I have just finished my first coffee cupping. I had an informal cupping at my local coffee shop a few weeks ago where I compared two coffees. It was not the same because I was drinking Americanos and comparing them. In a proper cupping, ground coffee is used. A particular process is followed that results in a final grade for each of the coffees that are being evaluated.
About two weeks ago, I came across a roastery called Steampunk. I like looking around coffee roaster websites so I can see what beans they offer and what philosophy guides their beans. I've got a list of different coffees I want to try that I've written by researching coffees on roaster websites. On Steampunk's website, I saw a listing for an upcoming coffee cupping session. For only 15 pounds I could participate. I'd get coffees to try. I'd be guided by a coffee professional who knows about all of the coffees. I quickly registered.
Preparing for the Cupping
At about 9:30 this morning, I began to prepare for the cupping. I set out five mugs from my cupboard on my desk. I moved all of my computing equipment away, bar my laptop. I didn't want to spill coffee over any technology. I ended up spilling a bit on my desk mat and my clothes. Perhaps in my next cupping I will wear a towel on my lap so that I don't spill what I am drinking.
The mugs that I chose were almost equal in size so I'd be able to be consistent across all of my cups. I then ground the coffee beans for the cupping. This was a difficult job. There were five coffees to ground. My wrists are still somewhat tired after grinding the coffees. It took me about fifteen minutes to grind all of the coffees. I almost gave up but I wanted the whole tasting experience. Next time, I'm going to start grinding a bit earlier. I was too close to the start of the class and I was worried I would not grind all the coffees on time. [^1]
I poured a kettle of water and moved it to my desk where I was going to cup my coffee. I readied my laptop and joined the Zoom call. I did forget spoons, a cup of water for rinsing, and a towel. I had to rush downstairs and get these pieces of equipment before I began.
The Cupping Experience
The cupping began with a short exploration of why cupping is important. Coffee cupping happens throughout the coffee trading process. Coffee is cupped on farms to evaluate the quality of a bean at origin. Importers cup coffee to make sure that the coffee they receive is consistent with what was measured on the farm. Roasters cup coffee to determine how a coffee should be roaster and what the flavor notes they can share with their customers on the packaging.
I was cupping to learn more about the taste of coffee. The five coffees I tasted were from around the world. Uganda, Peru, Columbia, Brazil, and Rwandan were all featured in the cupping. After the introduction to cupping, the instructor spoke briefly about how cupping is used at their roastery. Steampunk Coffee use cupping to decide what coffees to buy, to figure out what flavors should be present in a roast, and to measure quality.
The short introduction led in well to the brewing. It took four minutes to brew the coffees. During this time we were able to ask questions and we chatted a bit more about the roasting and cupping process. We were walked through a tool called Cropster which Steampunk Coffee uses to measure their roasts. Cropster records charts of different roasts so that a roaster can see how their coffees progress. Tracking this data helps a roaster maintain consistency across their roasts because they can see what variables they need to change at what times.
The five coffees I tried were all very different. There was one coffee, I believe it was the Ugandan, that was distinct to all of the other coffees. It tasted like pineapple and tropical fruits. I'm not sure whether I like that coffee. As it cooled down, I felt like I was having a passion fruit dessert. It was a nice coffee but it was certainly different. I had a coffee that tasted like cherry. It was the Rwandan coffee. It was delicious. I liked the nutty flavors of the Brazillian coffee.
What I'd Do Next
There was a lot going on in the session. I was liberally taking notes but I wasn't able to capture every detail. In my next cupping, I'm definitely going to take as many notes as I can. I learned so much about tasting coffee. I do want to try and taste coffees without the tasting notes in front of me, at least at the start. I felt intimidated by having five different coffees in front of me. I should have just tried to taste them and write down what I thought.
I learned from the instructor that most cupping sessions are slient, or close to silent. Tasters do not share their notes because it can influence how each participant in the cupping tastes the coffee they are drinking. I felt this way somewhat. We mostly did not discuss flavors to the end but when I heard someone say something I thought to myself that I could see a similar flavor. I liked this element of the tasting session. I don't have a vast vocabulary of flavor descriptors in my repitoire but the group as a whole had a lot to say. For a fun and friendly cupping, sharing notes was great.
I didn't follow every procedure involved with a cupping. My grind size, admittedly, may have been a bit coarser than it should have been. I tried to get my grind as close to the sample as possible. We all forgot to smell the dry grounds before we brewed the coffee. It was called a "fun and dirty" cupping for a reason. I did not attend to become a professional taster. I wanted another insight into the coffee process.
Next time I cup coffee I'd like to try working with fewer coffees. I liked the diversity among the coffees. Each coffee had something unique to offer. I've picked out three coffees that I definitely want to try again and I know one that I don't like as much. I know that I like nutty flavors in a coffee. A deep cherry is arguably the tastiest quality in a coffee that I've had. The cupping helped me build more confidence in this observation. Maybe working with three instead of five coffees would be nice. I'll definitely sign up to another cupping when I get the chance. It was a unique, fun, and pleasurable experience.
I'd recommend going to Steampunk Coffee's website if you want to learn more about them. I believe they plan on running another class so if you check back then maybe you'll be able to enroll.
Next time, I'll try not to spill as much coffee on myself!
[^1]: I had prepared my grinder the day before so that I didn't have to adjust my settings. This was recommended by Steampunk.
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