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November 1999 Issue
by Chris Schaefer
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At home, the implementation of cupping is useful in determining what coffees you like and don't like; what roasts you like and don't like; and even, in some cases, how you can best spend your money and maintain high quality. But more so, cupping helps stretch your sensory muscles. In turn, you develop those senses to help you with other foods and drinks. Soon, you realize, you're more picky and choosy with everything. You are seeking perfection!

While I've become no better an expert at discerning the quality differences between a local grocer's prime rib and an artisan's cut, through my continual experiences with sensory testing and coffee, I've learned a greater appreciation for my spice selections. You can too. It may not be with spices or meats, but you will grow.

My purpose is not to support and uphold snobbery. Snobbery is the opposite of perfection. It is submitting oneself to the premise that one can only go so far and that perfection is obtainable, while at the same time tricking oneself out of exactly that they think they have obtained.

Coffee is a vehicle, a medium by which my pursuit is expressed. It is an example, not the final product, of how I model my life. It is not the model. Cupping coffee is the means to the example. It too is not the model nor is it the method by which the model is made complete in me. While it sounds as if I am unrelating the two, you can see that whatever I wish to do, I must make sure that it points to my main purpose. Perfection. Coffee does not, nor will not, make me perfect. Looking for perfect coffees and ever-expanding my skills and tastes will not make me perfect. Internally, challenging myself and my character to grow forward, towards perfection, will make what is on the outside be able to be seen as striving for perfection. And my passion, interest, and pursuits are only the effects of what is on the outside.

Coffee, in its many aspects, is not complicated. It is wonderful and pleasing. Cupping is, then, an extension of the pleasure associated with coffee. A pleasure through which exists a learning experience and enhancement. I would challenge, then, anyone who wishes to pursue perfection, who enjoys coffee on whatever level, to openly subject themselves to a taste-test. Accept that there is something always better and appreciate, pursue, it.

How to cup coffee at home
Begin with two or three coffees you are already familiar with and enjoy. If you roast at home (see September's article on homeroasting), roast three samples of each coffee to a medium roast. Purchase a medium roast, if you can, for those of you who have yet not discovered the beauty of home roasting.

Coarsely grind each coffee, being sure to clean out the grinder after each use.

In shallow coffee or tea cups, add 7.25 grams or about 1 tablespoon of grounds to each cups. Keep about a tablespoon of grounds out, placed in front of each cup on a small dish or index card.

Boil a few cups of water, keeping a glass of water nearby to rinse your mouth out and an additional glass for rinsing each soup spoon you use.

Bring the water off the boil, let sit for a moment, then add 5 - 6 ounces per cup.

While steeping, inhale the grounds on the card, noting any outstanding characteristics (good and bad). On a scale of 1 - 10, taste each coffee's fragrance.

When the coffee's cooled a bit, left the cup to your nose and, with the edge of the spoon, "break the crust" which formed at the top. Inhale and note. Rate this "aroma" also on a scale of 1 - 10. Note: for off-smells and defects, scale it with negative numbers.

When cooled enough to sip, carry away some of the coffee, minus any grounds, and slurp heavily and wholeheartedly onto your tongue and palate. Note the following:

  • Taste- Is it pleasing or not? Strong or not? Anything special?
  • Body- Does it feel heavy or oily in against the back and roof of the mouth and weighty on the tongue?
  • Acidity- Is there a brightness or sparkling on the tongue and in the mouth? Does it have a particular taste? How strong is it?
  • Aftertaste- How long does it linger? Is it pleasing? How like the original taste does it resemble?
  • And, Flavour- Any specifics? Any outstanding qualities?

Rate each of these on a scale of 1 - 10. Add you final score and divide by the number of possible points. Rinse and spit out each sip before taking the next. Finish one coffee at a time before moving onto the next. For an added bonus, cup each coffee blend and challenge yourself to learn the distinctive qualities of each before looking at the names.

Disclaimer: this is an adaptation of a method taught to me by a professional from the West Coast. It is entirely different than the Specialty Coffee Association of America's Cupping technique and Form; available through the SCAA at www.scaa.org.

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