Saturday, April 19, 2014

Coffee Cupping

Rob and I were at this coffee cupping for an introduction into the systematic approach of learning how to identify and articulate the profile of different kinds of coffee. With some basic knowledge, even a novice can provide an educated guess about the continent of origin.

At a commercial coffee cupping, buyers taste 20 offerings or more, each of their purchasing decisions worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the potential to impact price listings on the commodities market.

We were at Merchants of Green, where we've been buying our beans since Christmas, when I signed Rob up as a member and gave him a home roaster. Now we taste different beans from exotic locales -  Ethiopia, Columbia, Indonesia - and each is very distinct from the other. But we don't sit down and compare them against each other at the same sitting.

Tonight we would taste three different cups, each a medium roast, served at the same temperature. The grounds were right in the mugs, with hot water poured directly on top. After four minutes or so, a nice coffee crust rose to the top, trapping the gas just underneath. A little nudge of the spoon would release the scent, and we'd have a second or two to try to identify the aroma before slurping on the spoon to try to identify exactly where the coffee was hitting the tongue, how did it taste, and how long did that taste stay with you? 
Derek, who led the cupping, compared the African beans to white wine and the Indonesian to red, a very useful analogy. Turns out that beans from Africa tend to be more acidic, with less body, while those from Indonesia tend to be less acidic, but have more body and a taste that sustains long after the sip.

What happens if you want the nice, bright bite of acidity but you want it with more body, and a longer finish? That's when you get one of the most popular blends in the world, Mocha (from Africa) and Java (from Indonesia).

A darker roast brings out more body and reduces acidity.
We tasted an Ethiopian and Sumatran. The Ethiopian aroma hit my nose with fruity and floral notes, but then I couldn't identify a taste that was on the tip of my tongue. Blueberry! The best beans from that part of the world often have a hint of this fruit. The Sumatran was definitely earthier. As the coffee cooled different flavours emerged in the Ethiopian, but the Sumatran stayed fairly consistent.

The third and last cup was Guatemalan. It had the mellow flavours characteristic of beans from Central America, with medium acidity, nice body, and "just right" for most tastes.

So many variables affect the way your coffee will taste. Country of origin. Elevation. Hand picked vs. mechanical process. How it is cured. How it is roasted. How long ago it was roasted. How it is brewed. The amount of grounds, and how fine. The temperature at which it is served. What kind of cup are you drinking from....

And if you are drinking consciously, how is your choice impacting the environment? The local economy? The birds?

I can see how the quest for a 'perfect' cup will be never ending.


Dick Grannan said...

I guess the local coffee shop no longer counts for taste and quality! Instant anyone!!!
Coffee rubrics are getting a lot like wine customs!

Carô said...

It never ceases to amaze me how you take the time to smell the roses (or should I say coffee en ce cas!). Caroline