In 2008, a conversation began on the Coffeed.com message boards about coffee flavor descriptors. It all started with green Jolly Ranchers. One of the most enlightening contributions comes from Jimmy Oneshuk from Saskatoon:

When you think of it, using non-traditional terms can be a great way to make tasting more culturally accessible (and be perceived as less elitist, perhaps?). And certainly this must arouse some curiousity in customers who might not be of your hardcore coffee-taster niche?

On the other side of the coin, I sometimes worry about these descriptions crossing the line into superfluity, and creating a negative reaction in skeptics. I know we can't please everyone, but especially when you're in a smallish market, I'd like to limit any negative reactions… oi.

When it comes to descriptive language, there's a great divide in the industry; some coffee professionals prefer the tried-and-true straight forward “flavor wheel descriptions”, while others have moved more in the direction of color and whimsy. The end result of that latter trend are these completely over-the-top, Carrie Bradshaw/J. Peterman-esque descriptions offered by Blue Bottle Coffee:

Amaro Gayo Natural:

“Like watching at close quarters as your unpredictable grandfather eats profiteroles in his ancient, tobacco-smelling cardigan.”

Amaro Gayo Washed:

Now imagine playing a descending F major arpeggio over several octaves.  Now imagine that, instead of sounds, the piano produces alternating aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg, cedar, and maple.

Optional: imagining slippers, the Times’ Style section, grapefruit macaroons, and napping Irish Setters.

Nossa Senhora de Fatima:

Seductive, yet as accommodating of delicate sensibilities as a PG-13 bedroom scene, this may be the only coffee Tipper Gore and Bootsy Collins will ever agree on.

Sidamo SCFCU:

The Sidamo is a punchy, winey, dry-processed, certified organic coffee from Ethiopia which resembles a good non-organic Harrar, if that’s helpful.

More Blue Bottle S.O. Descriptions!