Learn to Sniff Your Coffee Like a Pro

By Meister |

Tasting Workout: Exploring Coffee's 5 Key Flavors © James Kerr

There are two types of people in the world: Those who love the smell of freshly ground coffee, and those who are wrong. (Just kidding!) When we’re talking about actually evaluating the smell of coffee, however, picking out particular characteristics can be more difficult than when we’re tasting. The brain receptors that process smells have a harder time putting language to what they’re experiencing; they need practice and a little bit of fun, focused training to get really good at it.

Here’s one way to ensure that your nose knows its coffee.

You’ll need:

- One 8-ounce rocks glass or chowder bowl for each type of coffee on hand

- 13 grams (roughly 2 tablespoons) of at least one type of freshly ground coffee; for a more advanced, comparative experience, use several types and smell them side by side as described below

- Boiling water

- A timer set for 4 minutes

- A soup or bouillon spoon

As soon as you’ve ground your coffee samples, put each one in its own separate rocks glass or small bowl. Pick up the bowl, gently tap it to release some of the aromatics, and get your nose as close to the coffee as possible without going in—or breathing out! Smell the coffee deeply, then pull the sample away, exhale, tap gently and repeat.

Before they’re brewed, coffee grounds give off their most volatile and fleeting aromatics. Coffee professionals call this the coffee’s fragrance, or the whiff of the coffee’s dry scent. It’s important to capture these compounds in your schnoz right away after grinding for the biggest impact, because the smell starts to dissipate as the coffee sits.

After you’ve experienced the fragrance, start the coffee steeping by pouring boiling water all the way to the top of the cups bowls?, taking care to saturate all of the grounds evenly. (As soon as the water comes in contact with the grounds, start the timer for four minutes.) When your cups bowls? are full, you should notice some of the grounds forming a kind of crust on the top. Without picking up the hot cup bowl?, get your nose as close to the surface of this coffee crust as possible, and deeply inhale the brewing vapor with your nose. Note how the smell has changed.

This is called the coffee’s aroma, or the way it smells while the brew is happening. Aroma is often easier for smellers because the moisture in the rising coffee vapors lets the smell linger longer in your nose hairs. (Gross sounding, sure, but also kind of neat.)

When your timer goes off, the coffee samples are ready for the last smell step. Position your nose as close to the coffee as you did while sensing the aroma, and while deeply inhaling through your nose, gently use the back of your spoon to puncture the crust. This act, often called the break in cupping (the technical term for coffee tasting), releases some of the aromatics from the coffee liquor that’s brewing below the crust of grounds, and can give the coffee taster an intense olfactory experience.

This exercise allows for a very focused coffee-smelling session, but it’s not a bad idea to get into the habit of sniffing your dry grounds and brewed coffee when you make your usual cup. Taking the time to smell your coffee can really increase your enjoyment in drinking it.

Related: Train Yourself to Be a Coffee Snob with Help from Asprin, MSG and Lemon 
Learn About Coffee by Eating Apples 
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