Coffee and Tea Tasting Notes For Beginners

When you attend your first coffee or tea tasting, it can seem overwhelming. How do you take notes describing flavors that are difficult at first to detect or that you don’t even have the vocabulary to describe? Something I’ve noticed about all the coffee and tea tastings is that the flavor descriptions communicated to the group influence taste. If I state that I detect green peppers in a Kenya coffee, others will detect it as well. If someone else announces that they picked up on cocoa notes in a Brazil, I am more likely to detect them as well.

All this raises the question: what am I really tasting and do I really like it? Last month I challenged my tea palate and attended a tasting for black tea. Black tea is my least favorite tea. I’d much rather have an oolong, green, white or even pu’er tea. At the tasting, I was having difficulty describing the tea in the tasting notes, so I just started drawing smiley faces to match how much I liked the tea. Later I did the same procedure for green tea (see below).

Tea Tasting Notes

At the end of the tasting, I looked over my Smiley Faces and knew that I liked the Dragonwell and Sencha. I was neutral on the Jasmine and did not like the Genmaicha. The Matcha started out good and then faded into dislike. This is as simple as it gets and as a customer of tea, it was helpful to me in making a purchase.

At a Clover Coffee tasting, I was given a form with different criteria to judge: sweetness, flavor, body and finish. Using the Smiley Face method, this is what my tasting notes looked like. From each of the two groups, I was able to pick my favorite coffee setting.

Clover Coffee Tasting Notes

Most recently I did a pu’er tea tasting. Pu’er teas tend to develop richer flavors over multiple steeps. The teas that I tasted were better on the 3rd steep than the 1st. To communicate this using Smiley Faces, I modified my scoring system slightly.

Puer Tea Tasting

Feel free to use and extend the Smiley Face scoring system the next time you attend a coffee or tea tasting. My guess is this could also work for other drinks and food as well.

Michael Allen Smith

Michael Allen Smith fell in love with coffee while attending college. Shortly after graduating college, he found himself in the Tampa Bay area far away from the good coffee he had at The Ohio State University. That is when he starting home roasting coffee. Less than a year later in April 1999, he launched the coffee website has been going strong ever since with hundreds of articles and tutorials submitted by over one hundred contributors.

In 2007, Michael moved to America's coffee capitol Seattle, Washington. He has visited close to three hundred different coffee places in Seattle, Portland,Vancouver and San Francisco and met many of the top roasters and baristas in the country. Since 2009, Michael has been the Organizer of the Coffee Club of Seattle, which is a Meetup group of over 800 coffee enthusiasts. Besides the social aspect of the group, the Coffee Club of Seattle partners with local coffee professionals for educational events such as coffee cuppings, brewing demonstrations and roasting tours.

Unrelated to coffee, Michael has a personal blog at which covers several topics including fitness, cooking and economics.