Category: Eat + Drink Articles
Fruity...definitely fruity, almost buttery with a hint of cinnamon, I think as I scribble notes onto a clipboard and casually wipe a few stray grounds from the tip of my nose. I rinse my spoon and prepare to take in my next slurp of coffee made from Neal Brown's artisanal beans from Brown's Coffee.com. I'm getting to spend a few hours playing professional coffee taster and learning more about the aromas and flavors of coffee than I thought possible.
Once the sole province of professional coffee buyers, coffee tastings-called cuppings-are the coffee world's answer to wine tastings. The gatherings, where participants compare beans from the world's coffee-growing regions-from the rain forests of Guatemala to the mountain slopes of Kenya-are as much a social activity as a gourmet treat. At Seattle cafés such as Zoka and Victrola you can attend regular coffee cupping events, and many roasters, like Caffè Umbria and Brown's Coffee, are happy to set up private sessions for groups interested in expanding their coffee appreciation.
At each cupping, four or five different coffees are ground and covered with hot water just below boiling in small glass cups. The tasters break through the crust of grounds with a spoon to release the aromas, deeply inhale and note each one-whether nutty, chocolaty, earthy or fruity-before moving to the next cup. The grounds are then removed, and it's time to taste, each sip a loud and messy slurp to add air and bring out the most in the flavors. Is it fruity or spicy? Is it bright or is it mellow? Are there undertones of nuts or chocolate? Does the taste fall away once swallowed or does it linger in your mouth? Because taste is such a subjective sense, there is no wrong answer, but learning specific tasting vocabulary is a skill that helps you express what you find. Coffee tasting is all about exploring subtleties in flavor and mouthfeel and the unexpected delight in being able to put a name to a flavor that may have gone unnoticed.
To sample a variety of roasts without having to sip through the grounds, head down to Seattle Coffee Works, near Pike Place Market, where you can have a do-it-yourself tasting and pick beans from a variety of local roasters like Caffé D'arte, Lighthouse Roasters, Caffé Vita, Vista Clara, Caffè Umbria and Brown's Coffee.com. You can order The Works-three double espressos pulled simultaneously and served together on a silver tray. Each cup packs a wallop of distinct flavors that become clearly evident when tasted side by side. And of course, The Works gives you one heck of a buzz.
320 Occidental Ave. S; 206.624.5847; caffeumbria.com
Seattle Coffee Works
111 Pike St.; 206.340.8867; seattlecoffeeworks.com
411 15th Ave. E, 206.325.6520; 310 E Pike St., 206.624.1725; victrolacoffee.com
2200 N 56th St., 206.545.4277; University Village, 2901 NE Blakeley St., 206.527.0990; zokacoffee.com
Sidebar: The Anatomy of a Coffee Cupping
The Roast: There is no set roast level (e.g., dark or light) for a cupping. In fact, you may find that you are tasting beans of a single origin roasted at different levels to seek nuances in aromas and flavors. Regardless of the roast, the beans should be cupped within one to three days of roasting.
The Grind: For a cupping, beans are ground as for drip or French press, in a burr coffee grinder that prevents excess heat from building up during the grinding and helps preserve the flavor while giving the perfect coffee grains.
The Cup: Most cuppings ar