Speaking of vomit, I had to attend a coffee cupping yesterday morning. A tasting usually involves a French press of several regions or blends, accompanied by complementary flavors. For example, African coffees tend to have citrusy aftertastes. The average coffee drinker might not immediately recognize the undertones or aftertastes (sort of like when people describe wines and you’re like “What?”), so you eat something right before drinking a sip like lemon pound cake or a bit of orange-flavored chocolate candy.
Cupping, on the other hand, is a much more hardcore and intense version. The Cup of Excellence has a series of possibilities upon which the cuppers vote. You don’t get to quietly sip a nice Asian Pacific with a bite of raspberry jam to bring out the winey notes.
There are three main steps to start, all having to do with the aroma: you face a round table with four or five sets of five small cups holding a few grams of recently-roasted dry coffee. You smell it, then add hot water and let it steep. Then you huff the wet coffee, then break the crust that forms on the top and sniff that.
Once you’re done, it’s time to taste. You have to choose a number between zero and eight to describe everything from mouthfeel (the body or weight of it in your mouth), the acidity (the brightness or “zing” of the coffee, not whether or not it gives you indigestion), to flavor to balance to aftertaste. There are eight different subjects, not including the three involving aroma, or the math involved with taking off points for defects that you notice. When you taste it, you actually run a spoon through the top to pick up a little bit (after cleaning out the grinds that rest on the crust, but not pulling up any that have settled on the bottom), and slurp really hard, then spit it out right back out. I actually noted a “taint” on cup number four that tasted slightly like an onion, as well as cup number three having a distinct overfermentation. It was sort of like a spoiled fruit aftertaste.
We cupped eight different Brazilians yesterday, each of which we had to do a total of three times after identifying the aromas, on five different cups for each coffee. There were five of us, slurping, spitting, and rinsing off spoons for a grand total of 120 different times per person, for about an hour.
As you may or may not know, I have a really sensitive gag reflex. I want to puke just brushing my tongue and gag frequently when I’m doing so. Tuesday it wasn’t so much all the other people spitting and slurping and coughing when they accidentally slurped coffee directly into their wind pipes. It’s just, the more I do it, the more my body wants to continue the procedure and keep spitting everything else in it out.
Apparently I’m now considered “qualified” to be a part of cuppings with the owners and Cup of Excellence people.
As I’m sure you can imagine, I declined. They’ll do 12-15 different coffees in one cupping, anywhere from one to five sessions, and I was still queasy two hours later. As much as I’d like to be a part of the tasting and selection process, I just don’t think I can.