"Cupping is one of the coffee tasting techniques used by cuppers to evaluate coffee aroma and the flavor profile of a coffee. To understand the minor differences between coffee growing regions, it is important to taste coffee from around the world side-by-side. Cupping is also used to evaluate a defective coffee or to create coffee blends"
From an outsider's perspective, coffee cupping probably seems either rather silly, or possibly like some type of cult-like activity. All I can say is that, it was very challenging (you try and taste and grade 5 cups of 6 types of coffee all in 35 minutes!), very fun, and provided a chance to build community based on shared experience. The bonus was being able to try really good coffee from all over Gayoland and the country of Indonesia. If you want to experience a bit of the madness, check out this youtube video.
Introduction to cupping
We studied the theory and basic information about cupping
How to Cup
After a short introduction, we were thrown right into practice and had to cup 3 types of coffee while grading the coffee based on the following factors:
1) Fragrance (the coffee grounds while still dry)
2) Aroma (the coffee grounds after hot water is added)
3) Flavor (what the coffee tasted like based on things we had in our memories from previous experiences)
4) Aftertaste (was there a good or bad aftertaste? how long did it linger? Did it make you want to drink more of the coffee?)
5) Body (does the coffee "feel" light or heavy?)
6) Acidity (is it a nice acidity, or too much? does it match the flavor of the coffee?)
7) Uniformity (among the cups of the same coffee as well as cleanliness
8) Balance (was the fragrance, aroma, flavor, body, etc. similar, or balanced overall?)
9) Overall (our overall impression of the coffee)
Training our Taste Buds and Noses
We took some time to learn about how our tongues taste and most basic of tastes that we recognize, including salty, sweet, and sour. We then had to practice differentiating between these tastes and identifying differing mixtures and intensities. For our noses, we had to identify different types of fragrances from rubber, leather, and medicine, to apricot, roasted almonds, and butter. One of the hardest exercises for me was to identify different types of citrus fruit flavors added into coffee such as mango, lychee, orange, pineapple, and passion fruit.
Triangulation and Defects
One of the funner exercises was to identify among three cups of coffee, which cup was different. The not so fun exercise was to identify defects in the coffee (soured, fermented, moldy, earthy, robusta (robusta is a defect when grading arabica coffee, but is obviously not a defect if one if grading robusta coffee), and phenolic (chemical), which occurs when bad coffee beans of a black color are roasted with the rest of the coffee.
Processing and Green Bean Identification
We spent one session discussing different ways of processing coffee (I'll save the specifics for another post), and the typical coffee profiles that are produced by these varying processes among Gayo Arabica coffee. The best part was the chance to try Gayo coffee processed in 5 different ways. Another session was devoted to identifying defects among green coffee.
Roast Types and Identification
1 long session was about the effects of different types of roasting on coffee flavors. We then cupped coffee from five different roast types (light, medium, dark, fast, and slow).
Probably the best part of the cupping training was to be able to spend time with two of our farming partners who also attended the training. Dul, Voster, and his wife Anna, were great hosts during the entire time I was there. We learned a lot together, cupped coffee together, looked at coffee together, and dreamed about the future. Our dreams included:
1) building a small green house for the processing of specialty coffee
2) building a small warehouse building to store and sort coffee until ready for export
3) providing organic coffee farming training/mentoring to others in the community
4) mentoring (long term commitment) other farmers to produce coffee in new ways and up to specialty grade
5) building up to the ability to export small to medium amounts of coffee 3 times a year to create a stable buying environment for the local farmers and provide higher than market prices for extra quality coffee
You can call it what you want - coffee community development, social business, etc. but I was super encouraged by my trip and can't wait to see what the future holds.