Cupping Coffee With Bay Area “Titans”

Ever wonder why that cup of coffee at your favorite hipster indy shop can cost you upwards of $5? It might have something to do with all the research and effort that goes into getting the perfect bean brewed in your cup.

Last week, some of the most talented coffee buyers and experts in Northern California, with several of them coming from the Bay Area, met to talk, taste and decide whether a bean from Esmeralda, a top-rated farm in Panama, was good enough to show up in your cup.

Our friends at the Los Angeles Times were on hand to describe the intense scene, more reminiscent of a wine experts seminar, than what the average coffee drinker might think goes into their cup.

The coffee they were trying out can cost upwards of $130 a pound, which the Times was quick to point out broke all previous coffee price records. The coffee was probably too expensive for to be brewed in your cup, according to the five roasters who were on hand, including Ritual Coffee Roasters of San Francisco.

So what goes into a coffee tasting session you might wonder? The Times describes it the best: 

The tasting (it's called a "cupping" in the coffee world) was held at Flora Grubb Gardens, a nursery in San Francisco. It was a pretty, if unusual, place for the cupping. The initial mood was light. The tasters, six men and one woman, discussed coffee things such as altitudes and acidities. Then the coffee came out and the mood got more serious. 

And just what is cupping you ask? It is an "elaborate, many-step process that involves smelling ground beans for 'fragrance,' smelling ground beans with boiling water on them for 'aroma' and then walking around the table with special cupping spoons and slurping the coffee to test for things such as flavor, balance, mouth feel and after-taste."

Each taster took about 30 sips of the coffee and took notes on a "standardized cupping score" sheet that helps the experts keep track of the "underpipes" in the coffee, the "parchment," and just how good the coffee was.

"It's funny," said Colby Barr, owner of Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz, the Times quoted him as saying,. "When I first started cupping, people would say, 'Do you taste the caramel notes?' And I'd think, 'I taste coffee.' "

Now that sounds like something we can all relate to. Want to see what cupping looks like? Check out the Times slide show.

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