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Coffee taste test...

~Friday~  On Tuesday, I qualified for today's taste test at the NC State Sensory Service Center, and after indicating my top 3 choices for time and date, I was assigned today at 10:40.

If you want to get on their list to qualify for future taste tests—and get paid for them!—register at Become a Taster.

This is not my first time at the taste-testing rodeo by any stretch of the imagination. I've blogged about several of them in the past: bread, bacon, milk, hamburger patties, oven-roasted turkey, and a 3-part (over 3 days) sour cream taste test.

Ha. Just looked back at that sour cream one, and I'd forgotten about having to wear a mask and nose clip for one part of it!

Me with the blindfold and the nose clip on


Back to today's coffee-tasting test...

As has been the case in the past, I over-think these things with too much consideration of the language used in the question, worrying that's it not clear and concise enough to guarantee responses that will lead to reliable data from which to draw conclusions. I know, "Not my circus. Not my monkeys. Not my circus. Not my monkeys. Not my circus. Not my monkeys."



When I checked in, the proctor said to me, "In the survey you filled out to qualify for today's test, you indicated that you drink your coffee black, so please do that today."

I took a seat and logged in on the iPad, brought up the first screen, and asked for coffee sample 382, the first of 3 coffees I'd taste in the next 20 minutes, before collecting my $20 Target gift card.



Here's what the first one looked like when it arrived.

Sample sample




Here is the first page of the questionnaire:

Ready for sample


The problem I have (and you know I have at least one) with these two questions is that having only read the first question, I based my answer solely on the color, since that's what came to mind when I read "appearance."

So, of course I'm taken aback when I get to the second question and it asks me what I think of the color. After answering it the same way I orginally answered the first question, I go back to the first one, and I think, "Hmmm. What else could they mean by 'appearance' other than the color? Do they mean the choice of a Styrofoam cup to serve it in? Or the amount they've poured in said cup? Or maybe I'm supposed to indicate how I feel about those little bubbles around the edge of the coffee against said cup?"

Why not define what they mean by appearance so that everyone is using the same criteria to answer the question? Just a thought.



After tapping "Next," this screen comes up, which immediately elicits questions for me:

Add-ins


Of course, I'm totally not expecting this screen because of what the proctor said to me when she checked me in. My first thought is, "Oh, is it okay to put in additives now that I've answered those first two questions? Or am I supposed to ignore this screen (i.e., check "None"), because I said I drink it black?"

This seems like an easy thing to fix to preclude the "noise" that just went through my head, and probably will go through many of the testers' heads during the course of this testing. Change the question to something like, "If you didn't indicate you drink your coffee black, from the provided additives, What if any, did you add to your coffee?" Just a thought.



I have a couple of problems with these questions:

Mouthfeel


First of all, I'm pretty sure "mouthfeel" isn't a real word. And although I get that it's easy to deduce what it means, I would argue that the test administrators should provide a definition of the word to ensure that everyone is interpreting it the same way.

As for the bitterness questions, I find it unnerving that both questions are the exact same, with only the choices of answers differing between them.

That aside, this is what goes through my mind trying to answer that first one:

  • "Okay, I don't think it's bitter, so how should I answer this?"

  • "If I like bitter coffee, and this tastes bitter, then do I select one of the 'Like..' options? Does that make sense?"

  • "Or if I don't like bitter coffee, and this tastes bitter, then do I select one of the 'Dislike..' options? Does that make sense?"

  • "Okay, I don't like bitter coffee, and this doesn't taste bitter, so how do I indicate that? Do I 'Like' it?

  • "I'm going to select, 'Neither like nor dislike,' but I'm not sure that that indicates how I actually feel about the nonexistent bitterness."



There were only a few other questions, about which I don't have any complaints. I know, right??? One of them was, "Did you notice any aftertaste after drinking this coffee?"



You get 30 seconds between samples to "clear your palate," for which water and a saltine cracker is provided, along with a timer.

Timer

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