I just had the opportunity to cup a dozen coffees from various roasters - and it was a very good experience.
Inspired by some conversations with Mat Honan - he, Jim Kennedy, Doug Jamison and I got together to compare a whole bunch of coffee from various roasters. The idea was to bring together disperate perspectives and points of view (journalist covering the space, wine and food professional, home coffee fanatic turning pro, pro coffee guy turned home fanatic) and see what we learned.
Coffees cupped were from Intelligentsia, Sightglass, Stumptown, Blue Bottle, Ecco and Four Barrel. This list was not selected for any specific reason - but rather based on roasters we wanted to check out. Cupping was blind, in random order.
I'm sure Mat is going to blog about his experience - but I have to say it was really cool to have another (new) perspective. And - to be honest - it was great to see him soaking up knowledge like a sponge.
In my usual manner I guess I'll start with the good news. It was a great table and there were four coffees on the table that were truly world class and which we were unanimous in our admiration of.
The top four coffees (in no order) were:
Intelligentsia Ethiopia Sidama Homecho Waeno - The shocker of the table. None of us would have identified the coffee as a Sidama. Wonderfully clean sophisticated in the cup. Buddha hand, light dried fruits, crisp tropical citrus and a wonderfully round and almost oily mouthfeel.
Stumptown Kenya Ngunguru - Stunningly sweet and dense, this coffee was another that was top two for all cuppers. Blackberry molasses, kumquat marmalade, tropical fruit and an amazing buttery thick mouthfeel. Layered flavours that keep opening as it cools.
Ecco Kenya Kangocho - A wonderful and complete cup that improved considerably as it cooled and ended up as one of everyone's top two coffees. Nuanced and balanced notes of bitter orange, blackberry, pluot / apricot and light cassis.
Stumptown Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Tumticha - Another cup that improved as it cooled. Tons of jasmine and assam tea melded with sweet berry notes and a crisp grape-like acidity that rounds and mellows as it opens up. A very elegant cup.
All four of these coffees were truly amazing (stopping most of us in our tracks each time while cupping).
For the bad news... every single roaster had a "problem coffee." I guess the good news is that only one of these problem coffees was problematic at a green coffee level - and only two (out of twelve) were what we decided we'd call "objectionable."
The rest were minor or slight roast defect issues that impacted the quality of the cup.
So... what did we learn from this experience?
First - I continue to be impressed by the results from cupping blind with a cross section of divergent perspectives. While this isn't how I'd evaluate coffees in a professional setting, it is an amazingly powerful tool for learning.
Second - related to the first point above... non-coffee people have far more tolerance for scorching, tipping - over-roasting defects you could say - than they do for under-development. A coffee that coffee pros would consider ashy or smoky and thus objectionable isn't seen as that bad - while a coffee that might be slightly under-developed (but still enjoyable) by the pros is seen as "harsh" and "sour" by the non-pros. Given some of the trends in the industry, this could be a growing problem soon.
Third - I wish that more journalists covering coffee were willing to engage and discuss and share the learning process about coffee in a manner like Mat just did. I think it would yield huge dividends (for all of us).
Fourth - Steel Pulse is very good cupping music. Almost on par with Prince.