Archive for coffee cupping

Our Generous Friends

Posted in coffee, coffee cupping, coffee roasting, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2010 by Chad

As we rapidly approach the opening of this years Bids for Coffee Kids auction to benefit Coffee Kids, more and more generous friends are standing up to support our cause.

Last last night, I got a message from Nick Cho, offering to donate one or more 3-hour coffee brewing/espresso training sessions or coffee cupping/green coffee grading sessions to the auction.  After a few back and forth messages, Nick settle up on the following two donations on behalf of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters, which have been added to our Month Long items:

Item M-7: 3-hour customized cupping and/or green coffee grading training with Trish Rothgeb

Item M-8: 3-hour customized training on espresso and brewing with Nick Cho

Thank you both for such a generous offer.  It’s wonderful to have you in DC!

3-hour customized cupping and/or green coffee grading training with Trish Rothgeb

Colombia Las Mingas

Posted in coffee, coffee cupping, coffee roasting with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2010 by Chad

My journey down the rabbit hole of specialty coffee has generally followed the three questions voiced in the our vision.  Over the last year, we have attempted to connect this small operation with those working directly with farmers or cooperatives–seeking ever a direct connection and a means by which we could directly reward the farmers and producers at the front end of the coffee chain.  Many times, the efforts have proved difficult or impossible, as we rarely buy more than 5-10 bags of any particular lot.

One program that had us hooked from the start is the Las Mingas program from Virmax.  Las Mingas, loosely translated means “for the good of all”.  The program focuses on quality, and provides a transparent pricing process from farmer, exporter, importer and buyer.  Virmax works with selected farms and cups individual lot samples–samples that score above an 84 approved as individual lots and then sent off to potential buyers for evaluation.  Buyers cup the samples, and then set the price based on the buyer’s cupping score.  It’s a means for the coffee buyer to directly reward the farmer based on quality.

After reading a bit on the program from our friends at gimme! coffee, including a question and answer session with the Las Mingas program founders Alejandro Cadena and Giancarlo Ghiretti, we contacted Alejandro and through our name in the hat.  Alejandro let us know that he could find small lots that would fit our buying profile.  Last fall, Alejandro sent us three samples from the Tolima region.  All three coffees were excellent, but one stood out above the others.   We approved the sample, agreed on a price based on our cupping score-one well above the fair trade price.

Here are a few details about the farm; I’ll post more on the farm and the coffee tomorrow, along with pictures.  Here’s to what I hope is a continuing relationship, and one of first steps of our part to improve the world of coffee.

Farmer Name: Luis Merchan
Farm Name: Los Naranjos

Farm Location
Department: Tolima
Municipality: Planadas
Elevation: 1,800 m.a.s.l. (5,900 ft)

Farm Size: 3.0 hectares
Total Number of trees: 13,000
Varietals: Coffea Arabica: Caturra (60%) / Colombia (40%)
Estimated Annual Production: 50 bags (70-kg net, each)
Harvest time: April – July / November-January
Processing: Natural fermented and fully washed in tanks
Drying: Sun-dried in “heldas” (traditional drying system built on top of the roofs of houses – with a black plastic on top of the wood, which is covered at night and when raining)
Shade Type: Semi shaded with Guamos
Fertilization: Chemical

El Salvador 2009 Cup of Excellence Washington DC Cupping – Initial Thoughts

Posted in coffee, coffee cupping, coffee roasting, coffee shop with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2009 by Chad

Yesterday I held my fist Cup of Excellence official group cupping at the Counter Culture Coffee Washington DC training center.  We had six people cupping these excellent coffees.  First, I have to extend a huge thank you to Alex Brown, who runs the training center for all his hard work helping me host this event.  I could not have done this without you carrying so much of the load.  Thanks also to Counter Culture Coffee for setting up the training center as a place where all in the local specialty coffee scene can collect and do wonderful things.

Besides me, our small crowd included Samuel Demisse from Keffa Coffee, the aforementioned Alex Brown, Joel Finkelstein from Qualia Coffeehouse, David Fritzler from Tryst Coffeehouse, and our surprise star-cupper, Peter Lynagh (formerly of CoE Founder George Howell’s Terroir Coffee).  Here he is in action back in the Terroir days.

When I invited Peter, the name rang a bell–and I knew he had some experience, but I had not yet connected the dots–turns out I brought in ringer.  While he looks young, he’s been on two CoE juries (I believe he was the youngest jury member ever in the CoE) and learned and worked for over five years alongside George Howell and his staff at Terroir.  Peter was a great addition to our event, and had excellent insight into the beans–as did all of our cuppers.

We managed to stay mostly on schedule, and reached some consensus on lot preferences.  Overall, there were some outstanding lots on the table–most of agreed that the #1 lot stood out in the top five.  From my own view, the effort to arrange for a group cupping was infinitely more satisfying than cupping the lots solo.  I learned so much more from having all of us compare notes after each flight, and it was more satisfying to roast and prepare samples for more than just me.  Everyone enjoyed themselves and we drove off into thoughts of future plans for local events and cuppings.  Stay tuned for more events.

When I first hatched the idea of hosting a CoE cupping, I had little idea what I had signed up to do.  Roasting and cupping the Colombia samples gave me a view into the roasting effort and the concentration needed to cup several flights of similar origins, but I had yet to learn all the work needed to pull together the event for more people.   I had little idea of the interest or potential turnout, especially for an unknown and a homeroaster.  As it turned out, we had a good mix of people, and a small enough group that the logistics did not overwhelm me on the first attempt–another good learning experience.

One thought has stuck with me as I prepared and participated in the event.  As I try to break further into the industry, with coffee as an avocation vice vocation, it’s easy to see where I am at a great disadvantage in one area.  You see, in one particular way there is a huge difference between the home-(roaster, cupper, barista) and the professional roaster/barista/cupper that is comitted to their craft.  What the “home-” version lacks are the hours, the daily sessions, in many cases the tools, and, most importantly I think, the mentoring that many folks get from the master roasters and cuppers that have been refining their craft for decades.  If I look at what Peter brought to the table, it was easy to see the years of mentoring that George Howell and his staff gave him.  I see some of the same things as I interact more with the pros–I just do not have the hours available to practice my craft like they do.  It’s not insurmoutable, but it is an important lesson to remember.  I will not go as far to say that the home-roaster or home-barista does not have useful insights to provide to the discussion.  What I and we must remember is to engage the community with the humitily that all of us have far more to learn than we have learned.  That said, what I do think the home- community can bring to the table is an ability to collect, communicate, and innovate at a pace which the individual professional cannot hope to achieve. The sheer numbers, if networked well, can provide for a pace that could be blistering.  Think of an analogy of the current version of massively parallel computers, which consist of thousands of small, relatively cheap individual processors linked together and quickly took over the supercomputer market vs. the large, expensive processors like the old Cray computers.  That’s the potential of what a well-connected home- or prosumer community could bring to specialty coffee.

An event like this is humbling, and a good reminder of what more I have to learn.  That is not disheartening in the least–in fact, the view ahead looks better every day.

I’ll post some more thoughts after another round of CoE cupping tomorrow, along with some photos of this event that I managed to grab in between slurps.

El Salvador 2009 Cup of Excellence – Washington DC Cupping Event

Posted in coffee, coffee cupping, coffee roasting with tags , , , , , on May 25, 2009 by Chad

Thanks to the generosity of Alex Brown and the folks at Counter Culture Coffee, I will be hosting a cupping event for the top twenty lots from the El Salvador 2009 Cup of Excellence.  The event will occur at 1:00 p.m. Wednesday May 27, 2009 at the Counter Culture Washington DC training center.  Please contact me (chad at noquartercoffee dot com) if you are interested in attending.  The space is limited, but we’re not out of room just yet.  Map information is below.

I’m roasting up samples right now–these are some beautiful coffees, and the roasting fragrances fill the air with the anticipation of excellent cups.

Colombia Cup of Excellence 2009, Part 1

Posted in coffee cupping, coffee roasting, home roasting with tags , , , , , , on April 25, 2009 by Chad

The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.  –Norman Vincent Peale

My Colombia Cup of Excellence journey for this week started last Friday, April 17.  I had put off roasting the 27 winning samples until then, mainly because I had been recovering from a nasty bout of bronchitis, and still had some hopes for arranging a public cupping the week of the auction.  That meant a weekend roast, so that the samples would be sitting 3-5 days off the roast for cupping.


Based on the success I’d been having in the last three weeks of sample roasting (using my datalogging hottop), including some Colombian lots, I decided to stick with a City+ roast profile, with roast termination between 425°F and 427°F.  Here’s how I set up the three phases (drying, approach to 1st crack, 1st crack to end of roast)

1st phase: drop temperature 350°F–full heat–expected drying time (bright yellow beans @ 300°F bean temp) 6:00-6:30.

2nd phase: full heat, except for a 50% heat phase in the middle to extend the caramelization from 350°  to 370°F from about a minute to almost 2 minutes.  Remaining ramp at full power.

3rd phase:  Cut power to 50% about 12°F before 1st crack, and coast through until final temperature reached.  Time from start of 1st to end of roast should be between 3:30 – 4:30.

This profile does a few things.  Increases sugar caramelization and sweetness prior to 1st crack, slows things down to keep a reasonable brightness, and has an extended 1st to end of roast period to maximize post-1st crack flavor development.

The profile worked beautifully–all roasts hit the expected profile of drying time, 1st crack time, and post 1st crack time within about 30 seconds.  Only one problem roast–when I mistakenly hit the “eject” button on the hottop about 8 minutes into the roast of Lot #26.  I finished all the samples by Sunday evening.


After exhausting a few sources for potential group or public cuppings, I set on a schedule to cup all the samples Tuesday and Wednesday night.  As we had all kinds of things going on (birthdays, anniversaries), it was difficult to work on arranging anyone but my time, so the solo cupping route worked best.

First night

Tuesday night, I set up three flights of the samples from 11-25.  Ignored 26 and 27–I pooched the roast on 26, and 27 was the sacrifice to the cupping gods (or so I was told).  Flights were 11-15, 16-20, and 21-25.  Blind cupping within each flight.

As I went through the flights, there were loads of classic cup* profiles all around.   I had been warned that wading through this many samples from one origin can be tough, and sure enough, that was the case.   I decided to forgo scoring, and to focus on the descriptors and relative preferences.  That helped me focus on which lots stood out and hit my preferences.  I recommended five lots on the first night.

Lot #11 Orange, spice, caramel, full rich, round body, with acidity turning malic (apple/pear) as it cools

Lot #12 Classic cup with caramel, vanilla, chocolate, complex acidity (couldn’t nail it to one group–jury called it sparkling), clean rich finish with caramel and vanilla

Lot #18  Floral, honey, caramel, delicate acidity, rich full silky body, lingering caramel and toffee finish.  Beautiful balance between the delicate acidity and silken body.

Lot #20 Tree fruit, citrus, honey, vanilla, and cocoa/milk chocolate, malic and citric acidity nicely balanced, medium, rounded body, clean, rich chocolate and tree fruit finish

Lot #21  Floral, honey, white fruit (pear/white grape), delicate tartaric/malic acidity, silky smooth medium weight body, clean, lingering floral, honey and white fruit finish.

Second night

The second night cupping was another three flights of samples–the top ten lots and a repeat cupping of the five preferred samples from the first night.  I cupped the top five first–all were excellent coffees, but I preferred #2, #1, and #4 in that order.

Lot #1  Multi-fruit aroma–sweet break and caramel.  Round, medium weight body silky and syrupy–lush.  I found it a nice firm and delicate acidity–balanced (jury saw more citrus–I wasn’t getting the lemon zip).  Many fruits, with caramel and malt hints.  CLEAN cup.

Lot #2  Spice and honey aromas with tree fruit and floral notes on the break.  Wonderful balance of body and acidity, malic brightness–green apple snap.  Floral, with darker fruits, plum, some raisin, milk chocolate and spice hints.  Finish complex albeit quick with juicy dark fruits, milk chocolate, spice and dried fruit.  Medium weight, balanced, creamy body.  My favorite, but it was close.

Lot #3  Molasses, malt and tree fruit aromas, crisp and delicate body–more apple and tree fruits there.  Body medium weight and silky.  Did I mention balanced?  Caramel, toffees, tart fruit (green apple) notes.  Slight effervescence.  Long caramel finish with warm sweet spice notes.

Lot #4  spice and malt aromas with pear and grape on the break.  Some snap in the brightness–malic and tartaric (red apple and white grapes).  medium weight body slight creaminess.  Floral, pear, warm spice, sugar cane/brown sugar, hints of banana.  Long caramel, milk chocolate, dried fruit in the finish.

Lot #5  Tart fruit, chocolate, citrus aromas, chocolate and a big citrus hit on the break.  Medium weight but full and rich body, tart and tangy brightness–citrus and malic.  Tangerine, honey, milk chocolate and caramel.  Finish hit tree fruit and citrus notes along with caramel and chocolate.

Out of the remaining two flights, I settled on Lot #12 as my favorite from the first night along with #8 and #10.

Lot #12:  Sweet and spice aroma, with plum (maybe raisin), slight orange and spice on the break.  Lively break.  Silky smooth body, medium weight and balanced with a delicate, multi-fruit acidity.  Sparkling is what the jury wrote–I agree.  Lots of complex fruit, tropical, banana, plum, stone fruit.  Caramel, hints of vanilla, milk chocolate and brown sugar hold the back end of the cup together.  Clean, sweet, fruit and caramel in the finish.  Notes read: “SOFT, lush”

Lot #8  Floral, chocolate and citrus aroma, floral and orange on the break.  Bright sweet citrus acidity, balanced by thicker, round, rich body.  Lots of chocolate (and some vanilla) in the cup, with floral notes and tangerine/orange swirling around and hints of malt and spice.  Rich, long orange/chocolate finish.  Was thinking Terry’s Chocolate Orange….

Lot #10  Lots of floral notes in the fragrance/aroma, along with spices, citrus (orange), red fruits and hints of darker or dried fruit.  Syrupy body and sparkling acidity–multiple fruits–not too bright or tart–more delicate.  Flavors of multiple fruits, red fruits orange, some tree fruit.  Wonderfully sweet finish–vanilla a caramel round out the cup.  A bit more of a soprano note, but it worked very well.  My favorite of the (6-10) group.

Final Thoughts

An excerpt from an email I sent out to my home roaster and cupper friends after the two cupping nights:

We’ve all cupped, and we all know sometimes how tough it is to put words, especially alone.  This was a humbling experience, and invigorating.  So much more to learn, but what a fun ride.

It was difficult.  I have written that cupping is a learned skill, and that one of the first things you must learn is to trust your senses.  That did come in handy, but I tell you, throughout the exercise I felt humbled by what I have yet to learn.  That said–it’s a great place to be.  Happy to have done the work, proud at how far I have come, humbled and invigorated by what I have yet to learn.

True humility…makes us modest by reminding us how far we have come short of what we can be. –Ralph W. Sockman

Coffee Marathon, and I’m Not in Atlanta!

Posted in coffee cupping, coffee roasting, home roasting with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2009 by Chad

Having decided not to travel to Atlanta for the SCAA (something about too many missed weekends in the yard), I partially made up for it with a marathon coffee session yesterday.

Bag, Box, Ship

The day began with the start of bagging, boxing, and labeling the first of what was to be fifty packages of green coffee, to be sent to my brethern home roasters.  This week’s prizes?  A Rwanda 2008 Cup of Excellence, Lot #18 supplied by our friends at Cafe Imports.  The preparation on this coffee is beautiful, and it holds up in the cup.  I talked about the other three coffees in my last post, including the Sulawesi Kalossi and Uganda FTO Bugishu Kawomera from InterAmerican Coffee and the Mexico Organic Natural Terruño Nayarita from San Cristobal Coffee Importers.  Ten bags of these to go with two 20kg boxes of the Rwanda Cup of Excellence.  That’s a total of over 1400 lbs., which will be lifted several times before my gregarious postman, Carl, picks them up.  There may be lots of news about the health benefits of coffee these days, but lugging this much coffee may be taking this health thing a bit far!

Cupping at Counter Culture

I took a mid-morning break from packing to attend the weekly cupping at the Counter Culture Coffee DC training center.  Alex was absent–travelling to Atlanta for the SCAA Event.  David from Tryst filled in admirably, leading us through some surprising coffees.  Had I bet money on the origins, I would have been in trouble. The first coffee was the hit of the day, and excellent, Colombian with a delicate brightness, lots of tree fruits (apple, pear, apricot) in the aroma, flavor and nose, and sweet caramel and milk chocolate.  Medium, rounded body balanced out the cup, and it left clean and quick.  La Golodrina, from Cauca in the southern part of Colombia.

The second coffee was another Colombian that I would have bet was a Kenya coffee–as would have everyone who didn’t know what was in the cup.  La Golodrina – Ariel Pajoy Microlot.  This one was effervescent with citrus (red grapefruit) and red fruits, with spicy notes that balanced well with the juicy citrus.  Nice rounded body complemented the bright notes well, and there was hints of rich chocolate providing a bass note to the citrus and red fruit soprano.  My favorite of the day, even if I missed the origin.

We all did not like the final sample, which hints that something was wrong with what was sent to DC–this coffee should have jumped out at us, and every one of us did not get anything like what’s the norm for this bean.  It must have been our sample, because a similar cupping at the Counter Culture Durham Traing Center won the day.

Colombia Cup of Excellence Samples

The last phase of my marathon day was roasting fifteen of the twenty-seven samples from the 2009 Colombia Cup of Excellence.  I roasted samples 8-22 yesterday–picked the middle of the pack, most likely the one’s we would be buying– with a standard cupping profile roast.  I’ll finish the rest over the weekend.  All the coffee was in fantastic shape, and all roasted up well.  My front office is filling with the outpourings of freshly roasted coffee leaking out of the valves in the sample bags.  I cannot wait to cup the samples this week–hopefully with some other Mid-Atlantic roasters.  Details to follow on this week’s cuppings!

A long, satisfying day.  Started at 8 am, finished at 11:30 pm.

Back in the Saddle

Posted in coffee cupping, coffee roasting, home roasting with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2009 by Chad

Nothing like a end-of-winter bout of bronchitis to put a damper on cupping.  I had several samples ready for a Friday cupping, but I was not up to the task.  Today, following a visit to the doctor, my sinuses cleared enough to allow a single coffee cupping.

The table held an unusual bean–a Natural, or dry, process coffee from Mexico.  Terruño Nayarita, an organic coffee from San Cristobal Coffee Importers.

I had ordered a sample of the Terruño Nayarita after cupping a roasted lot at Coffee Fest.  We all had been a bit shocked to be cupping a dry processed coffee from Mexico, and were a bit overwhelmed with the fruited flavors.  The roast level for that cupping was fairly light, with lots of bright fruit notes, little body, and a cup that became a bit too perfumy as it cooled.

For today’s cupping, I had roasted the sample a bit darker–past City+ and a bit closer to Full City.  Still had lots of fruit in the dry fragrance and on the break, but I noted a deeper flavor in the wet aroma–a tobacco hint.  The body and acidity were more balanced, and the cup had a nice combination of the cherry high end notes with a back of the palate tobacco, and chocolate as the cup cooled.  Clean finish with hints of chocolate and tobacco, and the cup stayed balanced as it cooled.  I found the slightly darker roast level made for a better overall cup, but this coffee would make for another interesting roast level cupping experiment.

Interesting note–all the lots for this coffee are individually bar coded from origin–including the sample.  The QA for this coffee is run by San Cristobal’s Mexican QA company, Cafés Sustentables de Mexico.  I’ll be grabbing a bag or two of this with my next pallet.

Terruño Nayarita

Cupping Confidence

Posted in coffee, coffee cupping, coffee roasting with tags , , , on March 24, 2009 by Chad

Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.   –Marcus Aurelius

I often read or hear comments from other roasters, or other coffee drinkers to the tune of

“I just don’t have the taste buds to cup coffee”


“I can’t taste what [some well-known cupper/taster] does”.

I used to buy into both of these views, doubting my capability to discern tastes, aromas, and quality in the cup.

It’s BS.

Anyone who loves coffee has the ability to cup and assess the quality of a coffee.  ANYONE.  You don’t have to be a supertaster, or an oenophile, or a foodie, or have a thesaurus of flavor descriptors implanted in your brain.

Cupping is a skill–one that can be learned and honed with practice.  I’ll agree that there may be differences in abilities, but they are more akin to the differences in capability of any of our senses.  The best cuppers return to the cup daily, and have done so for years.  They’ve also cupped with others, shared descriptors, tasted the same coffees, discussed and written about their experiences–taking every opportunity to hone their skills at detecting flavors and aromas, acidity and mouthfeel, and defects in the cup.

Peter Giuliano of Counter Culture Coffee, wrote some excellent thoughts on cupping in response to Dan Kehn’s after action report of taking the SCAA Sensory Skill Test.  Full context here.  (my apologies for just linking, but it’s not my content).

He’s spot on.  If you can taste the difference between two brands of soda, and you like coffee, you have what it takes to cup.  The keys are that you pay attention, trust what you smell and taste, and write down your experiences.

Lastly–and this is certainly not an original thought–cup with others!  The steepest ramps in my coffee knowledge has been when I’ve cupped with other people.  Our coffee vocabulary and knowledge grows by leaps and bounds when we share the experience with others at the same table.  At times, cupping can feel like a vocabulary test–what’s the word for what I taste and smell??  Your cupping partners may have the word you need.

So, grab your moleskine, a cup and start sharing your experiences.  Your coffee knowledge, your roasting skills and your confidence in your senses will follow.

You could even end up like this guy (hint, hit play).

Cup of Excellence – Tilting

Posted in coffee, coffee cupping, coffee roasting with tags , , , , , on March 19, 2009 by Chad

Roasters of the East Coast, Unite!

One of the things that has driven me batty on occasion is the vast difference in available resources between the left and the right coast.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been able to meet and connect with great coffee people here on the East Coast, but at times I feel like we’re the backwater of specialty coffee.  Ok, maybe not a backwater.

One example–Atlas Coffee in Seattle generally hosts cuppings for most of  the Cup of Excellence competition lots prior to the auction.  Our East Coast importers generally host one or two of these events (thanks Royal NY!) every year, and of course, the events are in New York.

So crazy me has an idea–why don’t we host events in the Baltimore-Washington area?  There are quite a few microroasters around these parts, from what I’ve learned.   If DC can host a Coffee Fest regularly, surely we can put together some cuppings and buying groups for Cup of Excellence coffees.   I’m on it.

Call me Don, but it’s time to chase another windmill.  The Left Coast can’t have ALL the fun!

Flight of the Kenyans

Posted in coffee cupping, coffee roasting with tags , , , , on March 18, 2009 by Chad

Last night and tonight, I had the pleasure of cupping four recently arrived Kenya AA auction lot samples.   For some, cupping Kenyas can be difficult, as the intense brightness of many of the cups can become overwhelming.  A year’s worth of regular cupping has made it easier for me, but I’ve not yet built up enough palate stamina to handle more than four of these at a time.

Certainly I have not yet mastered enough of the Way of the SpoonTM to manage what some of the exporters do during auction season–some of them, such as C. Dorman, Ltd. cup up to 3,000 samples (Kenya and Tanzania lots) each week during the peak of auction season, as reported by Thompson Owen in his latest travel log.

As for this latest flight–the table was graced by an outstanding cup–a Gethumbwini estate AA, as well as two other excellent coffees–Eegads Estate AA and Tassia Estate AA.  The Gethumbwini Estate stood out as a cup that hit on all cylinders across the range of flavors.  Excellent brightness balanced by a creamy, full range body and sweet citrus and caramel notes.  Citrus notes included grapefruit and hints of orange, with both pulp fruit and zest notes.  Clean, rich finish with caramel or toffee hints.  Only regret is that I managed to just grab one bag–hopefully the next shipment from this importer cups as well.   As for 2nd place, the Tassia and Eegads both presented similar flavor profiles favoring more of the higher-end bright citrus and winey fruit notes, with all of the richness of the Gethumbwini.  I picked the Eegads–perhaps the name swayed the scoring, though I think the correct name should be Eegads! Estate.  More East Africa coffees to come–Malawi and Uganda samples hit the table Friday.  Hoping for a similar in quality to the morphing Mapanga AAA from past years, even though these are smaller screen beans.