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A couple of weeks back I sent a tweet to Caffeine magazine seeing if they were still running the open coffee cupping sessions from last year. I’d been introduced to these a year or so back when I met Scott the editor of Caffeine Magazine at the London bike show courtesy of an intro by the guys at Bowman (If your looking for an awesome bike check these guys out). Scott was pulling shots on a little Conti espresso machine and he was kind enough to literally point me firmly in the right direction of all things coffee, water and brewing technique. It was at a period when I was just starting out on my coffee journey and the advice Scott shared was so crucial for me to hear back then. It took my homebrewing instantly to new levels and I just felt so much more confident in what I was doing.
What is cupping?
I remember asking this same question of Google, it’s often safer asking google as you don’t get weird looks just results!
“Coffee cupping, or coffee tasting, is the practice of observing the tastes and aromas of brewed coffee. It is a professional practice but can be done informally by anyone or by professionals known as “Q Graders”
Basically cupping is a standardised way to test the coffee at various stages of the brew, it’s like a science experiment you could have carried out at school. Loads of cups, different coffees but the same process, repeated. Whats most interesting about cupping isn’t the process as such but more the scientists in the room. After a night of all manner of sipping, slurping and spitting noises what is most apparent is that it doesn’t matter so much how any of the above sounds but more how confidently you undertake it.
Coffee Cupping with Caffeine
Walking into Assembly Coffee was like opening the door to a New York apartment come coffee lovers playground. Its got it all, modern converted space and brand new Loring roaster that stands proudly in the corner.
I arrived early as did Dumo from Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, Dumo I discovered knows tons about roasting coffee and was kind enough to share a few stories of his inspirations, struggles and success as a roaster. Hearing how Dumo started out in his flats kitchen and how he’d order sacks of coffee to practice on day and night just shows the passion it takes to succeed, and that which is represented of so many of the people in the room.
With everyone present and time getting on, the table was set. In case you’re not aware Caffeine Magazine runs a feature called “In the Hopper” each month, which is composed of four coffees selected from monthly cupping sessions just like this. The session is carried out blindly and as much is done to be consistent and fair as possible. Month’s vary but I think they said some months they can get up to forty or so bags of coffee to try!
I won’t go into the full process but at various stages, different characteristics of the coffee are assessed resulting in an overall shortlist of favourites remaining in the centre of the table. What I found most interesting is how a particular coffee can move in and out of favour as the different senses are challenged. What is universal however is a bad coffee, it didn’t take a trained palate to find that out I can assure you. It’s actually quite reassuring when you have your own tastes confirmed by a room full of experts.
If you haven’t tried coffee cupping you should! I’d encourage you to speak to your local roaster and find out if they have any sessions planned. As not only does it give you a chance to ask a load of questions and try new coffee but as I found its the greater understanding and validation for the tastes and senses the coffee unlocks as you try more which is most exciting.
Massive thanks to Caffeine magazine for the opportunity and if you love coffee you should definitely check it out, It’s full of great stories and tips.