We sat down with Ross Beamish, lead trainer here at Vita who runs our Public Brewing School, a once-a-month workshop on home brewing methods that’s free to the public. Below, Ross offers his advice on picking your tools, sharpening your nose, and how we perceive bitterness in coffee.
Why does training your palate mater?
There is an array of grinders, brew methods, and water kettles that offer the coffee enthusiast a way to achieve greatness in the comfort of their kitchen. When you’re making the decision to purchase a great bag of coffee to complement your shiny new toys, it helps to know what’s affecting the overall flavor of your cup. Adjusting these variables to suit your personal taste will empower your purchasing decision, mature your palate, and have you brewing more confidently at home.
So what about bitterness?
We all perceive bitterness in coffee, and sometimes it’s balanced perfectly (like a piece of good dark chocolate) but sometimes it’s overwhelming (like a burnt marshmallow). It could be a combination of the level of roast on the coffee, the grind size or the water temperature. If you’re a black coffee drinker and bitterness is an issue, it might be time to try a lighter roast. Lighter roasted coffee boasts higher acidity and more pleasant aromas, which balance out bitterness. Taste experienced in the nasal passage as well as the tongue, so take a few quick sniffs of your coffee as you enjoy it. As you evaluate the coffee and begin to smell floral or fruit-like notes, you probably will not taste as much bitterness as before, or the bitterness will balance well with the increased acidity of a lighter or medium roasted coffee. By training your palate you’ll eventually you’ll know the difference between your varietals. Brazilians, Kenyans, Ethiopians, Indonesians.
What other factors determine bitterness?
Other factors influencing bitterness include mineral content of water, hardness or softness of water, and processing of the green coffee. Washed coffees and water processed decaffeinated coffees are known to be less bitter and complement full immersion methods. These methods include French Press, Clever, Eva Solo, or Aero Press.
Grind size also determines the amount of bitterness in a cup of coffee. In general, a coarser grind size will produce a less bitter flavor but will require a longer brew time (which correlates directly to increased bitterness) so tread carefully.
Ross explores each of these methods and more in our free monthly Public Brewing School sessions. For more information and to reserve your spot at our Capitol Hill location in Seattle, email firstname.lastname@example.org.