they drink.

Moreover, coffee menus do not always match the coffee served. This may be due to inexperienced baristas  setting up the equipment,  or simply a lack of calibration between staff. If different baristas work from day to day, there is a good chance that the taste of the coffee will change over time.

In a way, it’s interesting. Depending on their preferences, there are many different attributes that a barista can highlight in coffee – and for some consumers, tasting these differences is fascinating. However, it is easy to confuse a customer who does not understand why the same coffee yesterday as today had other notes. Or, worse, why what they are trying now doesn’t match the flavor notes that were written on the coffee board yesterday!

Performing sensory exercises helps to improve the performance of receptors and expand vocabulary. Photo:  Kars Alfrinck Flickr , CC BY 2.0

Taste notes are still an important tool.

Even if it is sometimes difficult for consumers to understand the taste notes, Maxwell says they are very useful. In fact, they are much better than some other ways of describing coffee.

“Things like farm name, variety and processing will not always tell you more about coffee than the taste notes… It’s very personal. You have to spend years studying different varieties, different heights, to begin to understand a little about such a menu. The taste notes are not perfect, but they are the easiest starting point for getting acquainted with coffee. ”

Origin and processing information further confuse consumers than just taste notes. After all, so many factors affect the taste of coffee: terroir,  origin,  coffee,  processing methods ,  roasting profiles,  brewing method and recipe … even the water used for brewing can affect the final taste of the cup. Therefore, the brief interaction between the barista and the visitor is often not primitive enough to describe such an extensive experience.

Thus, flavor notes may not be perfect, but they remain one of the best tools available. And the closer consumers are to acquaintance with speshelti coffee, the more useful they become.

“The higher the quality of coffee that someone drinks, the greater their experience and vocabulary,” Dale said. “And the better they understand what kind of coffee they want to drink, the more they pay attention to the nuances [between different types of coffee]. It becomes easier to describe coffee to other people who have experience with them. ”

Freshly brewed coffee in the decanter, ready to serve. Photo by  Fernando Pocasangre

How can you help consumers understand the taste of coffee?

The good news is there are many ways we can help consumers get closer to understanding flavor notes. For example, holding open caps may cause customers to talk about what differentiates between good coffee and good coffee. This will help them recognize and describe specific tastes, strengthen their taste memory through practice, and communicate with people who use the same vocabulary.

The last point is very important. Because flavor notes are based on anchor points, it is useful to use the same anchor points each time. Make sure all your employees use the same terminology to minimize confusion.

Keep your retail shelf varied and your coffee menu simplified, with a few key flavors. This way, you will introduce customers to an exciting range of coffee, but do not overload their information.

Holding an open caption to help consumers understand their taste notes and coffee profile. Photo:  Has Bean Coffee

Your baristas are also capable of directing consumers to the right direction if they work with their receptors. Dale says it is easy for people to improve their perception of taste.

“Try as much new as you can,” he says, laughing. “Try it once. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it. You will get a new experience and learn something new about taste. This will add to your vocabulary and open up new ways of describing things. ”

“Also, when you try something, really focus on what you try. Try to understand what made the difference in taste. [Experienced tasters] tend to use a more complex, detailed vocabulary and go beyond the basic taste experiences. This will help you to more meaningfully consume food and beverages, have an increased understanding of taste and improve your ability to express your impressions. ”

Separate events can be devoted to this. Put fruit on the table, invite visitors to try all the fruits and make notes about their taste, and then have a fruit, sparkling coffee. The same can be done with spices, nuts, chocolate and flower concentrates to present a wider range of coffee.

Coffee Capture Photo:  Fernando Pocasangre

Coffee shop owners should make the taste notes more accessible to visitors and themselves. This will improve the consumer experience and, in turn, hopefully encourage them to return.

So, keep in mind the main advice from Dale and Maxwell: don’t make it easy. Share information, but don’t push consumers. Distinguish between profile and taste notes. Control the barista’s vocabulary. And take steps to help consumers appreciate all the wonderful flavors of coffee.

Your visitors may feel confused, but you will always be ready to reach out for help.

Author: Sierra Burgess-Yo.

Note: This article was sponsored by  Caffè Culture.

Translation: Anna Polstiankina.

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