It all started with a latte. Not in a cute, lonely city girls sipping on lattes, lazing about in a cozy Brooklyn coffee shop, kind of meeting. We were both baristas. At Starbucks. On the Upper West Side. In the best Starbucks in the city. Seriously. Our store won awards. And the morning crew was the best there ever was.
I started working at Starbucks as a way to get free coffee, maybe meet some people, and get paid. Cause you know, paying a bajillion dollars in rent is my most favorite thing ever. I decided to take the morning shifts, since I was desperately missing waking up at 5 am to jump in a pool. Waking up at 5 am to be surrounded by coffee seemed like a great idea. Actually, it is. I met Sharon the first day, as she was my shift manager, and we became fast friends.
Besides being hilarious and making a latte in under three minutes — yes, I had skills — one thing the morning crew loved to do was coffee tasting. As a barista at the best store in the city, we had to know all the coffees, how they tasted, what they paired with, and where they came from. It’s like wine tasting, but instead of 10 wines in a store, there are about 30 different coffees. Tasting every one and noting it in my coffee pasport (yes, that’s a thing) to become a coffee master (yep, that too) was a lot more time consuming than I thought. But it is so much fun.
So, how does one do an official coffee tasting, you ask? Allow me to show you:
Step 1. Choose coffee
I am starting with Starbucks Gold Coast, since this was the first coffee I ever tasted as an employee at Starbucks and it is my favorite. I was immediately drawn to this because it is dark, it referenced “the coast,” and I was a little homesick. The fact that this is a dark coffee and goes well with chocolate, as most bold brews do, completely sold me on this. This one has a little kick about it, which I love too.
Step 2. Brew coffee
If you really want to taste each an every aroma of coffee, basically the point of a coffee tasting, you really need to use a french press. This is the coarsest grind and the seeping allows the flavors to remain, more so than if using a coffee pot. This is definitely the tool to get the job done.
Grind coffee, so the beans are the freshest. Scoop coffee into french press until it fills the line, add hot water to the upper line, pouring over the ground coffee in a circle. Wait for 4 minutes, exactly, then push top down. Viola! Coffee.
Step 3. Taste coffee
Tasting coffee is similar to tasting wine, so take in the aroma first. Some coffee buzz words I refer to are: earthy, acidic, nutty, sweet, spicy, bold, medium, chocolatey, just to name a few. Once the initial aroma is recorded, it’s time to slurp the coffee, on the tip and sides of the tongue. This is where sweetness and acidity come out. Then, take another taste incorporating all the senses and notice any differences from the first and last taste.
Step 4. Pair the coffee with some food.
This step is definitely not necessary, but obviously the most fun. The rule at Starbucks was if there is a broken pastry, sample it out or do a coffee tasting. No wonder our customers loved us! Based upon the type of coffee and the notes you detected, choose an item that is not completely similar, but has elements of it. Most darker coffees pair well with chocolate, but they might have nutty or fruity characteristics too. Pair your coffee with a food that has most of the aromas, some, or even just one. The choice is up to you! I have tasted the same coffee with different foods.
Gold Coast is described as an extra bold roast. Starbucks describes it as “full-bodied and intense” and boy, is it ever! It has a nutty aroma, with a slightly sweet aftertaste. There are notes of tangy fruit (like cranberry), caramel, nutty sweetness. This would be so delicious with a caramel cheesecake, Cranberry Bliss Bar, or custard fruit tart. I chose to pair this with a blondie, enhanced with toffee and browned butter.
I refer to my friends at Trader Joe’s for their Blondie Mix, which I changed up up incorporating browned butter and toffee bits sprinkled on top. Simply make the blondies as directed on the box, except brown the butter instead of melting it. End result? The most amazing coffee tasting I have ever done ever. I am not even kidding. The true sign of a great pairing is where you pick up different notes of the coffee after pairing it with food, notes that were very subtle become an exploding flavor sensation in your mouth! The browned butter lends a nutty sweetness and the toffee finishes off the flavors. After adding the element of the blondie, the coffee suddenly becomes heavily nutty, more complex, with a hearty sweetness that wasn’t there before.
See? A lot goes into coffee tasting. I’m so glad I left New York City with so many essential skills. Oh. And the greatest NYC BFF, too.