Can Coffee Have a Universal Language?
Coffee professionals use a methodology for evaluating coffee. This tasting technique is called coffee cupping. Coffee cupping is an internationally acknowledged standard of tasting and evaluating the quality of roasted coffee. Coffee cuppings can take place in origin countries (such as Ethiopia, Guatemala, Brazil, Colombia, etc.) as well as consuming countries (United State, Australia, etc.).
It is important to build a vocabulary that is recognized world wide in order to facilitate clear communication about each coffee. The Specialty Coffee Association of America, SCAA, has created a set of guidelines and standards to help the cupper be as objective as possible when cupping coffee. The goal is to analyze the fragrance, aroma, flavor, acidity, body and balance in an objective way. Cupping actually started right here in the Bay Area. The practice of tasting coffee in this professional way was developed by a San Franciscan Coffee Company: Hills Brothers Coffee. In the well known book, Uncommon Grounds, author Pendergrast explains that Reuben Wilmarth Hills adopted cup testing coffee in the late 1880s. This method was originally pioneered by Clarence Bickford, also from San Francisco. Before coffee cupping was common practice, green coffee was purchased solely based on the sight and smell of the unroasted beans.
Once coffee cupping became common practice, we started seeing common descriptors among cuppers. The World Coffee Council developed a lexicon based upon the most common and frequently used descriptors found in coffee. In January 2016 SCAA developed a new coffee taster's flavor wheel using descriptors from the World Coffee Council's lexicon. One objective in creating a lexicon and a flavor wheel was to define a set of descriptors for coffee cuppers around the world in producing countries as well as consuming countries.
The specialty coffee industry has a certification for those wishing to become expert cuppers. It's called a Q Grader Certification. The certification can be earned by passing all 20 exams during a six-day Q Grader Training & Exam Course. Becoming a Q Grader allows one to be calibrated with the specialty coffee industry, world-wide, and provides accreditation when buying coffee from an importer or producer.