As one might expect there is a huge emphasis placed on taste and aroma in the Barista championships. Your espresso, cappuccino and speciality drink are assessed by highly trained professionals in taste and aroma who have spent years perfecting a finely tuned palate that can pick up on the slightest imperfections. They do this for a living so if your drink isn’t up to scratch or your bluffing it, you don’t stand a snow ball’s chance in hell. In the 2009 Barista Championships points on offer for the “Sensory” aspect will outweigh the “Technical” aspect by four to one , placing more pressure on the barista to refine his or her palate.
Now I’ve always fancied myself as a foodie and a lover of wines but when it came to the language of taste I just wasn’t, well, fluent. I knew what I liked but I just couldn’t explain why. When it came to espresso I really needed to be pushed in the right direction. Its one thing agreeing with the tasting notes, but dishing out the description yourself is a whole new ball game. I needed help, and I needed it fast.
There are no coffee education courses in Ireland, and if there are they are probably run by roasters for their customers so I decided to spread my horizons a little wider and found what I was looking for at University College Dublin. When I graduated from UCD in 2005 with a degree in Business and legal studies the last thing I thought I’d return for was something like this but return I did.
The Science of Taste and Aroma is a course run by David Jackson for people that want to develop their skills in assessing tastes and aromas. David works as a scientist and a taster for Diageo, the company who own Guinness amongst many other brands, and has been running the course for two years now. The course brought together a wide range of people from chefs to bakers to food scientists all the way down to those who were just bored on a Tuesday night. We were trained in assessing smells, tastes and mouthfeels as well as the science behind these experiences. My days in science class were always spent messing with matches and Bunsen burners but still this course managed to intrigue and educate me.
In one particular class David introduced us to the “Nez du Cafe”, a box set of 36 vile containing the most prevalent aromas found in coffee. By training ourselves to recognise these smells you then in turn find it easier to identify these smells when cupping or sampling espresso. The same theory is applied successfully in the wine world by the “Nez du Vin” set and according to a class mate, could also be applied to whiskey!
For me the most important thing about this course was that it provided some rules and methods in understanding tastes and aromas and assured us that we can train ourselves in a scientific way and not to be intimidated by the task at hand. It often seems from the outside that these experts are either blessed with a unique gift or are simply making it up as they go along.
This course is a must for anyone with a remote interest in anything gastronomic and will no doubt stand to me as my preparation continues.