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Sensory Summit 2016: A Roaster's Guild Event Recap

Dispatch and Pictures by Tony Auger

Traditionally the Roasters Guild has seen high attendance at their yearly Roasters Guild Retreat. Kaldi’s has consistently been involved with the Roasters Guild by sending their roasters to this yearly event, as well as myself being nominated for a seat on the Roasters Guild Executive Council last year and then serving on the Events Committee for the Roasters Guild. So it’s pretty safe to say that Kaldi’s is an advocate for the Roasters Guild which has been dedicated to the craft of roasting quality coffee.

The Sensory Summit is a new Roasters Guild Event focused on the higher-level needs of experienced roasters and coffee tasters, including sensory methods, quality control, product development and scientific research. The debut Summit was a collaborative event with UC Davis, taking place at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. This event seemed like a dream come true to professionals obsessed with sensory evaluation and food sciences. Tyler Zimmer and I knew we couldn’t miss this event.

So we prepared for it. When traveling to UC Davis, we lucked out and our flight to San Francisco got in earlier than expected. We decided to start our sensory trip off on a good foot by stopping off at two Napa Valley wineries.

One of these wineries was a special treat because we were able to taste four Zinfandels wines that were grown less than five miles apart from each other. Coffee is so similar to wine in that variety plays a huge factor in the final taste of the beverage. However factors like soil, microclimate, altitude, and processing play just as equal a role in how the coffee will taste. The vast difference in flavor between these Zinfandels was an unforgettable experience to me and served as the perfect introduction to this trip and well as the El Salvador origin trip that would directly follow.

We finally got settled in at UC Davis and our first session called “Tasting in the Dark: Wine Tasting and an Exploration of Senses” was underway. Henry “Hoby” Wedler a Chemistry PhD Student at UC Davis lead the tasting. Besides being incredibly knowledgeable in organic chemistry, Hoby was the perfect instructor for this session because he has been blind since birth.

Hoby had us step into his world for 2 hours as we were blind folded. Being temporarily vision impaired made it hard to find things on the table, but it greatly enhanced all of my other senses.

Hoby perfectly described the texture, taste and aftertaste of each wine; in a way that I did not think was possible. He demonstrated a type of sensory evaluation I previously had yet to used before. It was a great exercise that I intend to use for personal development over and over again.

The weekend was filled with events similar to this tasting but in other food fields like honey variety and olive oil tasting. These events served as a great reminder that coffee is just as complex as other agricultural products. Some of these tasting were done to help gauge consumer preferences or to help track quality assurance.

We also spent a significant amount of time focusing on coffee roasting and coffee brewing sciences. These are two fields where surprisingly a lot in the specialty coffee industry have become uninformed. This is because most people who get into specialty coffee are not scientists. They are coffee lovers who reverse engineer based on sensory analysis. On behalf of the Roasters Guild, we are trying to change this by having events like the Sensory Summit take place at academic universities.

Lastly, we also spent time unveiling the new SCAA Coffee Tasters Wheel and the Sensory Lexicon that was designed to coincide with it. It’s been over 20 years since the SCAA made the first Coffee Tasters Wheel, and this new, updated version was the result of research and data collection over many years. The Sensory Lexicon was developed by the World Coffee Research and is the largest collaborative research project on coffee's flavors and aroma ever done. Created at the Sensory Analysis Center at Kansas State University, the lexicon identifies 110 flavor, aroma, and texture attributes present in coffee, and provides references for measuring their intensity. The purpose of the lexicon is to advance our understanding of coffee quality and how it is created, so that we may continue to increase it.

When it comes to creating an academic pathway and a calibrated sensory lexicon, this event was a great first step for the Specialty Coffee Roasting Community. It was a pleasure to be part of both the planning side and educational attendance side of the Sensory Summit. I personally hope to see it continue to flourish so we can push the industry forward.

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