What to Expect from the Two Upcoming Sensory Summits

The Coffee Roasters Guild is expanding its sensory events, with the first two 2020 incarnations taking place in Davis, Calif., this month and Zurich, Switzerland, in February.


Photos courtesy of Specialty Coffee Association and Coffee Roasters Guild

Each winter, the Coffee Roasters Guild brings together coffee professionals in Davis, Calif., for Sensory Summit, a unique conference designed to educate and inspire attendees about the breadth of sensory experiences in coffee and beyond.

This year, the Sensory Summit is broadening its scope, with the first two events of 2020 taking place days apart in different parts of the world. The first event will happen January 30-February 1 in the venue that has hosted four previous Sensory Summits: the Sensory Theater inside the Robert Mondavi Institute at the University of California, Davis. Days later, European coffee professionals will get their own Sensory Summit when the event comes to Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) on February 10-11.

Discovering new sensory experiences through tasting coffee and other items is an important element of Sensory Summit.

Jen Apodaca, vice chair of the Coffee Roasters Guild, says that while UC Davis is an incredible host for the Sensory Summit, its location in the Western U.S. limits the amount of people the global event can reach. “With the unification of not just the SCA, but of the Guilds as well, the Leadership Council of the Roasters Guild takes being a global entity seriously,” Jen says. “We have a lot of interest to have these conversations all over the world.”

Jen says the first offshoot of Sensory Summit was the Sensory Forum—which has been held in both Korea and Taiwan in the last two years—and the expansion is continuing in 2020. “Bringing Sensory Summit to Europe, where we have a huge support network, was an easy decision to make,” she says. “Now we are looking at bringing more events to other parts of the world where we have little presence, like Africa, Central America, and Australia.”

The first two Sensory Summit events of 2020 will each cover similar ground, with general themes including working sensory science techniques into coffee tasting; using lessons from food science, beer, and wine in the sensory experience of specialty coffee; and exploring current studies and reports about coffee extraction and more.

Attendees take in the curriculum of the 2019 Sensory Summit in Davis, Calif.

However, many of the sessions and speakers will vary between the two Summits. At the first event, in Davis, highlights will include a session looking at the effect of quakers on the taste and aroma of specialty coffees, presented by Mariane Rabelo of the Federal University of Lavras; an exploration of titratable acidity in coffee from UC Davis’ Mackenzie Batali, William Ristenpart, and Sara Yeager; and a deep dive into varietal honey—including an introduction to the UC Davis Honey Flavor and Aroma Wheel—led by Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.

Peter Giuliano (left) of the SCA and Hanna Neuschwander of World Coffee Research lead a session during the 2019 Sensory Summit.

The host venue of UC Davis is home to the Coffee Center, a 6,000-square-foot roastery and lab. The Center, which has been supported by coffee companies including Peet’sLa Marzocco, and Wilbur Curtis, is still in development and, when completed, aims to provide a place for world-leading scientific research on coffee.

At the Zurich event, sessions will include a close look at measuring coffee freshness from ZHAW Professor Chahan Yeretzian and Scientific Associate Samo Smrke; breaking down the science behind the SCA Flavor Wheel with Ida Steen of Copenhagen University; and an interactive workshop on the multi-sensory perception of flavor led by Qian Janice Wang, an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science at Aarhus University.

Attendees enjoy coffee and conversation during a break during the 2019 Sensory Summit.

Head here for more information on the Davis Sensory Summit January 30-February 1, and details on the Zurich Sensory Summit on February 10-11 can be found here.

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.