Saturday, November 21, 2009

At The Cupping Table: Ristretto Roasters

Back in the heat of August, I think it was, Ristretto Roasters set out the blue dishes and little white bowls at their N. Williams location for a cupping of three of their roasts.

(I took many photos of the event and then promptly lost my data cable so I was unable to upload the photos for this blog post until now.)

Ristretto Roasters is led by Din Johnson who has put together a great team of baristas some of who were on hand to take me and many other devoted Ristretto fans through the steps of a professional cupping.

And I say "professional" because also on hand were some of the farmers and coffee experts from South America who joined us in the sniffing and slurping. These guys are the ones growing the beans Ristretto uses and they were a lot of fun to hang out with. They handed out shirts to lucky cuppers and showed us all up when it came to the slurp.

When we arrived we were all given a sheet of paper to write down our aroma and tasting notes on the three roasts on the table. There was a Guatamalen, Brazilian and Ethiopian roast if I remember correctly.

All three were very different from each other from the first dry sniff (grounds only), to the last slurp.

What has always amazed me is how a single coffee can travel over many different aromas and flavors by going through a hot water pour, agitation and finally a cooling off period. Each step brings out different pieces of the coffee's personality that some people would comment that while they thought they knew which coffee they would enjoy most based on the dry sniff, but once they slurped the cooling coffee, their opinion totally changed.

In the end it was the Guatamalen roast that was the crowd favorite. Nobody much cared for the Ethiopian, but that may have had something to do with our biased South American guests.

Ristretto puts on quite an impressive cupping with great care given to the coffee and they really let the participants feel out the coffees for themselves and share what they liked and didn't like.

While it could be easy for coffee professionals to simply dictate to the cupping newbie what they should taste and smell, I think it's important to listen to all the participants' opinons. We are the ones buying the coffee, and we may not be coffee experts, but we know what we like.

I've heard some people in the coffee business dismiss the public cupping because for some roasters the subtle differences in a coffee just don't come across an untrained palate. Or that there is just too much information to distill in such a short time with a coffee that there really is no point.

But even if we bumble our way through a cupping or two, I think a lot can be learned and appreciated in a public cupping.

Ristretto will be holding more cuppings in the future so look out for those. Kudos to Din and the staff at Ristretto for putting on a great show.

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