Words: Vicki Ravlich-Horan | Images: Sheryl Nicholson
Cupping—a painful form of Chinese medicine which leaves you covered in dark rings, or the process coffee connoisseurs use to evaluate different coffee beans. I’m off to a cupping at Excelso now and hope the only dark rings will be those I leave on my tasting notes!
Excelso run regular cuppings, along with an array of other classes and workshops, all with the aim of helping you learn more about coffee. The cupping sessions in particular are aimed at broadening your horizons and tempting your taste buds with something new or unique.
In professional settings, cupping can be a serious affair. The key is precision, with beans weighed out to the gram, water heated to the precise temperature and coffee brewed to the exact se
cond. While all of this is an important part of the process, professionals often take it a step further, even competing to test their abilities to identify beans, their origins, the nuances and more.
Don’t expect a scholarly affair here though, the emphasis is fun. “We want people to come, have some fun, taste different coffees and learn how your tongue works,” says Carrie. With that said it’s a quick anatomy of the tongue lesson. Not all taste buds are created equal but it is important to understand how they work—with sweetness on the tip of your tongue while bitter notes are triggered at the back, salty and sour on the sides.
Anatomy lesson over, we go over how to evaluate what you are tasting, from sweetness and bitterness to how it feels in the mouth through to the aftertaste. But before we limber up the taste buds, we are putting our sense of smell to the test.
Today Tasha Dimitrof, Excelso’s coffee roaster, who is leading us through the session, has laid out five different coffees. Our first task is to get our noses down to each cupping bowl and take a deep sniff. For wine buffs out there, this is the equivalent to swirling your glass and giving it a good sniff. Smell plays such a big part in what we taste but it can also often be misleading. Number two smells like Nescafe while number five has a distinct fermented aroma.
Once we have dissected and discussed the smells of each it’s on to tasting. Each cup has 12g of uniformly ground coffee to which Tasha adds water heated to 90°C. Each cup is then left to brew for five minutes before the ‘biscuit’, or the coffee grounds that have risen to the top, are removed.
Now, armed with fancy silver soup-like spoons it’s time to get up close and personal. Much sniffing and slurping ensues as each brew is tried and discussed. Tasha says tasting coffee at a cupping is like enjoying a bowl of ramen, you need to take in the aroma then slurp it, aerating and coating the whole tongue to appreciate all the flavours.
This, as Tasha explains, “is appreciating coffee in its basest forms”. Unsullied by milk or brewing methods, you can begin to decipher the nuances of the coffee, the characteristics distinct to the bean, its cultivar and even country of origin.
To continue to broaden your discovery of new coffees and tastes, Excelso change their specialty coffee offering every two weeks. So pop in and ask them what’s on offer.