A Day In The Life Of…

24 Sep 2014
2 min read
John Thompson, CafePod’s Master Blender, tells us about his work as a coffee taster.

I like to start my day with a coffee of course and I usually choose a longer drink at this time.

A lot of my week is spent cupping, which is professional coffee tasting. This is almost the coffee world’s alternative to wine tasting. It’s all about being able to separate you basic tastes; looking to see how sweet, sour, salty or bitter coffee is. Training yourself to recognise flavours in coffee is the next stage – for example, is this coffee caramel like, hazelnut like or does it have a flavour reminiscent of chocolate?

Practice makes perfect and cupping coffees regularly is important in building your skill base and also for building a taste database of different coffees from around the world. After that being able to be really consistent in the way you look at coffee is very important. There are accreditations that check you can do this such as the Q grader programme or modules of the SCAE diploma. Both of these are globally recognised and put cuppers through a number of blind tests to make sure you can evaluate coffee in a professional and consistent manner.

Cupping is probably one of my favourite parts of the job. I find the process of tasting endlessly fascinating and ever changing – there will never be a point when a taster is not learning something new and speciality coffee is such an innovative field too. We are very much at the beginning of a journey understanding why coffee tastes the way it does in different countries with different varieties and it’s exciting to continue learning about this.

I spend a lot of time looking at samples of coffees to buy from around the world in order to taste new flavours. At the minute there are a lot of exciting offers from countries like Brazil, Peru and Bolivia who harvested their coffee through the British summer time. I also taste all the roasts we pack into capsules to make sure the coffee has developed properly in the roaster to bring out the flavour profile of each blend and do extra quality checks on the packs to make sure the capsules stay fresh until they are brewed. But one downside to this has to be the washing up. I might taste three hundred coffees in a week and that leaves a lot of washing up to be done, never my strong point.

As the day moves on our palates look for different flavours so having the flexibility of having a different drink to brew means you can get the coffee you are looking for. So in the middle of the day I may want a fuller fruit driven coffee with distinct characteristics.

I travel too, as it’s important to visit farmers and their farms and understand their processes, their quality and also to build relationships. So I visit producing countries around three to four times a year. I’m very lucky in this sense, that I have experienced many different cultures, and met many fascinating people.

I’m very interested in taste and flavour, so spend a lot of my spare time cooking and reading about food. My work does help with this, and the principles of balancing the tastes in any meal are similar to those of creating a coffee blend in that you want all the components to complement each other. When having friends round, we sometimes want a little treat or something a bit unusual so spending a little more on a gourmet single origin definitely fits the occasion.