In August 2016 I attended an interesting and enjoyable “cupping” session of Horsham Coffee Roaster coffees at Bond Street Coffee shop in the North Laines of Brighton. Coffee cupping is another term for coffee tasting that follows the practice of professionals whose job it is to judge coffee quality (Q Graders). The session lasted an hour, during which we tasted 12 different coffees from around the world. Some donuts were served for those who got hungry in the process of coffee tasting. These included those of single origin (Brazil, Nicaragua, Kenya, Ethiopia, Colombia, and Costa Rica) as well as 3 blends.
Matt from Horsham Coffee Roaster expertly led the session and welcomed questions from the group. He explained the cupping process, and how they taste their coffees at the roastery. Apparently the standard is to taste the coffee within 24 hours of roasting, and at Horsham Coffee Roasters they taste every single batch to check for any imperfections. He described the measures taken during the roasting process (including density and weight change, temperature curves, atmospheric conditions), which combined with additional analysis of the brew, plus their tasting notes of the final product, gave them considerable insight to achieving the best possible product.
The session began with smelling the freshly roasted and ground coffee in their cups prior to adding water. By tapping and shaking the cup, more aroma was released. We went around the table sniffing each cup, eagerly anticipating what they might taste like. After this, hot water was added to the brim of each cup, and a brew time of 4 minutes was allowed for.
Following the brew, the team broke the surface on the cups pushing any floating grounds with a spoon down into the water. Once this was complete, a final skim of the cups was performed, removing any grounds from the surface. We were now ready to start tasting!
Beginning with the cups which had the water added to first, we were instructed to take a soup spoon, scoop up a small amount of coffee and slurp, sucking in plenty of air as we did so. This was to ensure that we could appreciate the full aroma via our olfactory nerves. Scoring sheets were provided which enabled the guests to think about and judge against the dimensions of aroma, sweetness, acidity and flavour. For each dimension, helpful attributes including berry, nutty, citrus, floral, chocolate, vanilla, honey, grapefruit and so on, were provided. This felt far more scientific than many of the wine tastings I’d been to!
As we tasted, Matt described the various processing methods using prior to roasting, including natural, pulped and washed. Tasting each, you could really see the influence it had on flavour and body. The best example was whereby they had sourced the same varietal, from the same plot (in Costa Rica), which had been processed in three different ways: Natural, Red Honey and Washed. While they had similar flavours, the natural had the most acidity and fruit flavours, with the washed showed more body, chocolate and spice. The red honey was somewhere in between the two. The natural was my favourite of all the coffees.
As we went around tasting and re-tasting the coffees, it was also interesting to detect how different flavours presented themselves as the coffee cooled. Thankfully spittoons were provided. As this event was held in the evening, I didn’t want to get too wired on all the caffeine.
Interestingly, one of the coffees we tasted was a decaffeinated washed Colombian. Matt explained that the decaffeinating method for this particular coffee was different to the usual gigantic industrialised processes. In this case, the green coffee beans are decaffeinated at plant in Colombia, using a solvent based upon natural products (a mix of ethanol produced by fermented sugar cane, and acetic acid – vinegar). This was the most complex and interesting decaf coffees I have ever tasted, and I can highly recommend it.
Overall, the session was very enjoyable and informative. If you’re keen to learn more about coffee, then I would certainly recommend attending a session. Apparently Horsham Coffee Roaster will be planning more cuppings in the future, so follow them of Facebook to get notifications of their future events.
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