Tasting notes are a wonderful thing. Without them it would be hard to predict how many coffees will taste when buying, even for those with experience. There are so many variables in every coffee’s production that origin, process and varietal do not necessarily result in a predictable flavour in the cup.
I personally think tasting notes should be mandatory for anyone selling a coffee, be that a roastery selling whole beans or a cafe selling a brewed drink. Not just for filter but espresso and milk drinks too. I appreciate the argument that people will get different flavours based on their background and experiences but a quick synopsis of what they should expect helps people choose without them having pre-existing knowledge.
Compare this to wine. I appreciate a good glass of wine regularly – for palette training of course – but still have not devoted the time to learning how each variety from a specific region is likely to taste. So if I’m handed a wine list that does not have tasting notes I feel a little silly, since I have no idea what I’m ordering. I can of course ask someone but in many busy bars, and coffee shops, it will be too busy.
I’m certain this will be the case for many coffee buyers. For example, a customer may prefer clean floral coffees but not know that they should go for a washed Ethiopian rather than a Sumatran option. It’s hard to verbally tell each customer about a specific coffee on a busy shift, so best to make a sign or card. This allows customers to become informed and make a more suitable choice than they otherwise would without distracting busy baristas.
In my experience if you display tasting notes for each of your coffees it massively increases engagement with customers. I’ll give an example
At my last pop-up I was batch-brewing a black-honey processed catuai from Costa Rica. On my menu I have a little sticker that says “Tasting notes – Raspberry, Blueberry, Vanilla”
At Least a dozen people that day asked something like “What’s this batch brew thing that you say tastes like blueberry and raspberry, have you added syrups?”
At this point I can explain to them that, no it’s not syrups, but flavour inherent to that coffee due mostly to its process. Give them a little sample and suddenly they’ve had a whole new experience and potentially changed their beliefs about how coffee can taste. Most of them then order a full cup, or if not show some appreciation for me taking the time.
If I didn’t have flavour notes on my menu I’m sure most people would just order a flat white, which is fine, but would mean I’d not be able to talk about the coffee as much.
There are of course some drawbacks to tasting notes, I’ll cover these in parts 2 & 3.