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A Master Sommelier Learns About Coffee

Assorted Nespresso capsules: each color indicates a variety of coffee (Photo: Joe Shlabotnik /Flickr)

Barrie Larvin became a Master Sommelier in 1970 and was trained and educated in all things wine:  wine service, wine selections and wine and food pairings.  Sommeliers were hired in high end hotels and restaurants to serve the clients.  Those were the days of suits and ties and nice dresses for fancy dinners.

Fast forward to today’s world in which trends and tastes are much more casual.   I am intrigued with the development of other types of “sommeliers” who inform us of the food combinations with coffee and tea.  There are tea sommeliers, coffee sommeliers and even cheese sommeliers!  Really?

By Kreegah - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9966111The rise in popularity for coffee of all kinds, begs the question – is it worth spending as much money on a coffee as a glass of wine, and what is the fair market value?  Some of us will drink a million cups of coffee in our lifetime. The investment in our palates is tremendous.  

I have to admit I have been bitten by the coffee bug.   Over the past two years of traveling in both Italy and France, we have learned that coffee is meant to be enjoyed in a leisurely manner.  In Paris, where drinking coffee is almost an art form, we like to enjoy our coffee while sitting at the outdoor cafes and watching the people socializing with their friends.  

With coffee there is the visual, the taste, the aroma and the correct time to drink it.  All are important.  In France, a nice lunch can last 2-3 hours and a good restaurant and server wants you to enjoy desserts, cheeses and coffees served in their proper order!  Don’t expect coffee with your dessert in France!  They think we Americans “hurry” through our meals.  .  .and we do.

Se détendre (relax)!   Have your cheese.  Enjoy that wonderful dessert.   Then finish it all with a nice café and maybe a ruby port, which is an every day port – you don’t need to go fancy!  You won’t be hurried through your meal to make way for another party.  

Our home exchanges in Nice and Paris both had Nespresso machines and I got hooked.  My coffee of choice is now Nespresso.  

The initial release of Nespresso to the market was 16 Grande Cru varieties.  Sound familiar?  Wine terms are now crossing over to coffee terminology.

Over the last three months Karen and I have tasted many styles of coffee and I am convinced that a good cup of coffee is just as enjoyable as a fine glass of wine in the right circumstances.  


While in Paris, Karen said she was looking forward to using our french press when we got home.  She tried it with two pots of American coffee when we returned home and has put away the french press.  We now own a Nespresso machine.  I’m a believer!
Karen – maybe?

Trying to buy Nespresso in France means a trip to a VERY upscale store.  If you have ever gone into an Apple store to purchase something or get tech assistance, you will be familiar with the experience in a Nespresso store!  You are greeted immediately upon entering the store by a young, perky and attractive person and given a bag with a logo to do your shopping. 

Assorted Nespresso capsules: each color indicates a variety of coffee (Photo: Joe Shlabotnik /Flickr)

I had researched before we went to the store so I thought I knew what I wanted to purchase.  Once you give your order to the nice salesperson, you then queue up to pay and wait for them to come from some mysterious supply room with what you have ordered.  To our surprise, what we ordered was 150 Euros worth of Nespresso.  This is one of the dangers of not speaking the local language! We now have enough Nespresso to keep us going strong and jittery for many months to come!  

I could NOT complain on the way home about the extra weight in our suitcases!  At least not without getting dirty looks from my wife.

At the moment,  I am an amateur coffee guy and find a fascinating link between our quest for the best of both wine and coffee without breaking the bank.

Starting small – I’m working on the tasting of three types of Nespresso coffees – all very different.  All are Grand Crus.

  • Kazaar is a blend of beans from Brazil and Guatemala.  The blend consists of separately  roasted Arabica from South America.  It has a high quality bitterness and creamy intensity texture.    High intensity Grand Cru blend. 
  • Volluto is a lesser intense blend from Brazil and Columbia only.   It has a much lighter roasting and the flavors of a fruity sweet dessert.  Low intensity Grand Cru. 
  • Fortissio Lungo is a rich full bodied intense coffee, from a blend of West Indian and Latin American beans.  Experienced tasters should be able to detect toasty cereal notes.  Medium intensity.

“Grande Cru”, “intense balanced” and “fruity” are all common wine terms, which have now been adopted to describe some coffees.  As I drink a few cups of this dark nectar per day, I decided it was time to research.

At the bottom of this blog are my comparison notes on basic tasting comparisons between coffee and wine, as well as a brief tasting chart for coffee and wine.

As you start your day I am sure you have thought about, planned for or partially prepared your coffee the night before.  I hope you think about your coffee and take time to enjoy it.  The aroma is the most important part.  Savor the aroma, then let the taste glide across your tongue.  What are you tasting?  How would you describe the taste compared to your favorite wine?

​Below are tasting notes I developed for both wine and coffee.  –  Interesting similiaritiesSee if you can identify any of these in your next cup of coffee.  Click to enlarge










You can read other stories by Master Sommelier Barrie Larvin HERE