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Postby ChrisSchooley » Wed Jun 22, 2011 10:45 am

I think that it's pretty safe to say that more roasters are cupping then ever before (perhaps due in part to there being more roasters than ever before, but I also think that more people are introduced to cupping earlier in their coffee careers). What do you think are some of the outcomes of the increase in cupping?
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Postby Bob_R_Snow » Tue Jun 28, 2011 12:13 pm

a more interesting use of the English language when it comes to describing the aroma/flavor/body, etc... of coffees. ;)
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Postby c.hallien » Tue Jun 28, 2011 3:11 pm

Hey Chris,

Good topic and one that I have given some consideration to over the past couple of years. In my experience at the workplace; it seems that involving roasters in the cupping (or having them govern the finished product to some extent) has increased the awareness of the cause-effect relationship to the roasting process.
Here's some "ideal outcomes"
1. Increase in quality and consistency in the finished product - with roasters cupping and aligned in quality perspectives, the roasters can explore roast profiles and experiment with variations in the roasting process, screening what variations on the roast that had positive and negative outcomes and modify the profile to optimize the development of the flavor.
2. With visibility to the raw material and the finished product, the roasters should have the skill and ability to articulate observations back to the coffee buyer(s) when the roasters are not involved in the purchasing decision. That feedback loop can complete the circle in the quality chain. Unfortunately this does not always equate to a change in sourcing strategies when a change may be needed.
3. Roasters actively cupping also provides visibility to changing quality of green coffee over time and prompts modifications to the roast profile to again achieve the best flavor development. We sued to cup and log trends in flavor deterioration, when coffees scored below a minimum in subsequent cuppings we placed the coffee on "probation" which initiated a re-profiling session with the coffee.

BUT the negative that I have seen (or at least suspect) with roasters cupping is the migration to lighter and lighter roasting. As I'm sure everyone is aware, at the cupping table lighter roasts often score higher, have more of the delicate nuisances such as floral notes. This does not always translate to a coffee that is well developed for brewing. I've taken my share of coffees that cupped really well and made a press pot only to be underwhelmed by the actual beverage or overwhelmed by the sour acidity and lack of sweetness to help balance the acidity and provide depth. I have purchased several coffees over the past year that were simply too light (this coming from a person who prefers a much lighter roasted coffee than many). I suspect that the cupping is not cross checked with a brewed quality check. A few of the coffees I've had this experience with were from companies that I know have their roasters cupping.

That's my observation (or opinion) maybe we can get this all figured out at the RG Retreat!

Chris
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Postby ChrisSchooley » Thu Jun 30, 2011 12:22 am

Excellent points with your Ideal outcomes, Chris. I feel like for sure these are great results from more cupping. I also agree very much with your negatives statement. If I may continue along that line of thought, I think that this scenario also leads to questions about coffee evaluation outside of the original "grading of the coffee itself" purpose that the cupping serves. These are questions that we're hoping to dig deeper into with the challenge at retreat this year.

Bob, you also touch a nerve here that relates back to these questions. Descriptors can get pretty creative, and while it may be fun it can also be misleading. For one big reason: A lot of descriptors that we're using to sell coffee to consumers are generated using a method which the majority of these consumers won't ever experience, meaning they will most likely not experience these descriptors.

There is a real fun experiment that I'm going to do that Tom came up with, I like to call it: the Thompsonson Scenarios. I will post some details and results after I play around with it a bit.

ces
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Postby Scapistrant » Thu Jul 14, 2011 8:32 am

The outrageous taste descriptors are something that have been bugging me for quite sometime. Full disclosure, i say silly things all the time. We are all guilty. But it becomes really difficult when cuppers say all sorts of crazy things like, pepperoni pizza, or orange soda, or candied cheeseburgers. Yes, there are qualities of those things. However, we aren't really evaluating the coffees this way. Maybe talking more about general aesthetics, like shape, the fundamentals. I have found it more effective this way. Time to break some bad habits.
Chris, i'm curious about these Thompsonson Scenarios.
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Postby rojo » Thu Jul 14, 2011 2:22 pm

I think you're all right, but I like goofy descriptors. Or I like goofy descriptors when it's understood that they're goofy but lead you in the right direction.

The super light roast trend bugs me out a bit too. I see two problems.. 1. drip coffees and espressos that taste like chewing on glass dipped in salted lime joose and called simple "bright". 2. not really a problem of more cuppers but more like on the other thread in here about evaluating roasted coffee: cupping doesn't really do that. darker roasts are written off as too dark when using the standard protocols.

Well, maybe there's 3. : folks are forgetting about the art of the blend and blends are taking a hit for it. Cupping as a thing is generally for the single origin green coffee and we're all bonkers for the great ones. But blends are treated like some second tier scrub by some of these 3rd wave places. I love to highlight the character and terrior and all that, but blends require craft too, probably moreso. To take more than one coffee and make a recipe and put it together and find the right profiles for each or pre blend, all of that. I notice more of this in the Barista turned Roaster crowd. No offense to that group, they do awesome things. I've agonized on blends a lot and what one can get from a blend and I hope it's the next new old thing... two or three great coffees blended and given due justice... Some espressos get this notoriety but blends in general are kind of overlooked and I think the cupping proliferation is a factor in that.
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Postby timd » Fri Jul 15, 2011 12:08 pm

From a personnel development standpoint it is a great thing to have more cuppers in house. Things like quality control, purchasing and communication are greatly enhanced. By and large it is positive.

The negatives have been discussed here as well, perhaps the most oft-putting is the use of wild descriptors that are simply hyperbole. Before coffee I was trained as a wine buyer, my boss told me "don't use verbal masturbation when you are writing shelf talkers, keep it simple and only use descriptors that resonate with the average taster" Describing a cup to a customer as packed with zagnut bars accentuated with champagne grapes and Meyer lemon infused baklava is a failure. I don't doubt that is what you might think you tasted, however it is setting the customer up for failure if you set the bar that high. It is my assertion that cupping notes should not be the basis for descriptors. Brew the coffee six ways to Sunday and taste the coffees.

The ultra-light roast is bothersome as well. A recent trip to a northwest coffee mecca was laced with under developed cups that were neither balanced nor sweet. The roasters who "get it" can take the exact same coffee a tad further, keep the nuanced floral notes while actually bringing out the sweetness and balancing the cup. A Grand Cru Kenyan should not be akin to licking a 9V battery and grassy notes in great Colombian coffees is not so great either.
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Postby DarrinD » Sat Jul 16, 2011 6:44 am

Just yesterday we had the luck of cupping coffees that were originally sample roasted just a few weeks back at SCAA standard for cupping; but we actually did a production two days prior of the same 4 farms. We brewed a hario V brewer and kalita flat bottom and also cupped. It was really interesting to see the differences in profile from cupping to hand brewed. Strangely, the cupping of all 4 farms faired the best and showed the most personality over the other two. I have always been intrigued how some coffees cup better than they do in a "finished" format. All of this information lends itself to how we might approach production roasts/agtron levels etc. If it had not been for tasting these fairly light production roasts in different formats, we would not have had the snapshot into each farms full potential. food for thought.
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Postby c.hallien » Sun Jul 31, 2011 4:04 am

The imaginative descriptors are quite off-putting to me. I "grew up" cupping in a pretty disciplined environment and produced reports that demanded clear, understandably language using generally accepted coffee terminology. Sure, when I cupped some Colombians I was reminded of Peanut Butter and Jelly, good Kenyans are reminiscent of the smell of cat urine ("pipi de chat" from a French Wine Aroma kit...sounds less disgusting!), these are not useful outside of my head and when I experience them I have to translate them into terminology that doesn't need further explanation or interpretation. One environment I cupped in, seemed to reward the use of off-the-wall descriptors and combinations of them. The problem was that we cupped the same coffees each day but generated highly variable terms for the same coffees, which meant either are quality was all over the place or the descriptors were?

I think Tim's point is bang-on, cup for your own internal needs (QC / Purchasing / Roast profiling), develop terminology that customers can relate too and actually experience for themselves and try to keep it real and within some boundaries.

I worked in Ethiopia with a group trying to gain alignment with the NA market, I was asked on several occasions why Americans were so obsessed with food. I was asked; "Do you really taste mango when you drink this coffee?"
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Postby Stephanie Ratanas » Wed Aug 24, 2011 2:11 pm

I was definitely guilty of staying to light when I first started roasting, the main reason being that the roaster I came after in my group had issues with things going too dark. Since then (when I had no idea what I was doing) I've "developed" a lot (har har har) and brought things to a more reasonable level. I think that there's so much fear of being "roasty" that roasters in the "new market" would rather risk being to light than risk getting a hint of burnt flavor.

I cup my roasts, but I also brew them, and that is usually what I base my descriptions off of. If most of your accounts brew through a batch brewer, or if that is how you serve your coffee at your cafe, that would be a much more accurate to come up with descriptions and to know what the coffee is actually going to taste like for the consumer-- which is really who most of us are roasting for, right? At least we should be.

I think one of the areas where this gets lost the most is espresso. I cup my roasts for espresso, but they don't exactly taste the best that way. I pull shots of them, and determine my roasts from those results. It's a little more complicated because you have to wait a number of days before you can taste them, but comparing what I've tasted on the cupping table to what I taste in a shot from that same roast helps a lot to get to know how that coffee will behave in the hopper from a tasting on the table.

I'd be curious to know from any Australian roasters how they buy coffee. From conversations with Australians in the past, I understand that 90-95% of sales are espresso. Most of the samples I get are pretty small, and I usually try to pull a shot or two anyway, but if you don't have that option what do you look for in a coffee when cupping? What do you look for in a profile on the cupping table?
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