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Sensory Calibration - Part 2, what are all these "tasting notes" anyways?

In my last sensory calibration post, I asked if you have ever noticed the three flavor words on our coffee bags? Capstone for instance, “Vibrant Citrus, Milk Chocolate, and Sweet”. I would like to dive deeper and take just one of those words and explore how it comes about, well two actually. The descriptive words, "Vibrant Citrus"

For me, it started early in life at the breakfast table. A grapefruit was cut in half the night before, each segment cut around and then sugar applied for the night. In the morning, a sweet/sour citrus bomb to start the day, well middle school anyway, and the memory was stored. A little science here. Incoming smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain. The olfactory bulb has direct connections to two brain areas that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory: the amygdala and hippocampus. Therefore smell, emotion, and memory are all closely related. Our memory is so good that I could even describe the formica table I was sitting at in detail when tasting this citrus bomb.

He's the thing, my personal citrus definition was embedded into my memory from an early age. When I go to the grocer today and buy a grapefruit, then grate off the peel, 0.25 grams to be precise, and place this in a covered snifter glass- my first thought is: formica table, and the citrus memory from Wanganui, New Zealand 50 years earlier. My goal as a sensory expert is to align this memory with the present Specialty Coffee Sensory Lexicon definition of Citrus, "A citric, sour, astringent, slightly sweet, peely, and somewhat floral aromatic that may include lemons, limes, grapefruits, or oranges". The practical preparation looks like this:

REFERENCE                              INTENSITY                PREPARATION  
Grapefruit peel                            Aroma: 7.5                  Put 0.25 grams grapefruit peel in a medium snifter. Cover.

Now all I have to do is repeat this enough times to update my memory. Then when I say the word "citrus" to any colleague around the globe, we have both done the work on citrus, so that we will be saying the same thing. When a customer asks "do you have something with tangerine notes", I can translate that to citrus and say "have you tried our Capstone". When we are looking at next season's green coffee for our Capstone blend, I can ask the distributor for coffee with citrus tones or to be more specific, grapefruit notes. They know what to send me so there is less guesswork. My goal is for Capstone is to taste the same year after year. Sure there will be variation from year to year as coffee is the fruit of a plant but our intention is something similar. In the case of Capstone, I want grapefruit, not lemons even though both are citrus.
Contributed by Paul Allen, Lead Quality Control, Green Coffee Buying.


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pouring milk into coffee in white cup