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How to Taste Coffee Like a Pro

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Celebrating the opening of their 10th store in Malta, Costa Coffee invited us (and a few other coffee lovers) to take our first real steps into a more caffeinated career path. This was possible thanks to an interactive tasting masterclass led by Hugo Castaneda (Costa Coffee’s laboratory manager).

First on the agenda was learning how to taste-test different coffees, and identify where they came from.

The 6 steps of coffee tasting:

Chucky Tasting 1

1. Smell the coffee 
Inhale the aroma and look as though you can actually discern anything more than simply ‘coffee’. You’re looking for nutty or fruity smells; peppery or sweet. Something like that anyway.

2. Take a spoonful up to your mouth, and slurp it all up
Yes, you have to slurp. Ignore all your etiquette training and just noisily slurp in the coffee. This will create smaller droplets that better allow your tongue to discern flavour.

3. Swirl it around in your mouth
This swirling gives you a chance to appreciate the taste, and (like we did with the smell) try to pick out particular flavours. At Costa’s we were given four different cups, and although I couldn’t say which tasted like what, it was very clear that they each had a particular taste.

Chucky Tasting 2

4. Spit it out 
Once you’ve tasted what you needed to taste, you spit out your spoonful (with as much dignity as you can retain) and you prepare to taste the next cup. When your line of work involves tasting 150 coffees a day, swallowing could result in a caffeine-induced heart attack before you see your first pay cheque.

5. Cleanse your palate 
Rinse your mouth out with water (yes, you can swallow the water) and get ready for the next cup.

6. Croissant
Some may classify this step as ‘optional’, but when there’s an overflowing table filled with breakfast treats in front of you, it’s not.

5 things we learned trying to make the perfect cappuccino:

After learning to taste the coffee, we also got to experience making one ourselves. Here’s a few handy tips passed on to us by the barista, who patiently showed us exactly how Costa do it in their stores. 

  1. Keep the milk under 140°F (60°C). Maltese milk starts to burn before this mark, so slow things down at around 120°F (49°C).
  2. Swirling the espresso shot around the cup before adding the milk gives the cappuccino a dark ring around the froth. This is an essential part of a Costa cappuccino.
  3. The steamer must always be cleaned out before frothing. This is for hygienic reasons, and also to avoid diluting the milk with condensation in the metal nozzle.
  4. Frothed milk has to be mixed properly before being poured into the cup.
  5. Moira Delia makes a better cappuccino than Ramon Depares – a Hugo Castaneda certified fact.
Hugo Castaneda

Hugo Castaneda, Costa Coffee’s laboratory manager

What’s with the names?

Finally we got an explanation about all the different types of coffee imaginable. Espresso, macchiato, cappuccino, amachia*Italian sounding gibberish*; the list goes on. 

Sometimes an infinite list of options in response to our “I’d like to order a coffee please” can feel a little overwhelming. Thankfully, Costa’s diagram explains the exact difference between each variation.

Costa Coffee Types
Gina Philipp

Daily regulars Gina & Philipp also joined the masterclass.

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