Heres how to taste-test coffee like a Certified Q grader (hint: grab a soup spoon)

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Canadians love their coffee. According to a study conducted by the Coffee Association of Canada in November 2018, coffee and tap water are the most commonly consumed beverages — 72 percent and 65 percent respectively — and the country consistently ranks among the top 20 coffee drinking nations in the world. With most Canadians drinking between two to three cups per day, you might start to wonder: what makes the coffee here so good?  

“For many Canadians, coffee is a ritual that gives their morning meaning,” says Doug Rosencrans, vice president and general manager of 7-Eleven Canada, which is why the company has put extra emphasis on its coffee program. For 22 years, 7-Eleven Canada has worked with Canterbury Coffee to fine-tune their coffee blends.


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    Working with a local roaster, they’ve earned numerous accolades along the way, including repeat wins at the Golden Bean awards — and have surprised consumers in blind taste tests, beating out much pricier rivals. “We continually strive to provide our customers with quality coffee they can enjoy for a reasonable price, and it feels great to be acknowledged by the industry,” explains Rosencrans.

    Victory tastes sweet

    At the most recent Golden Bean awards, which attracted around 800 competitors from across North America, Canterbury Coffee was the only Canadian roaster to win a major category, earning the title of overall chain/franchise champion for 7-Eleven’s exclusive blend. Tim Cole, who is assistant roastery manager at Canterbury Coffee and a Certified Q grader, is part of the team that helps create the award-winning blends for 7-Eleven’s Canadian shops.

    “We source high-quality beans, roast them in small batches for consistency, and package them properly,” he explains. “We put a lot of pride into it and the finished product catches people by surprise.” The competition is considered the world’s largest, most prestigious coffee roasting competition. The three-day event puts North American roasters to the ultimate test. Competing at the event requires an in-depth understanding of coffee and both Cole and his mentor John Gray, the company’s roaster master and VP of production, are Certified Q graders. 

    Becoming a coffee expert is no cakewalk 

    To take his coffee tasting abilities to the next level, Cole followed Gray’s lead and attended a rigorous, week-long program to become a Certified Q grader in 2016 at Atlas Coffee Importers in Seattle. Since its inception in 1996, the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) has been a California-based, non-profit organization working to elevate the quality of coffee around the world, and the lives of people who produce it. Their intensive coursework includes completing 22 different proficiency exams, ranging from olfactory tests to identifying different roast levels. 

    Back at Canterbury HQ, Cole uses this skill set to oversee cuppings, or tastings, several times per week, which are key to quality control. However, even for a regular coffee drinker, a very basic cupping is easy to do. “There are four basic components, sweet, sour, salty, and bitter,” explains Cole. “It’s about finding the right balance of those categories, but there’s also personal preference, some people like the smoky flavors of a dark roast and others prefer the sweetness of a light roast.” 

    Grab a soup spoon and get ready to slurp

    To taste coffee properly, start with a cup of black coffee and a soup spoon. Take a spoonful of coffee, then slurp it loudly to breathe in the aromas and fully cover your palate. You might notice berry flavours — coffee beans are actually the seeds of coffee fruit, which are stone fruit (like cherries) and the bean moniker is something of a misnomer based on their appearance. You might also notice acidity and bitterness. The salty element refers to body rather than any savoury quality, so don’t expect notes of potato chips. 

    “A light body is lower on the salty quality, while a heavy body has a really thick, full mouth feel, which can be smooth and velvety,” explains Cole. 


     

    There are more benefits than just taste alone

    While Cole and Gray take a scientific-like approach to tasting and grading coffee, it turns out that lab scientists have also taken a keen interest in testing coffee and its potential benefits, from improving memory function to athletic performance. Some studies have found that beyond tasting good, coffee might also protect against dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, according to Harvard Health Publishing

    Having a cup of coffee before going to the gym could also amp up your performance. A study reported on by Harvard Health Publishing found that caffeine improved athletic endurance and reduced fatigue when athletes consumed between 225 mg to 600 mg of caffeine an hour before working out. While a cup of coffee might not turn you into a pro basketball star, it could at least motivate you to do a few extra crunches — or take the stairs instead of the elevator at work.

    Coffee is brewing around the clock

    Whether you’re grabbing your morning cup or stopping for a pick-me-up before the gym, 7-Eleven’s in-store coffee bars feature several blends including an exclusive, a dark, a hazelnut, a decaf, and one rotating seasonal blend, as well as the retail 7-Eleven Colombian Blend. The beans, which are roasted in Canada, are ethically sourced and harvested from South and Central America and Indonesia. Once the 100 percent Arabica beans are ground and packed, the coffee is shipped to stores within 36 hours. And with your local 7-Eleven open 24/7/365, you’re never far from a fresh and flavourful cup of coffee.  

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