"A hint of chocolate, a whisper of citrus," he tells the barista. He's a foodie, so unlike me, he actually smells these aromas. This isn't a wine tasting - I'm at a coffee cupping in a coffee lab in Bogota
. Coffee cupping is a ritual taken very seriously by food and wine geeks, and an intriguing challenge for caffeine addicts like me.
We're standing around a table in the pristine lab that's tucked behind a glass wall in E&D Cafés. Locals seated at tables in the coffee bar on the far side of the glass drink espresso and stare at us, while cafe owner Jamie Duque introduces us to the ritual.
Ten empty cups sit on the table before me near a metal bowl, our spittoon. We start by taking a sip from each of the first four cups, which have been filled with different types of water. After each sip, we spit into the metal bowl before moving on to the next one. Deciding which cups hold the sweet, salty, bitter and acidic tastes helps activate our palates.
I step back to take a picture and bump into the metal counter that stretches the length of the room. On it, there's an industrial-size coffee grinder and containers with clear water that Jean's assistant is using to fill our coffee cups. A colorful coffee taster's flavor wheel hangs on the wall. At one end of the room a massive coffee-bean roaster sits against a brick wall and there's a lingering smoky scent, perhaps from the last coffee that was roasted.
Apparently there are more than 30 different aromas a truly sensitive palate can taste while drinking coffee, according to Duque. Coffee from the central region of Colombia, for example, tends to be sweet because sugar cane also is grown in the same location. Coffee from Sumatra, however, has a more earthy taste, because the beans dry on the soil, Duque says.
After this discussion, we move to three more cups that have been filled with samples of the inexpensive brands of coffee one buys off a supermarket shelf. Duque pours water into them and says, "Break the crust gently by moving the spoon back and forth to release the aroma. Then, sniff hard."
I follow his instructions but have to swallow a giggle listening to my friends sniff like they are in the fourth day of a cold. Here's when the suggestions start flowing. "Chocolate," "bitter," "sweet," different people reply. I keep quiet, recognizing that subtle coffee tastes are not my forté. To me, it's "just right," "too strong," or "too weak."