Thursday, February 7, 2008

Cupping Coffee

Cupping Coffee

We're constantly tasting coffee... We taste to evaluate coffees at origin, and when receive new shipments of coffee here in Vermont. We taste to discover the best roast, we taste to blend. We taste our finished product every day, to ensure its quality and consistency.

Cupping coffees is one of the most unique aspects of our craft. It involves intense focus as we bring all our senses to bear on the cup in front of us... punctuated by noisy, explosive slurps. (It might look and sound silly, but it's a very effective way to taste!)

When we "cup" coffees, we formally evaluate their qualities using very precise sensory criteria. For cupping, we roast coffees very lightly, so that nuances of the coffee's own flavors and aromas aren't obscured by the roasting process itself. We then grind and brew these coffees in open bowls, and judge their merits on the following qualities:

We evaluate the fragrance of the just-ground coffee, before it's brewed. The coffee's fragrance can speak volumes about the coffee's origin, and the care of its processing.
We judge the aroma of the brewed coffee. Coffee's aromas vary dramatically from origin to origin. Some have floral qualities, others offer citrus and fruit, even wood and earth.
Acidity, or brightness, is not the PH level of the coffee, and an "acidy" coffee won't upset your stomach... instead, it will make your taste-buds tingle. Bright coffees offer a pleasing tang on the tongue.
The diversity in coffee's flavor from origin to origin is astonishing... even coffees from the same origin surprise us!
The coffee's body is the sensation of weight or texture that it offers on the tongue. Full-bodied coffees may be buttery or even syrupy.
We call the sensations that remain in the mouth when the coffee is gone its finish, or aftertaste. Some coffees impart a sweet, lingering finish; others are more direct, even abrupt.
Evaluating a coffee's balance is really about how all its individual flavors and taste sensations come together. Balance tends to separate good coffees from great coffees, in which the overall composition is somehow greater than the sum of its parts.

Throughout our process of evaluation it's important to keep in mind where a particular coffee is from. Qualities that are highly desirable in an American coffee —bright, citrus aromas and clean, polished flavors — are not the same qualities that are desired in coffees from Indonesia, where a more muted acidity and a lush, lyrical body is the norm.

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