Adventures of a cupper

“Cupper”. What?

In some countries, people have coffee in cups. Coffee cups, not mugs, I know. I won’t go into details about which countries this is, to prevent any undeserved drinking receptacle hatred.

A cupper is a coffee cup taster. And this time by “cup” I mean the quality, intensity, body, flavour, acidity… Its makeup. Its genetic material if you like. Not unlike wine tasting.

And also, not unlike in wine tasting, one must train the palate.

Being a successful cupper requires you to stop at nothing when it comes to discovering new tastes and new flavours. Remember when you were dared as a kid to eat a bug off the pavement? Well, twenty years later…

Such in a professional life of a cupper. Or is it just professional? Training your palate is a daily activity, you don’t only eat at work do you? So, to succeed in your job, on with the bugs, the worms, the spiders of all shapes and sizes. Pop it in, roll it around your taste buds, relish the texture, the aroma, dissect it all, define it across the standardised categories to describe coffee, and spit it back out.

But not unlike wine tasting, remember the pairings, remember the moment. Strong fruity natural coffees, with their overpowering berries, complement a muffin well in the afternoon, but would hardly work for your morning hourly cups. If you replace your muffin with a spicy cinnamon roll, key in the flavourful Kenyans which won’t give in to their companion. If you appreciate subtle tones with a strong acidity, consider high-grown Burundi. So many possibilities that brighten your day when you know what you’re doing.

Unfortunately I don’t.

Only recently did I find out coffee comes from this plant.

Meet Clementine. Clementine came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in green coffee bean form and I certainly won’t be harvesting its coffee cherries anytime soon. Not that the taste would be anything like Clementine’s siblings who are yet to be grown back in the Congo.

Clementine came across my colleague’s desk for cupping, an experiment conducted at the very least a dozen times between the time the coffee is harvested and bought by everyday people.

I call it experiment as the cupping rules are very strict. The location is a scent-free lab where anyone wearing perfume, strong deodorant, or a massive hangover would not be allowed in.

Coffee beans are roasted in a single batch, ground, and distributed across five cups. Round, transparent, identical cups to avoid any subconscious discrimination. Five cups are used to verify consistency across the batch, and identify any defects.

Defects originate from poor processing, either mouldy beans which did not dry fast enough, or the introduction of bacteria by poorly maintained machinery. These make the coffee taste metallic, or like manure. How do you know it’s manure exactly? Professional cuppers do try everything.

Thank you cuppers for taking it upon you, so that my coffee may never taste like manure.

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