When you first start learning to cup – the worldwide method used for coffee tasting – much of your time is spent listening to other people.
Your notes that say things like “warm, nutty, strong” are soon filled in with specifics from more experienced tasters “hazelnut, cacao, velvety body” and you spend much of your time nodding along and jotting things down, trying to learn. Keep a low profile. But the day someone said that they had smelled “spearmint” I swivelled around toward the speaker so sharply my head nearly parted company with my neck. I was sure they were pulling my leg.
I soon discovered that they were entirely in earnest. Spearmint in coffee! Not just herbal, not minty, not peppermint, but specifically spearmint. Something I had only ever experienced as toothpaste and chewing gum, or more distantly in childhood as my least favourite type of LifeSaver. How on earth did they get that?
The answer, as it almost invariably is with these things, is a mixture of talent and practice.