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Brew Diligence Day One: Sensory Exercises

By: Jessie Kennedy, Photos by Dylan Gephart

Welcome to Brew Diligence, our new at-home coffee education series for the bored, trapped, and curious. We’ve got a number of fun things you can try all lined up, starting with today’s installment: Sensory Exercises.

Our coffees always have one ingredient: coffee. But have you looked at a bag of coffee and wondered how we decide on flavor notes like brown sugar, guava, or hibiscus?

Whether you’re a coffee novice or a seasoned barista looking for ways to exercise your palate, sensory exercises are fun and easy methods for expanding your flavor vocabulary. We’ve put together some fun exercises you can do at home with pantry staples to learn how to taste like a roaster. Do them with other folks in your household, or even from afar! Get some friends together in a group chat and compare the same samples.

Sensory training can be done with a wide variety of foods and drinks. You can even use different brands of bottled water! We’ve chosen sugars for this example, but you can use different types of nuts, fruits, cheese, varieties of chocolate, flavored candies, teas, or wine. The list is practically endless, so use whatever is available in your home. 

Supplies: 

  • Samples to Taste (Use what you have! In this example, we had powdered sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, and honey lying around.)
  • Small cups or bowls
  • Spoons
  • Pen and Paper
  • Glass of water to cleanse your palate

1. Draw out a chart listing each sample, and a few categories to analyze.

You may want to add your own categories depending on what you are sampling. Here’s our example:

2. Divide your samples into different bowls for tasting.

If you’re doing this activity with your household, give everyone their own bowls. Assign a spoon to each bowl. Keep them separate! Don’t cross-contaminate between samples.

3. Smell each sample and write down your thoughts.

Are some samples more fragrant than others? What can you smell beyond “sugar”? It’s okay if you’re not noticing huge differences at this point, just make a note if you do!

4. Taste!

Go through each sample and one-by-one and analyze it, thinking about each category.

What flavors are there beyond the initial sugariness? How is the sweetness of one sugar different from another? How does it feel on your tongue? After you swallow the sample, what taste or sensation is left behind?

There are no wrong answers, so write down anything that comes to mind. Is there a specific memory associated with a particular sample? Get creative! Sip your water between samples to cleanse your palate.

5. Compare your results.

Discuss the differences and similarities in your answers with anyone else in your group. Look at your own answers and see if there are things you’ve written that surprise you.

Next: Mix it up with variations

Looking to take this activity a step further? Try these variations to exercise your palate even more.

Blind taste test

  1. After analyzing each sample, shuffle your cups.
  2.  With your eyes closed, taste from a random cup and try to identify which sample it is.

Triangulation 

  1. Set up three cups. Add the same sample to two of the cups and a different sample to the other.
  2. Blindly taste the cups and try to identify which cup is different. 
  3. If using fruit juice or sugar, you can make this variation more difficult by diluting each sample in some water and then identifying the outlier. 

Coffee test (best done with sugar, but get creative!)

  1. Brew a cup of your favorite coffee.
  2. Divide it into separate cups and add some of each test sample to each cup.
  3. Taste each cup and try to identify which sample is in each. You can also use the triangulation variation with the coffee test.

Finally, keep practicing.

Try to use what you’ve learned when you drink your next cup of coffee or tea. Instead of speeding through your morning cup as a means to wake up, turn the routine into a mindful exercise and really take the time to taste. 

Need coffee? We’ve got you.


What else do you want to know? Comment below and let us know what other Brew Diligence segments you’d like to see.

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