Our interpretations of coffee flavors and aromas are highly dependent on the culture and the cuisine that we grew up with. Although still ultimately an outsider, the more time I spend around the booming specialty coffee scene in East and Southeast Asia, the more I have come to notice trends in the ways that people experience and describe fine coffee.
A note in coffee that a North American such as myself might interpret as “cherry tomato” might be called “tamarind” in Singapore.
I talked to Ros Juan of Commune Cafe+Bar in Manila about this. It was a spontaneous conversation that inspired me to talk to many more coffee professionals in Asia. The audio’s not great, because we did it very impromptu, but Ros has some very interesting insights.
- To the Filipino palate, for example, certain flavors are reminiscent of tamarind or other flavors in sinigang, and those can be easily recognized by a cupper who is exposed to the dish (Daniel Mulu of CQI in this case).
- Filipino cuppers, no surprise, use a different set of terms to reference flavors than cuppers from other countries
- Filipino customers associate bitterness with caffeine levels.
- Most of the baristas gravitate to natural coffees, since that’s what they are used to from the local market.
Over the last week, I’ve talked more formally to several other coffee professionals in the region — from Thailand, Singapore, Korea, and Asian-Americans from the US. I’ll be posting those interviews over the coming days, and seeing if we can draw some conclusions, or at least learn which are the best questions to be asking on this fascinating topic.