Sunday, January 30, 2011

Coffee Cupping 101

Saying Woodberry Kitchen is our second home is an understatement at best. The super benefit is that I get to use the restaurant in creative ways to bring people to Baltimore. I've had a few luncheons, private dinners and a few cooking demonstrations in the past four years with Spike and Amy @WKRestaurant. Recently I had the idea that it would be amazing to introduce our clients to the mystery of coffee cupping. After surveying friends many had never heard of a coffee cupping. Eric is the one who introduced me to this treasure trove of goodness. So I had to check one out for myself.

Every Friday at 10:00 am, all across the land, baristas everywhere perform the ritualistic coffee cupping. Eric knew about Counter Culture from DC and their regional training center in Adams Morgan. This is how we found Woodberry Kitchen originally I'm sure. He went to his first Counter Culture cupping at Belvedere Square. When we travel E. picks the location based on what coffee they serve. 

It was great being at Woodberry Kitchen this early in the morning.

I met one of the bakers, Beverly, and got to watch her in action. She was rotating the Sourdough loaves in the brick oven.

Allie gathered all of the new staff members and me, the only lay person, and introduced us to our first cupping. The coffee program at Woodberry Kitchen is like no other restaurant I've experienced. They have a full barista bar and each coffee is made to order, via French Press or espresso. The staff is required to undergo training so they know how to articulate the coffee options.

We were given tasting note forms and clipboards.

Allie is a great teacher and so passionate about her craft. We cussed and discussed coffee. She asked us where we bought coffee and informed us to look a the roast date verses expiration date. Coffee beans are no longer "servable" past two weeks. That means most every bean you buy at the grocery store is more or less stale. We buy our coffee from Belvedere Square and at Spro. Our friend just brought us beans from Intelligencia and feel pretty spoiled when it comes to good coffee options in Baltimore. This coffee is more expensive. It is important to me that it is more expensive. The farmers are getting 19% more money per pound based on the fact that they are growing the beans in shade, rotating their crops and are overall farming more sustainably. You want to look for Direct Trade Certified Coffee. Spike was even flown to meet one of the farmers with Counter Culture to Nicaragua. That's about as local as it gets for this farm to table restaurant, meeting the farmers who grow the beans!

She explained the points on the clip board.
FRAGRANCE: smell when ground
AROMA: smell when hot water is added
BREAK: when CO2 is added
BRIGHTNESS: taste, pleasing acidity, pucker, how does it affect you
FLAVOR: chocolate, cherry, figs, cedar, vegetal (keep thoughts to yourself) write whatever comes to your mind
BODY: how does it feel in your mouth. Cream vs. apple juice. Thin vs. heavy
AFTERTASTE: heavy, good, fruit, bad lasts

First step, observe beans, smell ground up coffee beans and write down the fragrance you smell.

When you smell the beans, write the first thing that comes to your mind on your clip board. The most important thing is not to share your thoughts. Coffee cuppings are very subjective and honestly, pretty intense. I felt like I had NO IDEA what I was smelling. The differences were ever so subtle and I honestly felt like I couldn't find the words to describe what I was smelling. Ummm...they all smelled like ground coffee beans. My first thoughts for #1 was pork. #3 smelled like horses. Just had to push beyond the coffee smell and really get down to my deeper coffee cupping vocab. 

Next, add hot water.

Smell and mark the aroma.

Hey there Nancy! It's your birthday.

It smelled so different from the ground bean version. 

Allie then explained how to "break" the coffee. At this point you take the back of the spoon and break the "crust" that forms. The minute you break the coffee you inhale and write down the first thing that the smell conjures up for you. Nancy once smelled White Diamonds, the perfume. This is called retronasal stimulation. When your brain remembers things based on smell.

There is a vacuum of smell that lifts from the break. I think this has something to do with the CO2.

We all got to break one of the coffees. It can only be done once.

Then the crust is removed and we tasted the coffee.

Dip your spoon for a sample.

And slurp. I mean SLURP. Coat your mouth with the spoonful of coffee so you can experience it on every section of your tongue and mouth. Then try to articulate what you are tasting. To say this was hard is an understatement. Allie made sure we all knew that no description was wrong because we all have our own experiences but it was intense. I admit I LOVE to be right and I just didn't have a language to really articulate what I was tasting. I need to experience it again so I can have this experience behind me and find some words. 

cru of the coffee world.

I don't know if I liked #1 the most or if it was just that I managed to smell and taste something that I could discuss. This one had a sweet pork smell to me and I smelled black pepper after the break. I wrote "almond" for flavor.

We had a question and answer session and I asked questions about terroir. I'm a seasoned wine taster....chuckle. But seriously, I've been to multiple wine tastings for my job and I still know very, very little about the art of wine making. There is just so much to learn and oh so many wines out there. But I know that where the grapes are grown make a huge difference in how the wine tastes. A rocky vineyard in Burgundy is going to make it harder for the grapes to grow, forcing them to struggle and work harder to produce grapes. Same goes for coffee. Organic top soil makes a difference. Shade verses sun grown makes a difference for the environment.

Did you know coffee is a fruit? This is an non-roasted bean. I won't begin to try and explain the process. There are tons of documentaries that show you the process from red coffee berry to the roasted bean. 

This is Allie's coffee plant in her "office".

This video is of a cupping done in Nicaragua with the growers. I love the woman's descriptors of her coffee. Woodberry Kitchen and Belvedere Square have cuppings every Friday at 10:00 am. If you can take the time, go and experience it for yourselves. Search the word cupping to find classes in your area.

Allie thanks so much for your passion and compassion for coffee. I learned so much and want to come back for a second try. You are awesome! Our clients appreciated this experience so much. Spike and Amy, thank you for your coffee program. You know how much we love you guys, but it is the fact that you are helping these farmers worlds away to have a better lifestyle that makes such a difference. It's these little things that change the world. We are thankful a great cup of coffee is just blocks away from Stone Hill.