I love everything about coffee- the smell, the taste, the nice buzz it gives me after my morning cups. So as soon as I began my internship with Green Mountain Coffee this summer, I knew I wanted to know everything I could about it! Luckily, Lindsey Bolger and her team of happy cuppers in the Coffee Lab let a group of us “Green Beans” sit in on one of their daily cuppings.
The smell of coffee was so strong in the cupping lab that I felt that we were walking into a giant vat of coffee. It took me a minute to process what exactly was going on: there were three or four professionals zooming around on stools, their noses poised dangerously close to hot cups and every once in a while leaping up to jot down notes. They were just starting the cupping process, and I already wanted to join in!
The Coffee Lab does blind cuppings, so they only identify each coffee’s country of origin and apply a numerical code to it. This is a play-by-play of what goes on at a cupping:
1. Separate beans into bowls , label each one with its origin country and numerical code, and then grind the beans.
2. Set up 6 cups for each coffee to be tested. They use these cool circular tables that have tops that swirl around, making it easier to get to each cup. I had a lot of fun with these tables!
3. Hot water is then poured over the grounds to brew.
4. The cups need to cool for 4-minutes. This gets them to the optimal temperature, the one that brings out the aroma and flavors of the beans.
5. Time to smell! The water added to the grounds brings out the aroma of the brewed coffee, and you can actually smell the difference between the fragrance of dry beans and the aroma of these brewed grounds.
6. We then “broke” the grounds by sticking our noses mere centimeters away from the cup, placing our special cupping spoons into the cups, and swirling. This released more gases and got the cup ready for tasting, which was good because I was not about to slurp up coffee grounds!
7. Taste time! We were equipped with aprons, spoons, and mugs to spit out each sip, if we liked. Some people do not spit out; it depends on personal preference. We dipped our spoons in sideways, slurped as hard as we could but still couldn’t match the amazing slurps of the professional cuppers, but that will be a goal for my next cupping! After slurping, we spit or swallowed.
Cuppers use a special form to evaluate each coffee. The evaluation is based off of the fragrance of the bean (how it smells before it is brewed), aroma (how does it smell the cup? Woody? Smokey?), flavor (does it have chocolate undertones? Is it spicy or nutty?), acidity (does the flavor burst in your mouth or lay flat?), body/mouthfeel (is it a ‘heavy’ coffee? Does it stay in your mouth or leave right away?), and finally aftertaste (is it dry, bitter, sweet?). This is on a 1-10 scale, with 6 being the baseline for quality. After these points are added up, special “cuppers points” can be given or taken away. Add up the total points, add 50, and there is your score! Green Mountain Coffee only uses coffees that have a score of 80 or above.
The most interesting part of the cupping was the discussion afterwards. These guys are true professionals, they could instantly describe a coffee they had cupped and understand all of its idiosyncrasies. The most amazing thing was that they put aside personal preference to evaluate each cup for what it was. During the evaluation, they found out which farm each one came from, whether or not it was organic or Fair Trade, and what its intended use is, that is if flavoring will be added, if it will be part of a blend, etc. The cupping team is extremely knowledgeable, and it was awesome to learn more about the process.
A big round of applause and thank you to the Coffee Lab, seeing exactly how a perfect cup of coffee is created was so fascinating, and now I think about that process every time I drink coffee, which is frequently! I don’t know whether it was from the amount of caffeine I accidentally consume or the fact that I LOVED the cupping experience, but I was definitely buzzing from it for rest of the day!