cupping: not as naughty as it may sound

The time I was shown just how little I know about coffee.

Counter Culture, the roaster from Durham, NC which supplies many of my favorite coffee shops, has research and training labs in many cities across the US, including here in DC. Among the events open to the public is Tastings at Ten, which carries over a company tradition of everyone taking a break every Friday morning at 10:00 to taste whatever is new and interesting.

I recently signed up for one, and it was quite an experience, a humbling one at that.

There were about a dozen of us in attendance. The staff were so happy about coffee and super excited because we were tasting coffee produced in Yemen. We learned Yemen is one of the world’s oldest coffee producers but has little to no infrastructure to reach scale and develop exports.

I figured they just give us coffee to drink. No! They did not! They gave us a cup of coffee when we started but not the Yemeni stuff, but a Kenyan bean which was used for a very light, clean brew.

For the main event we were cupping. The three types of Yemeni beans were ground separately into large bowls, hot water was very carefully poured in, they mixed it, and let it sit. Then they carefully scraped off the fluff which had developed from the top. And then we, uh, cupped.

The tasting technique is to take a spoon, dip it in for a half fill, and make a fast, loud slurp to suck it down.

So we all took several passes through the line of cups, slurping away. Then we stood around and discussed the tasting notes of each variety and how the different processes used for the beans effect the taste.

I had nothing to add because I don’t have the palate to pick up “Milky Way bar…. pear…. wheat…… sour apple….. almonds” all in the same cup?


If you get almond and Milky Way, isn’t that really a Snickers?

I got that one tasted heavier, one tasted lighter/cleaner, the third was somewhere in between, but the rest of the palate notes escaped me.

They asked who hadn’t been there before and it was only two of us, but they probably knew already because our slurp game wasn’t as loud and dynamic as the others. Clearly my coffee goonery needs a lot of work.

Would go again.

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