Zest’s Mandy DelVecchio on how to explain the intricacies of specialty coffee flavour notes to an untrained palate.
At Zest, we’ve been exploring the specialty coffee lexicon for years. Our mission as roasters has been to properly translate what exactly flavour means to the people who still don’t get it.
For most of us in the coffee industry, the third wave has granted us the well-developed skill (and obsession) of tasting coffee. Cupping sessions for us are purpose-driven. We are savvy to the flavour wheel. We can pick tropical fruit notes and delicate floral, chocolate, and sticky pineapple-jam flavours with a single sip. But, for the everyday drinker, understanding flavour comes with a very different learning curve.
If we don’t change the way we educate consumers about flavour, the specialty industry may struggle to sustain itself. Without greater awareness and appreciation of differentiation from cup to cup, the value, even the existence of these more obscure and delicious flavours, won’t translate to consumers. That’s where the buck stops.
Like many of our industry peers, at Zest, we’ve made significant effort to share the wonder of specialty coffee with those outside the fold with our developed knowledge and language of flavour. We go to great lengths to associate flavour traits with accessible sensory memories in the every day drinker.
You may remember our insanely busy dessert bar at MICE2017? We created an espresso bar that served up desserts to accompany our top three espresso blends. This wasn’t just for sweetening up the public. The desserts themselves were carefully curated by our creative team with individual elements specific to the major tasting notes in each of the three coffees.
For instance, our African Mailman blend (El Salvador Pacamara/Ethiopian Guji) boasted flavour notes of dark berries, chocolate pudding, cream, and maple syrup, so that was on the plate. If the drinker couldn’t taste the flavour notes in the coffee alone, they had an accessible reference to the exact flavours in front of them. Sure, it fell short for some and we don’t blame them – free lattes and cakes are exciting enough. But even for the ones that didn’t get it on the day, at least now they had a reference to file away.
Around that same time we did a photoshoot for our blend cards that used the very same concept. We smashed the flavours together in a Pro Hart-inspired collage. The zest of a lime curled around plump blueberries with a bed of sticky mango, holding shards of musk. That was presented in the photo for our Composition VII blend (Ethiopia/Kenya), and it worked. The flavour became so obvious it lifted the whole experience.
Food works. It’s a great reference. But we all know there’s more to it than that. Coffee is a tapestry of knowledge. It’s textural. Origin, terrain, and processing all make up the flavour experience.
With a recent review of Zest’s brand visuals, we set out to develop this idea a bit further, to entice the untrained palate to dive in a little deeper. We wanted to create a journey for the eye and pull drinkers further into the tapestry. To do that, we recruited the design team from Melbourne creative studio Pop&Pac, and they nailed the brief. It developed a similar concept to our dessert smash photography, but with a more complex design.
Our Flavour Terrains motifs are displayed on our new packaging, with the aim to offer the same purpose for our drinkers as the dessert bar and the photography did – to connect strong visuals to flavour and help translate the fascination. But of course, when you have a team of creative people as talented as Pop&Pac, plus months of development behind your brand story, the concept becomes something else entirely.
We wanted our customers to understand that there’s more to coffee flavour than meets the eye. To do that, we needed to create something visually and texturally appealing that’s slightly recognisable, yet also hints a texture of curiosity. The result is a wonderful fusion of topography, colour, texture, and a hint of the unknown.
Our mission, as a roaster, a company, and a creative team, is to transport our customers on that journey of flavour, from seed to cup. Our new packaging concept, Flavour Terrains, is a creative communication of the personality and unique flavour profile of each coffee we feature at Zest – an interpretation we believe is the perfect entry point for that journey.
This article appears in the April 2019 edition of BeanScene Magazine. Subscribe HERE.