By James Gallagher for Steampunk Coffee
Late last year, I attended the Steampunk 'Cup with Us' event, a home coffee tasting guided by a roaster from the Steampunk team. Since then, the Steampunk team have run more sessions and this month I decided to join in again. I learned a lot from the first session I attended. Indeed, what I learned in my first cupping session lay the groundwork to help me cup at home by myself. I went into this month's cupping excited to see what else I could learn.
The coffee cupping I attended this month had a Valentine’ Day theme, so three bars of speciality chocolate from Chocolate Tree were supplied with the coffee tasting kits. Alongside the coffee, I received 50 grams of three samples of coffee, enough for me to cup each coffee during the session and to make a few extra cups of each coffee after the session was finished. Also, the box came with some instructions on how to cup at home. While I now know how to cup at home, these instructions were invaluable in the first session I attended; they helped me learn what I needed to do to get set up and start tasting.
Because most of my coffee tastings have been done at home, I have not been able to chat with a lot of people about what I'm tasting. The Steampunk cupping solved this problem, as coffee enthusiasts from around Scotland were brought into a Zoom room to learn about coffee. From the start of the session, I knew the cupping was going to be less of a class and more of a shared learning experience and conversation. We all had the opportunity to share what we were thinking, which I found useful from the start when Rachel, the head roaster, walked us through cupping, all the way in to our later discussions about tasting, transparency, and the many other topics that came up.
To prepare for the cupping, I set out a few glasses and had my coffee samples weighed and ready. I actually ground my samples during the cupping because I had an electric grinder. But, it is recommended to grind your samples beforehand to make sure that you are ready. Indeed, the session starts with a good introduction to cupping and everything I heard was valuable knowledge. Although I have cupped before, I learned a lot about why and how coffee is cupped in professional environments. At Steampunk, for example, coffee is cupped for three reasons:
- To assure the quality of the coffee.
- To decide how to roast each coffee.
- To make decisions about which coffees to buy from green coffee sellers (who sell unroasted coffee).
As part of the introduction to cupping and tasting, Rachel shared some information on how coffee is cupped, with reference to charts and software. Rachel showed us Cropster, a tool used to track roasts and the tastes of each coffee, and flavour wheels that help inform professionals who are trying to answer the question that I asked myself many times during the cupping: what does this coffee in front of me taste like? Rachel then shared a bit about how coffee is sourced, delving into why Steampunk pays a high price for their coffees and how coffee cuppings are used to determine a reasonable price for coffees based on the quality of a particular sample.
Then came the best part: the tasting. In front of me, I had three delicious coffees: Bale Mountain, Migoti Hill, and Finca La Esperanza, from Ethiopia, Burundi, and Guatemala, respectively. With the guidance of Rachel and Cath, the founder of Steampunk Coffee, I was guided through the process of how to taste each coffee. I cup at home and so I have had some more practice cupping but there is a lot to remember during the setup process; any walk through of the cupping process was helpful. I enjoyed tasting each coffee, slurping the samples to try to decipher what flavours were present in each coffee.
This part of the tasting was part-tasting, part-discussion. Rachel shared some of her opinions on the coffee and other people jumped in, too. But I was first given the opportunity to taste before we started comparing notes, which reduces the chance that bias creeps into the process. When someone says that a coffee tastes like something, it is really easy to mimic what that person has said. I kept a notepad and pen next to me so I could take notes on all of the coffees I was drinking, and I ended up writing down quite a bit (although a lot of what I wrote was me repeating the same thing over again!).
Toward the end of the session, we all had the opportunity to taste three unique chocolates. This part of the session was interesting because I have never given much thought to the individual characteristics of chocolate. My eyes were opened when I begun tasting each one. I have no experience tasting chocolate analytically and so, when I started, I felt like everything was "just chocolate." After a little bit of thinking, I noticed differences in each chocolate, but I was only able to take a few notes. I felt this way when I started cupping: you can only write more detailed notes after practising and refining your palate.
Would I attend another Steampunk cupping session? Yes. I thoroughly enjoyed the back-and-forth discussion between participants and members of the Steampunk team. On many occasions, I found myself laughing. On other occasions, I found myself intrigued, especially when we started discussing the flavour wheel and how to identify different flavours in coffee. Whether or not you have cupped coffee before, the Steampunk session is interesting. I learned how to cup in the October session I attended, and here I was again learning about cupping from Steampunk.
Contributed by James Gallagher, a home brewer and coffee enthusiast. View his excellent blog at jamesg.blog
We will be running further cupping events each month - find out more information HERE.