The Cupping Experience
A few days prior to getting hired at Gimme! Coffee, I was invited to a cupping event. Not knowing what to expect or what to wear, I showed up dressed in my usual black over black and soon discovered that was the dress code. Only wished I had remembered my scarf. Gimme! Coffee holds weekly cuppings at their labs in Ithaca and Brooklyn and the public is invited to attend.
Within a few minutes, I was given the drill (most likely for my benefit since the others seemed like expert cuppers) on what the hour and a half session would entail.
A cupping is like a wine tasting. For coffee fanatics. I've never considered myself a coffee fanatic but I do love good coffee. Having recently gone vegan and also having given up many other decadent foods and lifelong habits over the year, coffee has maintained its rightful place in my life. I do love good coffee but did I actually know why? And did I know what made a good coffee good?
A cupping event allows participants the opportunity to sample coffees from around the world through all five senses. Of course, the two most prominent ones are: taste and aroma.
The first pass at a cupping you're asked to sink your nose into the cup of grounds and sniff stiffly (being reminded not to exhale or sneeze into the cup). The aroma is intense and you immediately begin to wake up. Continuing around the table, you smell each cup of grounds and jot down notes about the experience: citrus, nutty, and smoky. A nearby tasting wheel helps "guide you" on what will become an endless array of adjectives describing aromas and tastes as the day unfolds.
Once everyone has had a chance to smell the dry grounds, the host will soak them in hot water and start the timers (four minutes until you're invited back to experience an even more intense aroma sensation called "breaking the crust"). In the meantime, participants circle the table once more and smell the now wet grounds taking even more notes on the varietal qualities of coffee aroma.
In the back room, at the State Street Lab, I was one of a dozen or so participants milling about a large round table littered with samples of roasted coffee beans and short ceramic mugs filled with freshly ground coffee.
Then, using a special cupping spoon and a three-flick-wrist-move, you "break" the top of the floating grounds (the crust) and are dealt an intense aroma that is unlike anything you've experienced and unlike the first pass altogether. What may have started as "chocolaty" now becomes "buttery" as the hot steam fills your olfactory senses.
Round ended and the host skims the top layer of grounds and invites each participant to slurp a mouthful of delicious brewed coffee. And I mean slurp. The noisier, and more violent, the better. This technique allows for all the coffee flavors to explode into your mouth and the tastes truly come alive: sweet, mellow, mild, tangy. Finally! Coffee being tasted as it was meant to be tasted. In its purest form.
At this point it becomes evident as to why Gimme! Coffee has such a loyal following. The coffees are each so unique and flavorful and the people, who work so hard at bringing these flavors to the public, really know what they're doing. As a cupping may become a once a month event for me, the staff at Gimme do this nearly every day in pursuit of introducing the perfect bean to the perfect cup.
Needless to say on that particular day, tasting a dozen different blends and single-origin coffees a dozen different times, I really began to feel the effects of the caffeine. Which is why I probably should have listened when the instructor said we could spit out the coffee after each taste.
At least I was wide-awake enough to write this blog. ~ E
Gimme! Coffee in Ithaca (State Street) holds weekly cuppings that are free and open to the public every Saturday as does Gimme! Coffee on Lorimer Street in Brooklyn. For more information, visit www.gimmecoffee.com.