Meet the Woman Who Dictates the Taste of Coffee Tracy May Adair holds the grand title of master coffee cupper for Folgers. It's her job to make sure that each of the 85 million cups of Folgers that Americans drink every day taste exactly the same.
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Meet the Woman Who Dictates the Taste of Coffee

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Meet the Woman Who Dictates the Taste of Coffee

Meet the Woman Who Dictates the Taste of Coffee

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This next story is for those of us who prefer coffee to Gatorade. On Wednesdays we talk about the workplace, and today a look at the job that keeps your coffee tasting the same each morning.

Tracy May Adair is a professional coffee taster, although she prefers to be called a slurper.

NPR's Jenny Gold has this profile.

(Soundbite of slurping)

JENNY GOLD: You probably don't hear those sounds in the office, but Tracy May Adair makes those slurps...

(Soundbite of slurping)

GOLD: ...every time she goes to work in a Cincinnati tasting lab. She holds the grand title of master coffee cupper at Folgers Coffee. Her job is to make sure that every cup of Folgers tastes exactly the same. That's a big responsibility.

Americans drink 85 million cups of Folgers a day.

Ms. TRACY MAY ADAIR (Coffee Taster): This has still got some of the sort of syrupy, caramelly notes that I would expect, but it's just overall less intense.

Mr. JIM FELNER (Coffee Taster): Right.

Ms. ADAIR: And weaker.

GOLD: Adair couldn't possibly taste every shipment of coffee herself, so she has help.

Mr. FELNER: I think it's excellent coffee. It has a lot of acidity, a lot of (unintelligible) good body, no...

Ms. ADAIR: It's a little bit grassy still. But I think that's okay...

GOLD: Adair has carefully trained her team of nine tasters, including Jim Felner. They taste and experience coffee exactly the same way she does - sort of like tasting clones. They each sample up to 400 cups a day. The process of prepping the beans for sampling has to be almost perfect; that way the only thing that changes are the beans themselves.

(Soundbite of coffee beans)

GOLD: Each sample is carefully weighed - the bean's size...

(Soundbite of coffee beans)

GOLD: ...roasted...

(Soundbite of roasting)

GOLD: ...ground...

(Soundbite of grinding)

GOLD: ...and brewed.

(Soundbite of brewing)

GOLD: Then the tasters dip their spoons into the coffee samples and slurp.

(Soundbite of slurping)

Ms. ADAIR: Someone here described slurping as the same as the act of sucking one strand of spaghetti into your mouth. If you ever did that as a kid, then you know what slurping is.

(Soundbite of slurping)

GOLD: They spit the mouthful into a Styrofoam cup. They don't want to get too much of a buzz.

Ms. ADAIR: Most of your sense of taste is your sense of smell anyways, so all you're really doing when you're tasting is smelling inside - from the inside of your nose.

GOLD: All of the tasters have their own distinct slurps.

(Soundbite of slurping)

Ms. ADAIR: My slurp is usually described as a very high-pitched, Brazilian-style slurp, which is something that you - it is true that I hear much more of the high-pitched...

Mr. FELNER: Right.

Ms. ADAIR: ...louder slurping when I'm in Brazil.

Mr. FELNER: Right. Mine definitely has less of that high tone than Tracy May's does. I'm a - I'm a medium-tone slurper, I think.

Ms. ADAIR: You have a short slurp. Some people have a really long drawn out slurp, but yours is a little shorter.

Mr. FELNER: Slurp envy.

Ms. ADAIR: Slurp envy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLD: Adair's Brazilian slurp is clearly the loudest.

Ms. ADAIR: Well, when I was trained I was told if I couldn't be heard down the hall and around the corner, I wasn't doing it right.

GOLD: I didn't have time to be formally trained, but I decided to give tasting a shot.


Mr. FELNER: Do you taste the difference?

GOLD: Uh-huh.

Mr. FELNER: That would be what we were calling burlap.

GOLD: Mmm.

Ms. ADAIR: That's the baggy flavor.

GOLD: Mmm.

Ms. ADAIR: Yuck.

Mr. FELNER: We would say this is...

Ms. ADAIR: Which is why we don't like this.

GOLD: Right. That one's not so good.

Ms. ADAIR: That's not so good, no.

GOLD: But I don't have a vocabulary to describe it. I would never have said burlap.

Mr. FELNER: But you would if you've cupped to three or four or five times...

Ms. ADAIR: But the next time you taste that, if you ever did, you would know and say, okay, we'll call that baggy or burlap.

Mr. FELNER: Hmm.

Ms. ADAIR: It's the same as learning a color.

GOLD: I failed my first time, but Adair and her team have years of experience, millions of cups of coffee, and enough caffeine to last a lifetime.

Ms. ADAIR: Pretty much what your mother tells you not to do at the dinner table. Don't slurp, don't spit, don't drool. Sometimes we dribble a little. It can be messy. It's not very ladylike. That is true.

GOLD: And she makes no apologies about that.

Jenny Gold, NPR News.

INSKEEP: And if you want to taste your coffee the way the masters do, get a quick course at

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