I absolutely loved my first coffee cupping session a few weekends ago. I’ve had a relationship with coffee since I was a teen. And when I say relationship, I mean that we’ve always had that connection in some way. First it was the Saturday morning Nescafé (shock horror – instant!) with heaping teaspoons of sugar. In college, I drank percolated coffee from grocery stores, diners, even in my dorm room where it would sit for hours, warming on the hot plate. Again, I added heaping teaspoons of sugar and cream and would drink it no matter how long it had sat in the machine. My first few years in Sydney, I drank lattes, hopefully with flavoured syrup (hazelnut, my favourite).
One day, at a cousin’s place, I was introduced to “real” espresso and my life was forever changed. I remember their little stove-top espresso maker and how it bubbled up this dark elixer with so much flavour and character that I could never again think of instant coffee as coffee. I’m going to skip ahead now to our recent coffee cupping session with Perk Coffee. This is only because more needs to be said about my relationship with coffee. And I will be writing more.
What is coffee cupping?
Coffee cupping is the term that industry professionals use when tasting and rating coffee. While I have been an ongoing and paying subscriber of Perk Coffee for almost a year, actually joining a cupping session only deepened my appreciation for fresh roasted coffee. This will extend to my coffee drinking at home and at the specialty cafés that I love so much.
I’m pretty much a novice at home brewing coffee. It all seems to get too scientific and technical for me but I really enjoyed finding out more about my long-term lover, coffee. And now I think I will want to get to know more about the process of brewing at home. I’ll share this with you as I go along with my Novice Guides to Home Brewing coming soon.
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What happens at a coffee cupping?
Coffee cupping is a communal affair where coffee is brewed in the same cup or cups that everyone tastes from. Coffee beans/grains are measured by weight as is the amount and temperature of water. This is to ensure consistency of flavour so the most accurate scores can be given.
In a “pro” set up, there may be over 20 coffees for tasting and ratings can go up to 100 using various rating criteria. The higher the rating, the better the coffee.
At our cupping the beans were carefully weighed before grinding and they were only ground immediately before we started to smell and taste them.
How do you cup coffee?
Firstly, you smell the dry coffee grounds in a glass. This is referred to as fragrance or the smell before water is added to the grounds. Hot water must be temperature controlled so it doesn’t burn the coffee and once it comes to the right temperature, it is simply poured over the grounds in the glass using the correct prescribed amount of coffee to liquid ratio. At our cupping it was 12g of coffee to about 200ml of water. Then you wait. For us it was a four minute wait for the water to extract the coffee flavours.
The second step of the cupping process is called breaking the crust. Crust refers to the layer of coffee grains that float to the top of the glass. To break it, you take a spoon and quickly push back the grains to reveal the liquid beneath. At the same time, you inhale deeply, taking in the aroma of the coffee. Aroma refers to the smell of the coffee after hot water is added whereas fragrance is the smell before water is added, i.e. dry grounds or beans.
The last step of the cupping process involves tasting the coffee. Each person takes a clean soup spoon and scoops up a bit of coffee. They then slurp the liquid into the backs of their mouths so that the full effect of the coffee can be taken in. This tasting part of a cupping actually encompasses taste and touch (or mouthfeel) that the coffee has on your palate. There was plenty of noisy slurping going on, all a part of the experience.
The results of our coffee cupping
We all cupped three different Perk Coffee beans, Timo, Chachoeira and Aramo, all specially selected by Paul, founder and coffee expert. The beans were roasted less than four days prior to our cupping session and selected based on:
- Origin or country they were grown in
- Process – the method they use to transform newly harvested coffee cherries into the green beans that end up being roasted
- Elevation at which it was grown.
Paul spent over 10 years as a grain farmer in Africa so he knows first-hand how growing conditions can affect the flavours in a coffee. Read the story about his passion for coffee. It was also interesting for me to find out that different regions will usually produce coffees of similar characteristics. Asia is known for earthy, vegetal and herby flavours, Africa for the fruity varietals and South America for chocolatey and nutty characteristics.
Our coffee cupping proved that the type of coffee you love to drink is probably not what everyone likes to drink… The flavours that you enjoy in a coffee will be subjective. While some loved Aramo the best, many others preferred Timo. Others deeply hated the flavour notes of the same coffee that other people absolutely adored! I think it would be safe to say that in order to fully appreciate the flavour of coffee and figure out what you like, you will need to try a few and see.
Read on for comments on the three coffees we tasted with Perk Coffee. Perhaps it can help you decide which ones to order when you subscribe. A note on Perk Coffee. They are a subscription coffee service that delivers freshly roasted beans to your door. Your beans will never be roasted more than a week before delivery and you can cancel, suspend or revise your order at any time with no penalty. I love the convenience and opportunity to try so many different coffees because their beans continually change based on seasonality (the different coffee harvest seasons around the world).
|Comments by tasters:||Fragrance: cocoa powder and spice, earthy, smokey and strong
Aroma: chocolate, grassy, floral and spicy
Taste: earthy, herbal with some spice, funky, sandy, fruity, coriander and tomato
Mouthfeel: Tea-like, silky and syrupy
“Coffee for the weekend, evening or a night drink”
I found Timo’s fragrance to be chocolatey and dark which turned into a sweet, floral aroma once the water was added. On tasting, I found it to be strong, slightly acidic but rounding out to a smooth and soft mouthfeel. I like to describe flavours in terms of emotions so Timo would be dark and brooding, perfect for a rainy day or when you’re in a bad mood.
|Elevation:||1,100 – 1,500m|
|Comments by tasters:||Fragrance: chocolate, nuts, roasted cereal notes with a very light grassy smell
Aroma: hazelnut and grainy, not very strong
Taste: Nutty, smoky, merlot, savoury and woody
Mouthfeel: creamy, light, smooth and balanced
“Not very distinctive but easy to drink. For the daily drinker.”
Cachoeira for me was the most ordinary of the coffees we tasted. Its fragrance was smokey and nutty but had a very light aroma. The taste was of coffee, plain and simple but it had a very smooth mouthfeel. This would be the drink for the unadventerous as it had every characteristic of a good, balanced coffee but no stand out features that could offend.
|Comments by tasters:||General comments
Fragrance: citrus, tamarind, nutty with floral and blueberry notes, slight vanilla overtones
Aroma: Tropical fruit, flowery but light, spicy and rounded
Taste: Berries, grape, tamarind and heavy chocolate, vanilla and dessert-like (think of tiramisu)
Mouthfeel: Multi-layered, juicy and delicate but smooth, rich and creamy
“This will be my next order”
I’ve been in love with Aramo since it arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago. Strangely because I am not a fan of highly acidic coffees but Aramo has a very strong, sour start on the palate but the finish is just oh so smooth with a gorgeous aftertaste. For me, the fragrance is of berries and jam while the aroma is fruity. It tastes very special and distinctively sweet.
Now for a quick comment on coffee and beans from popular, global chain coffee establishments. I will still drink coffee there but at our tasting, we were offered a chance to cup one of their beans in comparision. The results were amazing. They smelt of ash, smoke and tasted deeply burnt and one dimensional. This is because in order to achieve consistency across their various outlets, the green beans can sit in a warehouse for years before being actually being roasted. When they are finally roasted, they are usually done very dark. Whether you like this or not is up to your own palate. Like I said, I still enjoy my odd cup of coffee from these places but I truly love the deeper variation of flavours that can come from fresh roasted beans.
If you’d like to join us for a coffee cupping, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and use the subject line Coffee Cupping so we can organise another one with Perk Coffee just for our readers.
Images kindly provided by Perk Coffee. Please note that we pay for our coffee subscription and were not paid or offered any money to conduct this tasting. Vanilla Beige readers were given the opportunity to attend this tasting along with current Perk Coffee subscribers. Comments/notes by tasters are their own and provided with approval by the panel of tasters.