01 Mar Cupping Coffee in Central America
As many of you know, cupping is the international standard for testing the quality of a coffee. As a beginning coffee enthusiast, the process of cupping taught me how to taste and evaluate coffee. Each cupping session helps the barista a great deal in giving feedback to the roaster. As a roaster cupping was the most essential part of my working day. Helping me to determine a strategy for identifying the potential in each coffee, and developing the right profile after. The ritual of cupping does not only reveal which coffee to buy, but more important, which coffees to avoid. This trip in Central America brings me right to the origin of coffee cupping.
Traveling with The Coffee Quest, I get to visit the farmers and the cooperatives who are eager to sell their coffees. For them, cupping is even higher valued since it helps them to work on quality. The feedback is used for production, finding out what different application to the soil or processing do to the coffee and how it effects the cup. For example, the producer can cup coffee from two different picking days to start identify the differences. This helps them learn and grow.
Here at Peralta Coffees in Nicaragua we decided to experiment in cupping the same coffee with two different types of water this week. What a difference! It got me thinking. In this trip I have noticed a lot of similarities and a couple of differences in cupping.
The first cupping in Guatemala was easy. Only four coffees on the table. A steady 20 degrees Celsius in the room and trays with green and roasted coffee. Quite different from the last cupping we did. 21 coffees on a hot day. Because the air-conditioning system dries you out we chose to turn it off and the temperature raised to over 30 degrees Celsius. Since I was sweating so much I chose to wash my hands right before the cupping. Big beginners’ mistake! As soon as I started to smell the coffees, the only thing I could smell was soap. It took me all my focus to taste all the coffees on the table but with determination I finally got there.
In all cuppings we did the setup was basically the same. An organized table with a tray of roasted coffee, a couple of cups of grinded coffee, rinsing water, and cupping spoons. Even though cupping is a very social activity, during the actual cupping itself the only thing you hear is slurping people. Everybody is focused on tasting the coffee as objective as possible. The results and findings will be discussed after everybody is done, so no one gets influenced by other people’s opinions. Some producers choose to show as much information about the coffee (farm, micro lot, variety and processing method) beforehand, some chose to cup blind. Changes in temperature, water quality, cup size, grinder, numbers of coffee to cup, time of the day etc. These differences can make cupping a challenge.
The biggest thing I have learned is to be define the right focus during the each session. The difficult side about coffee is that there are many parameters. A lot of parameters we cannot even measure correctly. If you are cupping as a Coffee enthusiast, Barista, Roaster, Green Coffee buyer, exporter or Coffee producer, ask yourself; why do we cup? What do I want to know about this coffee? For what could this coffee be interesting? Last but not least; Cupping is a social experience. Don’t forget to have fun!