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A bluffer’s guide to tasting: Winter warmers edition

Talk the talk when it comes to coffee, tequila, chocolate and dark beers

Photograph: wonnacott17

Forget hibernation – some of the best tasting things are perfectly suited to the frosty months of the year. We asked local experts to help us upskill with a cheat sheet for the top winter warmers

Winter tasting guides

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COFFEE

COFFEE

Quaff your cuppa like an expert

Winter brings coffee consumption to a whole new level, with dreary days bookended by a morning macchiato and evening Espresso Martinis. And it’s definitely worth drinking the good stuff. Mecca Coffee’s Tuli Keidar says tasting coffee is simpler than most people think. The expert way to do it – cupping – is when you pour hot water over grounds in a cup before letting them settle and cool to “around 50 degrees”, says Keidar, before having a sip. You get to leave your table manners at the door because “slurping aerates the coffee and accentuates the aromas, which play the most important role in shaping the flavour of the coffee,” says Keidar. The flavours you’re looking for – whether you’re at a cupping or sipping a pour over at your corner cafe – are “chocolate, nuts, fruity and floral notes,” says Keidar. What you don’t want are “bitter, astringent, smoky, savoury, unclean, muddy, or stale” notes. Don’t demure if you can’t drop degree-level knowledge. According to Keidar, “there’s never a need to bluff! Say the first thing that comes to your mind. If a coffee tastes like tinned pumpkin soup or smells like a bubble bath, say it! Half the fun is allowing the coffee to evoke flavour memories, and being surprised at what pops up.”

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TEQUILA

TEQUILA

Worth so much more than a shot

We know we have to pry the Margaritas from your cold, dead hands on a summer’s day, but tequila is so much more than a holiday slammer and deserves your full attention when it comes to tasting. Sip it like a south-of-the-border whiskey and “you’ll discover many complexities that most people miss out on by throwing it back,” says Charlie Lehmann from Ramblin Rascal Tavern. “That can still be fun but it you want to truly appreciate the spirit, take some time to savour the flavours present”. Lehmann recommends serving it in a Tulip glass (it looks like it sounds), swirling it and nosing the drink with your mouth partially open. Look for colour, legs as it rolls down sides of glass and hints of flavours in the aroma. Then you taste. Lehmann says to look for bright profiles in blancos (white, aged up to two months, sometimes not at all), “vegetal sweetness, agave, a bit of heat, citrus, lemon, lime and grapefruit.” With age, flavours mellow so the notes in reposado (aged two to twelve months) tequilas will be rounder and spicier. Think “hints of chocolate, light cinnamon, orange, mandarin, touches of vanilla, dried fruit and nuts,” says Lehmann. And the grandaddy of tequilas, añejo (aged more than a year) will yield “cooked agave, butterscotch, caramel, honey dew, clove and allspice.” We’ve all necked cheap tequila… and suffered the hangover to prove it. Avoid a repeat with better tequila. They’re the result of “the ingredients and methods used to produce the product,” notes Lehmann. ”When [distillers] stay true to how they should be made without too many outside influences, you are going to get a good drink”.

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CHOCOLATE

CHOCOLATE

Ditch the dairy milk for winter

Everyone from Picnic people to single-origin snobs can find common ground when it comes to chocolate tasting. Like all tasting, it’s multi-sensory. Kakawa co-owner David Tobias Ralph tells us that even your expressions play into the process. “The face gives the best feedback, so best not to pull any faces when tasting chocolate”. Resist the urge to pop a square into your mouth straightaway. “When tasting you should smell the chocolate first. Then the first bite should sit in your mouth a little to let the flavours develop. Then you can finish it and there should be a nice smooth texture to the chocolate and a pleasant after finish, but the flavour should not last too long,” says Ralph. Dark chocolate yields five to eight flavours. Ralph says to look for “earthy, bitter, sweet, vanilla, dried and fresh fruits, smokiness, sharp and sour notes.” Although milk chocolate has less depth, there are still a few flavours beyond the initial smack of sweetness. With the milky stuff, Ralph recommends would-be tasters should look for “caramel,vanilla, malt and light cheese notes.” The telltale signs of a bad bar might not be what you think. “Poor quality chocolate has a rough texture in the mouth and the flavour will linger on after finishing,” says Ralph.

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DARK ALES

DARK ALES

Roasty brews for winter nights

Light, sessionable summer beers are all about hops, but the heftier stouts and porters we gravitate to in winter are a different breed. Aromas and flavours you’ll find in a good stout and other brooding beers are “roasted malts, dark chocolate, coffee, licorice, caramel and hints of molasses,” says Charlie Lehmann, adding that you should “look for really long creamy finishes on the palate.” That said, all the experts we spoke to stress that there are no right or wrong answers when tasting something. “If you taste raspberries in your stout and the bottle hasn't told you that it’s a raspberry stout then that is ok. That is what your palate is picking up…” says Lehmann. To properly taste a dark beer, how you manipulate the brew is as important as what’s in the bottle. “Two thirds of flavour is sight and smell,” says Batch brewery co-founder Chris Sidwa, so “a good pour will set the stage for a tasty drinking experience.” Use a glass and serve it at “around 10 degrees,” adds Sidwa. “Aim straight to the bottom of the glass at first to open the beer up and create some foam, then pour down the side targeting about two fingers of foam…. the gas coming out of solution and building that foam carries with it the aroma of the beer, and the foam itself is a sign of a well-made beer”. How do you know if you’re drinking a superb stout? Easy. “A perfectly balanced dark beer should be smooth – free of any roast harshness – and restrained – not overly filling,” says Sidwa. Most importantly it should “leave the drinker ready for a second pint.”

Put your palate to the test