Some travel for the landscapes and others travel for the unique food and drink. For years, Peter Scudamore-Smith has been travelling the world tasting the most marvellous and peculiar meals, mastering his knowledge in wine, beer, and coffee.
Merlo Coffee is lucky to have Peter’s tastebuds and respected opinion on our weekly cupping panel, identifying the flavours and qualities in each of our coffees at the Merlo Roasting Headquarters in Brisbane, Queensland.
Peter tells all about his mouth-watering experiences and offers his best coffee tasting tips…
How did you get into wine tasting and coffee tasting?
I am an ex-food scientist who spent a great deal of my time training people to develop their natural sensory skills to an analytical level; so of all the world’s tastes and smell experiences I have endured, it was beverages which captured the needs of my nose.
What is important for the palate when doing tastings and what kinds of food can affect the way you taste coffees?
The prime need for the palate is good health or your taste buds will miss the subtle effects of coffee origin or style. To correctly assess coffee for Merlo customers, the air quality and environment where we taste is paramount in the cupping room. It needs to smell fresh and free from interfering odours including body additives, smoke by-products or odorous meal components such as garlic. Remember 80 percent of what a coffee taster will experience is nasal, so sniffing coffee grinds is the bulk of the decision before the taste is contemplated.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever tasted – be it food or coffee and where were you when you tasted it?
My encounter with an iced black truffle and potato soup in Nuits-Saint-Georges in Burgundy in 2015 was the most hedonistic smell and taste event of the past decade. Soup served in a frozen, hollowed ice block topped with five circular brown truffle slices. As I adore food experiences which are savoury, earthy and aromatic all at once; so the damp soil notes and penetrating perfume of truffle puts my sensory feelings on a short term high, lasting days.
What do you love about the range of beans Merlo Coffee has the opportunity to cup?
One word- Diversity. Coffees regularly arrive from every coffee growing country of the world. In that context there are beans which represent whole provinces, geographic slices of a region, single valleys, single estates, parts of an estate down to micro-lots which could be several thousand trees. There is one annual crop so tasting samples are submitted to us every year.
What brew method would you recommend to a customer so they could compare different beans?
I drink both white and black coffee; flat white/latte in the am, espresso in the afternoon/evening. Espresso is too concentrated to make a comparison of beans. And by beans I mean a proprietary blend across various countries and roasting styles which end up as one branding or house roast. Merlo Espresso blend is an example. Taste test it against other brands as flat white side-by-side.
What’s your best coffee tasting tip?
First never drink hot coffee- the act of sipping hot or excessively-brewed coffee (> 60 °C) burns your taste buds; so you have ruined the chance to assess or will have no taste capacity left! My major tip is to taste your coffee warm (58 °C) when the milk and its fat is sweetest; as flat white; and look for two aspects:
(1) the extent of chocolate flavour developed by the barista when milk is creamed with coffee liquor, and how much you like it, and (2) do you enjoy the level of char, or the extent of over-roast, verging on the blackening or oiling of beans. Coffee drinkers think this is richness whereas it is deliberate excessive roasting which some drinkers like to enjoy, others detest. So develop your own understanding of why your favourite coffee tastes like it tastes.
PS- Although I spend time drinking and tasting beans that comprise Merlo Coffee I regularly taste daily-freshly-roasted coffees from every roaster in the market place. However, I do not bother with coffee brands shipped roasted from Italy which are past three months old. They are easy to spot in the high turnover places where the barista work is poor and the result variable.
What’s your favourite bean Merlo Coffee stocks?
I regularly drink Merlo Espresso as it is my utility bean for both flat white and short black. If I feel the blend roasting is too intensive for flat white some days, I will switch the morning coffee to a single origin smart roast or use the Bean of the Month which is roasted similarly.
What’s the most important thing to you about coffee?
It must be a pleasant experience. As a barista’s efforts vary from country to country, bar to restaurant, supermarket to delicatessen, you must be prepared to negotiate how your coffee will arrive rather than vacate your chair with the drink unfinished. Be knowledgeable, be determined.
How long have you been a part of the Merlo Coffee cupping team?
Since September, 2014.
What is your favourite place to visit and why?
Because I travel widely in several big European cities I have to do the trial and error to find acceptable barista/coffee/blend combinations. My favourite place is Paris, and best coffee experience currently is Bob’s Kitchen in the Marais where I regularly stay, a vegetarian and organic juice bar/restaurant. But I do have a list of coffee bars in Paris, Reims, Beaune, Valence, Lyon, Lisbon, Oporto, Barcelona, Rome, Siena, Florence, Alba, Milan, Bologna, Como, Trento, Lecce, Martina Franca, Cefalu, Palermo, Taormina, Siracusa and Trapani.
Peter is a Master of Wine and the second person to be awarded this honour in Australia. Peter is globally recognised in the wine industry as an educator, assessor and show judge. To find out more about Peter and his work, head to his wine consultancy website, Uncorked and Cultivated.