Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Coffee cupping for beginners..

Last Friday, Joe and I, and the new intern, Ben, began cupping coffees together around 10am. We are going to make this a weekly habit if possible, and Ben and I are going to post some of our tasting notes to the blog. Please keep in mind that we're new at this, so we'll get better at describing what we're learning as we go...

The process of cupping coffee is a technique used to evaluate the aroma and flavor profile of coffees. It also is a great way to taste differences in different coffees by trying them side by side. Subtle nuances in each coffee, that might not be noticed or remembered if you waited a few days to try against a different coffee and compare them, are more easily recognized during a cupping. You can cup just to learn about new or different coffees, or you can use it as a tool to detect defects in the coffee, or to help in the creation of new blends of two or more coffees.

The first thing you do in a coffee cupping is grind a small amount of each coffee and put them into a small glass. You usually want a few glasses with each coffee in it, in case you get one cup of grinds that has bad beans in it (from being burnt or just defective). We chose to cup 4 coffees on Friday, our Organic Mexico, Organic Nicaragua, Organic Guatemala and Organic Colombia Reserva. You can see in this picture the 3 glasses of each of the 4 coffees.

We first smelled the coffee grinds in each glass. This is the "fragrance" of the coffee. I couldn't tell too much of a difference with most of them, although I thought the Guatemala smelled a bit more flowery. The next step was to boil water and fill each cup up 1/2 way, and smell them all again. By the way, each cupper smells all 3 of each coffee, as the quality control I mentioned above in case one of the cups contains defective beans. The fragrance is much more pronounced after adding the water, and even beginners like me can start noticing large differences.

The next step is to fill the cups up with water and let them sit for a minute or two. The coffee hardens a bit at the top of the cup, forming a "crust" of part coffee part water. You then "break the crust" with a spoon, holding your nose right above the spoon and cup, and take a big whiff. This allows you to taste the aroma of the coffee. It is pretty potent compared with the previous smells you've gotten up until then.

The final part of the cupping is tasting for flavor. Here you place some of each coffee in the spoon and slurp it into your mouth, attempting to get the coffee to hit every taste bud on your tongue. This should allow you to detect all sorts of different qualities that the coffees possess, the most important being taste, acidity, body and aftertaste. Joe gave us up a flavor profile wheel for the occasion since Ben and I are inexperienced at this and were having trouble identifying the flavors that were coming through. We took notes of most of this, although mine at first were more about the process than the actual profiles of the coffees. In the end, I did learn a LOT about what kind of coffees I like and dislike.

Here are my notes from the final flavor cupping:

Organic Mexico:
Harsh, dirty first taste. Full body, medium acidity and smooth aftertaste (compared with the original, harsh taste).

Organic Nicaragua:
Clean taste. Light/medium body, chocolatey aftertaste.

Organic Guatemala:
Flowery taste, light body, high acid, winey aftertaste.

Organic Colombia Reserva:Clean, balanced flavor, medium body. Medium acidity with a sweet finish.

No surprise that the Colombia Reserva was my favorite here. The fact that I did not enjoy the Guatemala at all (keep in mind that I DO like this coffee when brewed normally) was a surprise, as was the harshness of the first sip of Mexico, which is another one of my favorite coffees. I found from this tasting that I enjoy medium to full-bodied coffees, and tend to want more from a low-bodied brew.

Overall, this was a really informative process. I'll be taking better notes next time, as I won't be so wrapped up in the actual cupping process, and hope to pass on some good info to you the reader!


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