How to taste coffee like a pro

colombo

Colombo Coffee on Gale Street recently hosted a coffee “cupping” experience. Cupping, which sounds like an awkward internet meme, is actually the universal standard by which coffee taste and aroma is determined. So a coffee taster in America will be able to identify the same elements on her palate as one in Africa or Europe. A handy guide for this is something called a Coffee Taster’s Flavour Wheel, a global reference guide used below:

Original source unknown, image obtained from Google.

Original source unknown, image obtained from Google.

The first step to a cupping involves smelling the dry grounds. You have to gently shake the grounds to release their aromas. Stick your nose in there and get a good whiff.

Gently shaking the grounds.

Gently shaking the grounds.

Next up, add water. One person will come and pour in hot water to brew the grounds. You will immediately note that whatever your olfactory nerves (aka your nose) identitfied when the grounds were in their dry state is nothing like what is activated when wet. The transformation is amazing, really. Hot water is an incredible conduit to scent. A crust of grounds will rise to the surface as it steeps and these carry a scent of their own.


The barista, Dan, adding hot water to brew the grounds.

The barista, Dan, adding hot water to brew the grounds.

 

A crust forming on the surface from saturated grounds.

A crust forming on the surface from the saturated grounds.

When the brew is ready, your barista will let you know when, you can “break” through the grounds by using the back of a tablespoon. They had a technique whereby they used two tablespoons at once which I just could not get. I’m a cupping dunce.

Breaking through the crust.

Breaking through the crust.

 

Arno talking us through it.

Arno talking us through it.

The final step is the tasting. You clear out and discard the crust, so that you  don’t end up with a coffee-speck encrusted smile, bring your face intimately close to your cup, fill up your tablespoon with the brew and give an almighty schlurp. You almost literally have to inhale it, or aspirate it, so that the full flavour covers your entire palate. It’s also to determine the “mouthfeel” or texture. And apparently, at this point, the seasoned professionals spit out the coffee so as to not to “over-caffeinate”, but I firmly consider that blasphemy. Over-caffeinating is practically my vocation.

Kim getting ready to taste the brew,

Kim getting ready to taste the brew.

 

Arno explaining flavours and aromas. There are no wrong answers.

Arno explaining flavours and aromas. There are no wrong answers.

 

Green beans before they are roasted.

Green beans before they are roasted.

 

Everyone comparing what aromas and flavours they are identifying.

Everyone comparing what aromas and flavours they are identifying.

 

Dan explainning coffee origins and the cupping process.

Dan explaining coffee origins and the cupping process.

This was really interesting and a lot of fun. That dirt-like substance that we casually assault with milk and sugar has so much to it. It has been around for centuries, cultivated in over 70 countries and banned in empires over various times in history because of its association with conversation, debate and uprising. It deserves reverence (amen coffee!) 😉

I think this is a great way to learn to appreciate something that takes so much effort to make. And what a fun way to give a seemingly unassuming beverage an added dimension.

The Factory Café will be hosting FREE cuppings every Friday at 3pm, open to the public.
To book your spot, just email arno@columbo.co.za

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Blog Comments

Great photos, Shirley! 🙂

That is so interesting. I have learned so much just from reading this. Great pics BTW! xxx

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