We had a great cupping at Maniac Roasting yesterday, hosted with expertise and grace by Alexarc Mastema. Every time that I participate in a cupping I feel learn something new. What was nice about this time is that the entire Black Drop crew was present. By listening to everyone’s tasting notes and comparing them to mine, I was able to get a much stronger sense of how each of us judges and describes particular coffees. And most importantly, gain more insight into how to describe the flavor profiles of our coffees in a manner tailored more specifically to individual customers.
After a short tour of the Roastery, Alexarc gave us an introduction to cupping, the steps and process, what we might expect and what to avoid. I find it interesting that rarely do I ever stop to focus so intensely upon my sensory experience; for instance, before eating a nice Italian dinner. I always dive right in. With the cupping, there is a sort of elaborate ritual to it that heightens and enriches the experience in order to celebrate the beautiful mysteries of taste and smell that create an exceptional cup of coffee.
Alexarc set us up with two of my favorite coffees: The Costa Rica SHB Tarrazu “La Pastora” and the Papua New Guinea Microlot / Micromill. We started with the PMG Microlot. The dry fragrance of this coffee was described variously as earthy, red wine, ripe cherry and peachy.
Alexarc added the water, we took in the wet aroma for the moment and then moved into what he called “the fragile moment” where the full aroma of the coffee bloomed for us as we broke the crust of the grounds. I liked his suggestion to not try and write down the experience immediately but to take an “olfactory snapshot.” Our descriptives were wet honey, cotton candy, tomato soup, dried apricots and nutty. Most of us rated the acidity at medium with little bitterness and mild intensity. There was a maple, pecan pie, light vanilla sweetness.
A few eloquent and enigmatic overall impressions from individual tasting notes:
Stephanie: “Really liked this coffee, low-acidity, sugary notes, reminds me of a darkly baked peach apricot pie – or burnt toast with apricot marmalade.”
Katy: “Lightly bodied juicy coffee – forest nymph.”
Scot: “Slight at first, quickly developing sweet honey notes.”
John: “Nut butter (peanut, almond), very smooth, pleasant finish.”
Sean: “Mellow, sweet.”
Next up was the Costa Rica SHB Tarrazu “La Pastora” – one of my favorites of the recent arrivals to the Drop. The effect of having cupped a coffee previous was helpful in that it gave me something more to work with and against. Even though it seemed my olfactory and taste receptors were becoming desensitized, with the first smell of the dry fragrance, I could distinguish immediate difference between the two coffees.
Whereas the PNG had been earthy, almost peachy, the Tarrazu was distinctively musky with hint of apricot, plum, green apple, with pronounced tones of sweet hay and almonds.
Breaking the crust released aromas redolent of cinnamon, cranberry, teriyaki and dark chocolate. Most of us rated this with moderate acidity, low bitterness, good intensity and smooth mouthfeel. Sweet notes ranged from dates, red wine to concord grapes and rhubarb.
Scot: “Complex and strong bottom notes, good sweet structure that was enriched by cooling and further tasting.”
Jonathan: “Coats your mouth like a chocolate bar.”
Stephanie: “Mellow honey, tangy lemon, grass and hay, fruit tinged, small floral notes.”
John: “Excellent acidity with great sweetness.”
Steven: “Lingers. Pop rocks.”
After all was said and done, Alex asked us to take a sip of the PNG, which had now cooled considerably. Several of us commented that it was almost like drinking Toddy. Rich syrupy coffee sweetness. Interesting to note how radically the flavors change with cooling.
Overall, it was great, fun, a valuable learning experience. Thanks to Alexarc Mastema and Maniac Roasting for hosting a great cupping for the Black Drop Crew.