It’s hard to believe there was a time that I bought mass-produced coffee from the grocery store (shudder), and added things like Coffeemate Creamer (even bigger shudder). I just didn’t know any better! When I first crossed off “Learn how to roast my own coffee” a few years back, I had no idea the rabbit hole of coffee snobbery I was headed down. And let me tell you friends, that rabbit hole is so endlessly deep, as evidenced by my first coffee cupping experience this morning.
I always knew that once I did go coffee cupping, it would have to be with my friend, Brian, my spirit guide in coffee. Back in the day, we had adjoining classrooms and I would brew that grocery store garbage in a thrift store coffee machine, and he would make a face. He never openly said, “You’re drinking garbage,” but I could tell he knew something – so when I started roasting my own coffee, I took his advice on the type of roaster to buy, and where to pick up green coffee beans.
This morning, we had special coffee cupping appointments at Heart Coffee Roasters on Hawthorne (you don’t just walk in for this kind of thing, people). It started with a back-of-the-house tour, that basically blew my mind. I mean, I’ve seen people nerd out on coffee, BUT THESE PEOPLE NERD OUT ON COFFEE.
Throw aside basic concepts like roasting temperature and bean age and moisture levels; they had customized their industrial roasters like classic cars and then hooked them up to computers with digital control panels so sophisticated I just had to placidly nod. Around the corner, were meticulously categorized batches of beans for weeks next to highly specialized water filter tanks for daily cupping sessions that go hours long.
Finally, we went back to the cupping room (at least that’s what I’m naming it) where 12 varieties of coffee were waiting for us to taste.
I whispered to Brian, “What if I can’t taste the difference in any of them…?”
In cupping, you don’t just pull up a mug and taste the coffee. There are steps involved. We were also reminded that coffee has 200 more flavor profiles than wine (translation: you better taste something goddamit).
Step one: Our cupping master quickly ground the beans and we stepped from glass to glass, carefully smelling the beans – with an inhale through your nose, mouth open, and then an exhale through the mouth to taste the notes.
Step two: Hot water was added to each cup, and again we lined up to smell the brew, as a crust formed on top of each glass.
Step three: Very carefully, with a round, deep spoon, we were allowed to gently “break” the crust (without touching the cup) and smell “the bouquet”.
Step four: Our master cupper gently removed the crust from each cup, using two of those fancy spoons.
Step five: The tasting. We were carefully instructed how to briskly slurp behind our teeth from said fancy spoons and then spit into a cup. Down the row we went from smooth, chocolatey coffees to more complex acidic coffees; and then again for a second pass.
Lucky for me, I could taste the difference (!!) and the second pass was key. My favorite? An Ethiopian blend called Halo, with notes of peach, molasses, and clover (I read that online…). Through just this exercise, I found that my flavor profile had a preference for Ethiopian coffees, neutral on the Guatemalans, and a dislike for the Kenyans. Who knew?
Overall, the cupping experience lasted about 90 minutes for $30, and we were gifted a bag of beans and a mug at the end. It was a fun Sunday morning experience, whether you’re a total coffee nerd or a noob like me.
You can buy tickets for cupping at Heart here: https://www.heartroasters.com/collections/classes/products/heart-coffee-cupping-clinic
Also, don’t think this is my last coffee bucket list item; 2018 brings much more challenge.