Last week I had the opportunity to spend several days at a Sensory Summit for coffee roasters held at the Robert Mondavi Center for Wine and Food Science on the UC Davis campus. About 120 people gathered, primarily coffee roasters. Also attending were food science sensory professionals, malt roasters, craft chocolate makers, organic chemists and chemical engineers.

The goal of this Summit was to explore the ways that we use sensory information to describe and evaluate different but similar food and beverage products. Wine, spices, cacao, malt and even the acids common to all of these foods were explored. And on the coffee side of things, we explored our sensory response to subtle changes in the roasting process, discussed the effects of various fermentation methods, and heard about new research into the field of water activity and food safety.

Of the 10 or so sessions we participated in, exploring the environmental influences (terroir) on wine, cacao and spices was the most fascinating to me personally. While we generally accept that the unique environment where grapes or coffee are grown greatly affects their flavors, digging into this subject was very eye opening. How can cinnamon from two different regions have such wildly different aromas? Why does cacao taste so different in each of the many types of craft chocolate bars? How can we really identify a specific coffee origin given the multitude of processes currently in use around the world, that were once unique to a particular region?

It would take several more pages for me to fully explain the entirety of the experience, I will share just a few of my key takeaways.

Firstly, there are craft professionals at both ends of the spectrum of the food industry – from micro batch purveyors AND macro industrial food developers.  At each level, these folks invest a significant amount of time and energy into creating their products. We discussed and reviewed samples from Coors (macro) to Sudwerk (micro) beers, and from Hershey kisses (macro) to Dick Taylor (micro) craft chocolate.

Secondly, there is so much to learn by examining products outside of my industry, and looking for ways to apply those findings and experiences to coffee. Continually learning is important!

Lastly, I am grateful for having the ability to participate in these types of events and I take pride and joy in being responsible for bringing this experience back home to the wonderful people roasting, bagging, brewing, and serving our coffee. I look forward to conducting some in depth sensory experiments at Mighty Good Coffee and to continue to develop and create the best-trained and informed staff possible.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your coffee!