Over the weekend I found myself with an awful head cold, every bit as severe as it proved — thankfully — short-lived. Now a cold most any time is an inconvenience. This time it was distressing. The coffee delivery man had just left some excellent beans on my front porch, and doggone it, I was really looking forward to giving them a taste. And the simple truth was I couldn’t taste a thing. Zero, Zilch. Nada.

So I brewed some coffee anyway.

I brewed a “regions of the coffee world” sampler, really: Centrals, Indos, a winey African or two. Even a couple of real stinker coffees that I forgot to throw away. And just for kicks and grins, I set up a blind tasting –six coffees, labeled A through F — so I wouldn’t know what was in each cup, but I could look each up later.

I couldn’t smell anything. Not a thing! No fragrance of just-ground coffee. No aroma of brewing coffee… nothing. I couldn’t discern flavors: no berry or cherry, no raisin or grape or plum… not even any of the farmyard funk in a Sumatra that I’d dissed just a day or two prior.

Just when I was about to give up entirely I realized that, while I couldn’t smell and I couldn’t taste, there were still sensations to be found. So I settled myself a little bit and focused on what was there…

Acidity. That little tingle on the tongue and soft palate — which on any other day would probably be zinging with at least some of the coffees I was tasting — was still present, if something of an echo of its usual self. And so by focusing on acidity alone I separated higher acid coffees from their lower acid counterparts.

Body. The sensation of weight or movement in a brew — that was pretty easily determined, too. There were a few chewy coffees in the bunch, and some that were quite light… and so within the groups of high acid and low acid coffees I further arranged them by their apparent weight.

Sweet & Sour. While the coffee was hot I was pretty much oblivious to any sensation of sweetness, but as the coffee cooled I was able to note some differences. And I arranged the cups again.

In the end my continuum (and the revealed coffees) looked something like this:

acidy acidy mildly acidy mildly acidy low acid low acid
light light medium medium medium heavy
sweet sour sweet sour sweet sour
rwanda kenya nicaragua colombia mexico sumatra

Now while I happen to think the results track pretty darn well — with the particular coffees that were on the table, anyway — I won’t be holding my nose during my next cupping session. Unless, of course, that pesky flavor is obfuscating something else.

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