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Coffee Cupping: Take Your Coffee To The Next Level

August 23, 2010

Three cups of unground coffee beans

I love a good cup of coffee. Anytime I visit a coffee shop I ask for a hot cup of roasted coffee. No sugar, no cream, no flavorings, because I want pure, unadulterated coffee. Buying flavor free coffee allows me to appreciate the delicacies of the bean and taste the true flavors of the brew.

This week I experienced a new way to enjoy coffee in its purest form through an organized event called coffee cuppings. I’d never heard of such a thing until a friend in Seattle told me about them and insisted that I join him the next time he went. I’m always excited to try new things, and coffee cupping sounded fun.

We met at Victrola Coffee Roasters, a coffee shop located at 310 E Pike Street in the Capital Hill district of Seattle. I arrived early Wednesday morning and ordered a cup of coffee just to get a taste of what was to come. I can honestly say I’ve never had a better cup of coffee. The thought of tasting even more of their delicious coffees enhanced my anticipation of the event.

When the coffee cupping began some of the baristas led us into a small room in the back. It had a large, round wooden table in the center and brightly colored pictures of coffee farms from all over the world hung on the walls. On the table were blue trays filled of coffee beans, each tray representing a different global growing region. In front of each blue tray sat three small glasses, each one filled with a few beans from the tray in front of it. Once everyone settled into the room the barista began the coffee cupping.

Pouring coffee over the ground beans

He described in detail each of the five bean varieties spread around the table, explaining their differences and similarities. After the explanation, the baristas ground the beans in each cup and we walked around the table, smelling the different grounds and noticing their characteristics. The baristas then poured 200 degree water into each glass and once again the group walked around the table and smelled the coffee, noticing the different aromas produced by the wet grounds.

After the coffee steeped for four minutes, the baristas taught us how to break the crust, a process that involved swirling a metal spoon around the surface of the coffee. By lowering our noses close the glass while swirling, the intense aromas of the coffee escaped straight into our nostrils. Never had I smelled such flavor from a cup of coffee. I couldn’t wait to see if it tasted as good as it smelled.

Barista demostrates use of vacuum pot

Now that the crust was broken on each cup, we took our metal spoons and ladled out a small amount of coffee from a glass and slurped it into our mouths. As the freshly brewed coffee hit my tongue a rush of flavor flooded my taste buds. I felt like I could almost taste the country where each bean had been grown. The Latin American coffees from Guatemala and El Salvador exhibited bright, smooth flavors, while coffees from countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya had darker, spicier tones. The group slowly made our way around the table, slurping coffee and trying to determine our favorite roast.

Since attending the coffee cupping I have developed an even greater understanding of the thought process that goes into buying, roasting, and selling great coffee. Sure, you can go to the gas station and buy a cheap cup of joe if you just need some caffeine. But to take your appreciation of coffee to the next level, I would highly recommend attending a coffee cupping yourself. Ask around at local coffee shops to see if they host cuppings, and if not, have some friends over and host one yourself.

Drop me a line and I’ll try to help you set one up.

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6 Comments
  1. Hey Jeremy, Very Nice Post and description of the cupping. I live on the east coast as you know and this is one of the events I will take in when i travel west later this year. If you are ever in the areas of the counter Culture Cuppings you would enjoy. Described these on the enCoffee site. Not sure if it’s OK to put the link up but check it and hopefully it meets your standards.http://www.encoffee.com/blog/2010/08/coffee-cupping-event-at-counter-culture-coffee/ Best, Theo

    • Thanks! I checked out the article on your site and really enjoyed it. I’ll definitely check out Culture Cuppings if I’m ever in the area.

  2. stephanie green permalink

    Great blog. I felt like I was there! : )

  3. karen greene permalink

    I drank many a cup of freshly roasted italian coffee at Vivace in Capitol Hill while studying at Mars Hill. I see, however, it is no longer in that location. check out their other locations… http://www.espressovivace.com/retail.html

  4. Dave and Kathy permalink

    We cant wait to visit, Kathy will try the coffee cupping and Dave will watch and learn (and maybe try a lttle)

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