In the coffee world, the word “cup” is used as a verb synonymous with “taste.” To cup, or taste, coffee is to consciously interact with the subtle sensory components made manifest in the dynamic chemical process of brewing. Last Thursday evening, Prima Coffee hosted a small gathering with the current World Cup Tasters Champion (WCTC), Cory Andreen, at Quills Coffee. He communicated several great points on coffee cupping.
Why Coffee Cupping?
Every time you taste a new coffee, you compare it with the previous experiences you had, and if you are similar to me, you find it difficult to look back on the differences. This is part of the reason you cup coffees. You learn to taste intentionally and to gauge your experiences. “With my shop I cup coffee for a lot of different reasons. On the import side, you cup to decide what to offer. In the shop you cup production roasts and for the public,” said Andreen, who is the owner of Cafe CK in Berlin.
Each year at the WCTC, competitors are given eight groups of three cups of coffee. In each group, two cups are of the same coffee while one is different. Competitors have to identify the matching coffees by flavor and aroma alone within a set amount of time – a process known as triangulation cupping. His informal talk last Thursday was a great insight into what it means to cup like a champ.
Traditional cupping is usually done by pouring hot water over ground coffee (typically lighter in roast level) into a cupping mug (~6oz), then using a spoon to slurp the water across your palette. This process is meant to allow for purity in the sampling of the coffee and the infamously loud slurpings heard at cuppings is intended for a maximal palette spray. It seems odd to do it at first, but it’s extremely effective.
We long for unique and eventful moments when we can say that a coffee is truly delicious. However, the overwhelming majority of coffee brewed in the world is acrid and bitter. The coffee served at the pipeline conference I’m attending this week is a reminder of that. Interestingly, Andreen said, “It’s just as important to taste shots and brews that looked terrible as the ones that look good. Taste everything, no exceptions.” He went on to explain some of the coffees he had to identify in the WCTC were low quality robustas. However, Andreen admitted his taste everything philosophy is a double edged sword. “It’s been more of a curse than a blessing. Some of the things I enjoyed I analyze now.”
Andreen also demolished the stereotype of “barista as rockstar” in his talk. He explained,
We’re more like people who own a gallery. Nature and the farmer created it- they’re the artist. We just need to present the art without ripping the canvas.
Coffee cupping takes elements of art and science. Andreen stressed the importance of tasting everything blind, without prejudice, at all times – a coffee scientist’s tabula rasa. This rather Lockean sentiment is indicative of the modernist approach to food with which craft coffee largely identifies. But after having trained for a couple years, Cory found that if something tastes good on the cupping table, it will taste good when properly brewed, even 30 minutes later.
His cafe stresses the experience of tasting by serving their coffee in whiskey tumblers. This interrupts people’s rituals and changes their expectations “It is an emergency measure for now,” he quipped.
If you want to learn more about Cory Andreen’s approach to coffee, below is a video of him giving a similar talk at the 1st Taste Festival in Berlin this past June of 2012. (HT: Sprudge)
*post made beautiful by photography from Brian Moats Photography © 2012