On Tasting Coffee
Slurp. Swish. Spit.
Not very attractive, is it? And certainly not the romantic stuff that much
of the business of coffee is built on. Still, slurping, swishing and
spitting -- better known as cupping -- is the foundation of professional
coffee tasters the world over. Armed with silver spoons, twirling tables
and the ever-present spittoon, cuppers have employed the technique for
more than a hundred years.
Just the same, there are iconoclasts even within
the community of coffee professionals who feel that cupping is a bit of a
throwback to earlier times, when it's purpose was not so much to identify
really great coffees, but to cull those that had defects, those that had
been damaged in storage or shipment -- even to ferret out those rascals
who might try to pawn off inferior beans for the good stuff that was
Cupping coffee is a ritual. Ken Davids,
author of Coffee:
A Guide to Buying, Brewing and Enjoying, suggests that there
really is no like ritual for "the lay person"-- those
outside of the professional coffee world. I disagree.
Consider the breakfast cup. For
hundreds of millions of people around the world their day simply
hasn't begun 'til they've had their morning cup -- whether alone, or
in the company of croissant, beignet, bagels or bacon and eggs. There
is perhaps no more contemplated cup in the world.
Consider the ritual of the dessert cup.
Whether your after-dinner treat is tiramisu, death by chocolate,
or a few chocolate chips, there are few better companions than an
equally rich cup of fresh-brewed coffee.
There are more... coffee and a smoke. Coffee
and biscotti. Coffee and Mozart. Even coffee
and Zen. No rituals, indeed.
Tasting coffee -- savoring it, really --
can't be achieved with a simple slurp and a spit. Frankly, savoring a
great cup of coffee deserves a ritual. It merits taking some
time. Paying attention. Allowing yourself to be in the moment... and
focusing on it. If you'd like something a bit more structured, allow
me to suggest the following ritual -- a "lay-person's guide"
for savoring coffee.
- Grind your coffee. Note the fragrance of
the fresh-ground beans... spicy, earthy, nutty.
- Brew your coffee. Enjoy the aroma as it
brews... heady and full of promise.
- Pour your coffee. Find a comfy place to
sit. Feel the cup warm your hand.
- Sample the aroma of the cup. Is it sweet?
Fruity? Notes of caramel?
- Breathe deeply. Release your breath.
- Sip your coffee. Go ahead... slurp it if
you like. Feel the coffee bathe your cheeks, blanket your
tongue. Focus on its flavor... is it complex? Is it direct,
simple? Swallow... enjoy its warmth.
- Breathe out through your nose. Savor the
aromas that waft through your sinuses... are there herbal notes?
- Breathe deeply. Release.
- Sip your coffee again. Wiggle your
tongue. Does the coffee feel heavy? Viscous? Is it light and
- Breathe out through your mouth... feel
your breath on your tongue. What new flavors and aromas do you
- Breathe deeply. Release.
- Repeat, as often as you like.
Enjoy your coffee. Savor a cup. Savor