Back to the Cupping Competition
Oh, back to the cupping! On the first day all us judges spent quite a lot of time "calibrating our palates." Because we all cup and have our own idiosyncratic ways of doing things, its important for everyone to get of the same page in both terms and technique. The cupping was exhausting considering that there was 6 to 12 samples per lot (26) and then the final re-cupping of the highest rated coffees Aaron and John of JG Bean in Vancouver, as the judges calibrate palates on a test sample.

Cupping is a method of tasting coffee by steeping grounds in separate cups for discrete amounts of ground coffee, to reveal good flavors and defects to their fullest. It has formal elements and methodology in order to treat all samples equally and empirically, without bias.

In one long sentence … a discrete amount of ground coffee is dosed into multiple cups or bowls for each sample, dry fragrance in evaluated, hot water is added, wet aroma is evaluated, the floating crust of grounds are “broken” with a fancy “cupping spoon” and the aroma is again evaluated, the cupper waits for a cooler temperature and skims the lingering foam from the top, then, after cleaning a spoon in hot water, carefully removes coffee from the top of the cup without stirring, and sucks the liquid across the palate, atomizing it into the olfactory bulb as much as possible, judging flavor, acidity, aftertaste, mouthfeel, and any other number of quality categories. Whew!

While cupping is often treated with a kind of mystical reverence, it is really just the most practical way to prepare many different samples of coffee to taste side-by-side. It is not a sophisticated way to taste coffee that, by the way of brewing, somehow reveals more in the coffee aroma and flavor. In other contexts, simply mixing coffee grounds and hot water is called “cowboy coffee” !

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