If you look up ‘coffee cupping’ you’ll find it’s just a fancy way of saying ‘coffee tasting’ and if you’ve done wine tasting, it’s really quite similar.
When Providero Fine Teas and Coffees decided to host an evening of coffee cupping in their Llandudno coffee house, which happens to be 5 minutes from my front door – why would I not be there? So I fully embraced the mantle of (very) amateur Q Grader – high on enthusiasm and excitement and (very) low on knowledge and skill.
My parents were staying for a few days so we made it a family outing. They took a little bit of persuading that coffee tastes like anything other than coffee – but once they got into the swing of the evening, they really enjoyed themselves.
Full marks to John, Malcolm and their staff for putting on a really well planned and organised evening. Around 30 of us piled in – mainly locals and all coffee lovers. We were given a very helpful information sheet explaining the process and giving us clues on what to note down as we try the different coffees.
Professional cuppers have quite strict rules for tasting. The coffee beans are precisely weighed and freshly ground to a prescribed size. The water is heated to exactly 94 degrees poured from a special kettle. The brew is exactly 4 minutes. Even the height of the table is measured so the Q Graders are not bending down too much – as this could affect the taste! Who knew?
Important for us was to understand that we are tasting the beans without any of the usual processes – espresso machine, filtering or siphoning. This means coffee in it’s basic form.
It was a kind of mystery tasting. There were 3 unidentified coffees from Rwanda, Sumatra and Mexico – and we weren’t told which was which. The challenge of the evening was to learn how to do proper tasting, describe the flavours and aromas and finally try and identify which coffee came from which country. And there were prizes up for grabs – a free bag of coffee for anyone getting it right.
I’ll do anything for free coffee so off we went with Coffee A.
It started with sniffing the dry coffee freshly ground just minutes before. Then the hot water was added and brewed for 4 minutes while we all watched with baited breath.
Malcolm Klose, Mr Heartland to you and me, ably demonstrated the cupping technique while we all watched and learned. What a joy to be in presence of such an accomplished master!
BREAKING THE CRUST
‘Breaking the crust’ was a new concept to most of us, but when you add the hot water the grounds float to the surface and form a crust which seals in the aroma. Sounds a little unpleasant but when you break the crust with a spoon and then smell the aroma that escapes – it all makes sense. You get an incredibly intense moment when you can smell the aroma at it’s most pure. Wow.
I was amazed, but not surprised to hear that taste is 30% aroma, so our noses play a huge role in how we taste our food and drinks.
It turns out that my Mum has quite a discerning nose. While searching for acidity and sweetness – she got minty fresh toothpaste, liquorice pontefract cakes and even old socks. As she studiously filled in the notes sheet, I wondered if this could be a new retirement hobby for her.
The beans had been lightly roasted for tonight’s event so that we could identify all the underlying flavours that sometimes become hidden in a longer roast.
The third stage is when you finally get to taste the coffee. If you’ve even done wine tasting it’s a similar slurping action. You take a spoonful, and suck it in with the air then spray it into all the dark reaches of your mouth. This ensures that you get the maximum flavour experience with all your taste buds getting a good soaking.
Cleansing the palate was recommended between slurps so as you are tasting with a fresh mouth every time. When we got going, the flavours start to develop. The 1st slurp and the 5th or 6th slurp tasted really different and more developed.
The Coffee Tasting Flavour chart was helpful – a very complex breakdown of the different flavour profiles found in coffees. One of the difficulties with being a beginner is that you know what it tastes like, but it’s hard to think of words to describe those tastes. Seasoned tasters, like Malcolm, have all the flavour profiles at the tip of their tongue. For them it’s very easy to describe what they’re tasting and describe the difference between beans, between continents, countries and even coffee farms.
Quite a few folk identified the 3 coffees correctly – perhaps more by random guesswork than good judgement, but still merited their prize.
Sadly no free coffee for us but a brilliant evening, a new set of skills, and the joy of a being the first cohort of caffeine enthusiasts to learn coffee cupping in Llandudno.
The irony was that while we hadn’t actually drunk very much coffee at all – just a few tablespoons. We had tasted it in a completely new way that would change the way we drink coffee for evermore.
So look out for the next Cupping Night – you don’t want to miss it!
I’m Judith. I’ve been blogging here since 2014. I’m a writer, keen photographer, cake decorator, lover of travel, drinker of coffee and reader of books. . This is my Lifestyle blog – a fresh authentic space for thoughtful women – where I write about my life in North Wales – the things I love to use, the issues that matter, and the places I love to visit. I’d love you to join my community.
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