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December 1999 Issue
A Guatemalan Cupping and Review
by Chris Schaefer
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In following with the success from my earlier "research" with the cuppings of dry and washed Mexican coffees, I offer you this analysis and review of another Central American coffee: Guatemalan -- in particular, a regional coffee called Huehuetenango. The purpose of this piece is three-fold: to expose the art of cupping in a non-professional environment to the home coffee enthusiast; to show to the home coffee roaster what selections and prices are available; and finally, to instill the desire of learning more about taste sensation and appreciation of quality.

"Why?" Fair question. My original intent was to take a small and brief slice of the "home roasting pie" and compare products for the sole benefit of the home roaster. Once the project got underway, I realized that there was more to this than merely cupping and comparing. Additionally, there was the broadening of horizons for both myself and my colleagues in regards to coffee selection and the understanding of the roles that each variable have in cup quality.

I'd like to begin by first introducing you to the cuppers, individually. Next the cupping terms, forms, and bean data. Then the results of the cupping followed by an analysis of their meaning. And finally summing it all up with the application of this little event for both you and I.

The Cuppers
My intent was to make this a one-person project. But in the light of the reasons behind this quest, it only seemed right to ask others for their input. Since Randy and Tammy Ahl were looking for some new and exciting coffees for their roastery (located in Cedarburg, WI), they were excited about the potentials this cupping session brought to the table.

Randy, an engineering manager for a local company, and Tammy, his new wife, own and operate the Cedarburg Coffee Roastery; one of the newest roasters in Southeast Wisconsin. Tammy, who runs the shop during the day, is a very energetic and enthusiastic individual. Her passion for quality tasting coffees is matched only by her enjoyment to satisfy and encourage her customers. Randy spends much of his evenings and weekends tending to their 35-pound Deitrich batch drum-roaster. Here, he concocts new blends while at the same time learning the ins and outs of maining quality and customer demand.

John Eger, Randy and Tammy's employee, is a relaxed and quiet fellow. When offered this chance to learn more about coffee and to "test his taster," John leapt. He brings to the table not only his youth, but the future of specialty coffee.

Finally, myself -- famed writer and champion of all that is coffee. A home-roaster for some 4 years and now also a product development engineer responsible, in part, for the birth of the "wb" Coffee Bean Roaster from the West Bend Company. An avid home cupper and frequent patron of the above-mentioned roastery.

For the purposes of our session, we relied upon the use of the Specialty Coffee Association of America's standard coffee cupping form. This form, available directly from the SCAA ( is used to help growers, broker's, buyers, and retailers compare coffees from similar lots or shipments, pickings, and millings for the purpose of quality control and assurance. The forms are designed around a point system where each characteristic of a coffee, cupped blindly or not, are weighted and then tallied at the end. Such characteristics are looked at to detect defects and impurities between crops and shipments. Additionally, the cupping form is used to compare local and regional varieties; this is to insure individual farm's or co-op's quality when a bean leaves for the processing or milling plants. And finally, the form is a useful tool for brokers looking to stock the best tasting and best-valued beans they can. On the home side of things, the form is useful for determining cup characteristics at various roast levels whether for use in blends or brewed individually.

The cupper's form is mathematical. Limitations can be set on certain defining characteristics so that, when the session concludes and multiple coffees are weighted and pitted against each other, no one origin or variety will push or sink the scale for the other coffees. This limiting principle works by keeping a particular coffee or group of coffees from out-scoring based on a pronounced characteristic not found naturally in the others. For example, when cupping batches of African coffees, a selection from Kenya might have a delimiter set on its Acidity scale so that Ethiopians and Ugandans won't score unfairly lower due to their less-pronounced acidity.

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