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Text: Selja Tiilikainen Photos: Laura Oja

How to Taste Coffee – Learn from a Professional

Paulig Chief Taster Marja Touri has noticed that consumers are demanding higher and higher quality in coffee. Paulig is determined to make sure that’s what they also get: if even a single batch was sent out to retail without quality assurance, Chief Taster Marja Touri wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.

“African coffee is a strong gorilla, while coffee from South America has a laid-back Latino feel,”

Paulig Chief Taster Marja Touri describes the differences between coffee origins.

Ethiopian coffee is typically strong and rich, while Brazilian coffee is sweet and smooth.

“That’s why Brazilian goes so well in many blends,” Touri points out.

Coffee awareness increasing

“When I started at Paulig 30 years ago, from Monday to Wednesday we’d roast Juhla Mokka and from Thursday onwards Presidentti coffee. Today there are many more brands, and they’re roasted to order,” says Paulig Chief Taster Marja Touri.

These days staff in almost every café are able to tell you about coffee origin and realise that, no matter how brilliant their selection may be, the customer won’t come back if they didn’t enjoy their cup of coffee.

roasted coffee beans and 2 cups of coffee

Consumers have started to understand the same thing about coffee as about wines: light roasts go well with mild flavours in the same way as white wine does, and dark roasts complement many stronger flavours nicely.

Consumers’ coffee awareness and requirements have increased in recent years, but the most difficult product to make is still the old Finnish favourite, Juhla Mokka. Paulig has managed to maintain its sophisticated flavour profile for almost a century.

A group of people tasteing coffee

Tasting cannot be learned from books

“When making coffee you have to understand what influences what. This cannot be learned from books. You just have to learn how to taste through practice,” Touri describes the process. She herself learned for 19 years from the previous chief taster.

Although Touri was born with a keen sense of taste, tasting is something you must continuously practise further. And anyone can get better at it. She recommends that you start learning about tasting by reading what’s been written about coffee – or wine, chocolate or whatever you want to learn how to taste – and what kinds of flavours you should find in it.

“It’s easier to find the flavours when you know what you’re looking for,” she says.

She’s created a mental bank of flavours for herself and uses it to look up matching terms for the flavours she tastes. At work, however, it’s important that the tasters use the same terminology. That’s why professional taster training takes so long.

“I taste most of the coffee dispatched from our factory. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if a poor batch was sent out by us,” she says.

As for her own coffee, the way she has it depends on her mood.

“I have my coffee whichever way feels the best at the time. Milk makes coffee smooth and rounded, but blends like Juhla Mokka are best enjoyed black. A coffee break should be a treat to all of your senses.”

The chief taster herself is not always terribly fussy as regards aesthetic delights:

“I have this awfully ugly coffee mug at home. I’ve tried to get rid of it, but it fits my hand so well and is just the right thickness. It’s lovely to lounge on the sofa with your feet on the footstool and enjoy life – with the lights turned off so that you won’t have to see the hideous mug.”