20140327_141506A couple of weeks ago I met up with Glen and Alex from The Bearded Apple to select the coffee(s) Mission Arabica would be selling.  They had selected 4 coffees for me to try out.  We used a method referred to as “cupping” in the coffee world to taste the different coffees.  Cupping is simply the process by which coffee is graded.  If a coffee receives a score of 80 or higher it is considered “specialty grade coffee.”  All 4 of the coffees I was tasting have already been through this process and have been given the grade of Specialty Coffee.  I was not doing this cupping to “grade” it, but to experience each coffee in the purest form it can be brewed, all with the same parameters.  The following is the process I went through with Glen and Alex in cupping these coffees.  This is roughly the same format a coffee grader would go through, except they would have 5-6 cups of EACH coffee to ensure consistency.  Since this has already been done with these coffees we only needed to do one cup of each…and trust me, it was all I could handle by the end!

You have been weighed, you have been measured…

The first thing to do is grind the coffee to a course grind and measure out 12 grams.  A rough measurement is 1 Tbs = 5 grams of coffee if you do not have a scale. Once ground and measured out, take a big whiff of it.  You want to note the aromas you smell.  With coffee this can vary a lot.  You may smell fruit, dark chocolate, caramel, grass, nuts, etc.  In this particular set of coffees they were pretty strong in fruit and cocoa smells with one having a little spice aroma to it.

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Patience is a virtue

Next you want to add around 200 ml (7oz) of hot water around 200 degrees.  This can be achieved by simply bringing water to a boil and taking it off the heat for about 30 seconds.  You want to pour slowly ensuring all the grounds get saturated.  Once the water is added set your timer to four minutes and start it.  By far this was one of the longest four minutes of my life!

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Break the Crust

After the coffee has been steeping for four minutes, it forms a “crust” on the top.  Underneath the crust lies all the aromas of the coffee.  When you break the crust, you want to stick your nose right on the edge of the cup.  Take a spoon and slowly move the crust to one end of the cup, unlocking the aroma to your nose.  Take short little sniffs as one giant one might suck up more than just the aroma.  Nobody wants burnt nose hairs!

Breaking the Crust

Slurp it up Baby!

SSSSLLLLUUUURRRPPPPP, slurp, and then slurp.  Again and again and again.  The purpose of slurping the coffee out of a spoon is to spray your tongue with the coffee, activating all the taste bud regions of your tongue.  You should do this with the coffee every couple of minutes until it reaches room temperature.  I had never done this all the way to room temperature and I was fascinated with how each coffee changed over time.  Some got better, some got worse.  The aftertaste in some of the coffees got stronger and better and some went away.  A couple of the coffees got sweeter, and one even got more spice flavor.  The tasting of course, is the best part of the whole cupping experience.

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If you are keeping track…coffees are scored based on sweetness, acidity (citrus flavor), body (sometimes called mouth feel), flavor, balance (between acidity and flavor) and aftertaste.  If you really want to dive into the process and score your coffee, plus learn more details about the protocol visit the SCAA’s website here on cupping: http://www.scaa.org/?page=resources&d=cupping-protocols

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For the love of all that is sane…SPIT!

Finally, make sure you spit!  Why, you ask? Because after continually tasting the coffee, in this case four cups of coffee in about a half hour period, there is this little chemical called caffeine that will begin to effect your motor skills, emotions, brain activity, etc.  Being this was my first time doing a “cupping” and in the company of others I decided to forgo this important detail and swallow each sip.  On top of that I also brought in a couple of other coffees we were DRINKING in between our slurpings!  About half way through I started to notice my cupping spoon was shaking in my hand.  I ignored this of course and continued on.  A bead of sweat ensued in the next couple of minutes and needless to say this is what happened next:

Not one winner, but two!

Going into the cupping it was predetermined to pick one to start out with. However, there were two coffees that really shined. We couldn’t decide on a single winner for our first Mission Arabica offering, so we picked two!  Next week we will fill you in on the details, origins and farmers of these two outstanding coffees!

 

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