What to Expect at This Week’s Sensory Summit

Brand-new information on coffee science, unique flavor experiences, and much more are in store for attendees of the Sensory Summit’s first virtual event.


Cover photo by Patrick Switzer courtesy of the Specialty Coffee Association

The Sensory Summit has a reputation in the specialty-coffee world for bringing together sensory professionals for exciting events featuring talks by researchers and academics paired with hands-on sensory experiences. 

The event, presented by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) in partnership with the Coffee Roasters Guild, returns for its next installment this week, November 12-13. While the event is sold out, we’re looking at what attendees can expect from this year’s Sensory Summit—the first to take place during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This week’s Sensory Summit will be the first virtual incarnation of the mainstay event. Photo courtesy of the Specialty Coffee Association.

As one can expect from that last factoid, this is the first virtual Sensory Summit. Usually hosted at the University of California, Davis, the Summit this year will reach attendees on their computers. Peter Giuliano, chief research officer for the Specialty Coffee Association, says the organization gained vital experience hosting virtual events this summer with their Expo Weekend and Re:co Symposium programs. The latter event included virtual sensory experiences that paved the way for SCA to pursue a fully virtual Sensory Summit. “That gave us the confidence to try for a much more ambitious goal—a full-on sensory program for experienced coffee tasters,” Peter says. 

Registered attendees have received a Sensory Kit, a box full of “coffee samples, coffee preparation tools, sensory references, and other aromatic and tasting experiences,” according to the Sensory Summit website. Participants will use the kits to bring each presentation to life, engaging in the sensory aspects of presenters’ content. Peter says the presentations will be delivered in the form of “good-quality video talks (as opposed to webinar-type lectures). Our speakers proved immensely helpful and creative in helping us develop great content.”

Attendees have received a Sensory Kit that will allow them to conduct the sensory aspects of the event from afar. Photo by Patrick Switzer courtesy of the Specialty Coffee Association

These presentations will include a look at bitterness in coffee from Dr. Sara Marquart of Zurich University of Applied Sciences; an exploration of “pure” coffee and processing from the SCA’s Dr. Mario Fernandez; and a session on using science to change how we brew coffee from UC Davis’ Dr. Bill Ristenpart. Peter says another highlight of the event’s content will be the presentation from Dr. Norbert Wilson of Duke University—the first time Sensory Summit has featured an economist—who will discuss the economic impacts of sensory attributes. 

One compelling aspect of the Sensory Summit going virtual for the first time is its ability to reach more people, as the event shipped sensory kits to attendees in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Perhaps as a result of this, the makeup of attendees looks a bit different than for previous events. “Over 80% of Sensory Summit 2020 registrants are attending for the first time,” Peter says. “That’s huge! This suggests that the virtual format has made the event much more accessible to people. And … some of that includes easier attendance for attendees outside the U.S.” Also helping to change the makeup of attendees was a scholarship program supported by Pacific Foods, which awarded 25 fully funded Sensory Summit registrations to those who applied in October. 

Sensory Summit attendees can expect a range of cutting-edge sensory content. Photo courtesy of the Specialty Coffee Association.

With the event now days away, Peter says attendees can expect some never-before-seen information that will provide plenty of sensory excitement. “There’s an exciting wave of coffee science happening right now, and we’re excited to capture it,” he says. “We’ve got a very diverse program this year, including brand-new sensory research, and advanced sensory training. We really focus on new information at Sensory Summit, so it’s really all very cutting-edge and new.”

For more on the event, head to the Sensory Summit’s website.

About Chris Ryan 261 Articles
Chris Ryan (he/him) is Barista Magazine's online copy editor and a freelance writer and editor with a background in the specialty coffee industry. He has been content director of Sustainable Harvest and the editor of Fresh Cup Magazine.