Is coffee cupping the new wine tasting?

Professional coffee tasting is the new frontier for latte-loving amateurs.

Getting to know where our food comes from and what makes it special is now a central part of foodie culture.

With social media fostering a growing love of home-cooking, a deeper knowledge of our produce, and a direct line to the who, what and where of the culinary world, everybody has the opportunity to be at the forefront of food knowledge.

When you combine this lust for greater food information with the hipster coffee revolution, you've got our next big trend: coffee cupping.

Image: Facebook/Toby's Estate

While the term "cupping" might confuse a few people, it's essentially the professional process of "tasting". As one might "taste" wine, they can also "cup" coffee.  

Wine tasting has long been a way to demonstrate a sophisticated food knowledge. Will the same be true of tasting coffee? With cafe culture emerging as an integral part of a cosmopolitan lifestyle, it's easy to see how and why this evolution could take place.

Coffee cupping has its own method and factors by which to measure it. According to World Barista Champion finalist turned buyer for Toby's Estate, Charlotte Malaval, when tasting coffee, professionals look for aroma, flavours, acidity, balance, body, aftertaste and mouthfeel. 

"What makes a good tasting coffee is the right balance between all of these elements, with a distinct flavour profile," Charlotte explains. "This is the result of the unique microclimate of the [coffee] farm, the variety [of bean] and the processing method."

Charlotte Malval, Toby's Estate Green Buyer. Image: Facebook/Toby's Estate

The taste of coffee is influenced by where the bean was grown and how it was roasted. 

"Every single coffee is the result of the coffee tree adapting to its environment, which is a unique combination of variety, soil, sun exposure, rainfall, altitude, etc," Charlotte says.

So how does one cup a coffee?

A handy guide:

  1. You'll need a minimum of two cups per type of coffee bean. Ideally you should try more than one type of bean to observe the different flavours. So, say you have three different types of beans, have at least two cups for each and group them together, setting up all six cups in a line. Note: Professionals tend to taste five cups per bean.
  2. Grind 9g of coffee bean into each cup, using the same bean type for every two cups. Immediately smell the ground bean in each cup.
  3. Fill each cup with 150ml of boiled water, have a quick smell and leave to rest for a minute.
  4. Allow a layer of grounds to form on the top of the cups. Once this has formed, take a teaspoon and break the layer using the back of the spoon. Keep your nose close to the cup as you do this so that the aromas waft straight to your nose as the barrier breaks. You’ll notice the aroma has changed since adding water. Rinse the spoon in hot water and repeat this step for each cup in your line-up.
  5. Next, use your spoon to scoop up the layer of grounds floating on each cup. After that's done, go along the line again using your spoon to slurp a mouthful of the coffee from each cup. The slupring here is very important as it aerates the coffee and allows for a better evaluation of the taste.
  6. Leave the cups to cool for a while and then repeat the process, remembering to rinse your spoon after each taste. Once the cups have completely cooled, you’ll be able to taste more flavours, so slurp again. The best coffees will have positive characteristics at all ranges of temperature.

For more precise guidance, some brands are now selling at-home coffee cupping kits for you to hone your skills.

Melbourne roastery, St ALi, recently started selling their own cupping kits for a knowledge-hungry consumer.

"We realised there was nothing out there by way of a take-home product that people could go through in their own time," St ALi Coffee Buyer, Lucy Ward, told Lifestyle. "We basically wanted people to better understand the coffee world we’re so madly in love with."

Image: Supplied/St ALi

Does she think it will take off in the same vein as wine tasting?

"It is a strange one for sure but we think that it is increasing because it is a natural progression from just liking coffee to wanting to completely understand it," she said. "It is similar to when you get into wine you want to learn more by tasting more. With coffee you can choose to learn about brewing it, tasting it, roasting it or growing it - once you have figured out how to brew it the next most accessible option is tasting it."

St ALi's kit comes with 3 Cupping Bowls, a spoon, grinder, digital scales, a dripper, filter papers, 12 module coffees, and a tasting manual. As a bonus, it comes with a 250g bag of St ALi's own single origin ($199).

[Feature image: St ALi]

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