Cuppings at Press Coffee Roasters: a Fantastic Introduction to Coffee Fundamentals
Zaida Dedolph Press owner Steve Kraus and Roaster Nanda Ibanez clean up after a successful cupping.
I remember, distinctly, the first coffee I ever tasted. At that point, I'd probably drunk a thousand cups of coffee and made about a million more than that for other people. But the first one I ever really tasted was from Ethiopia. It was reminiscent of warm blueberry syrup, delectably sweet, clean, and malty. Prior to that extra special cup, coffee was the bitter black stuff that made all that fur poke out from my dad's collar. It was something you drank because you had to, not because it was particularly enjoyable.
That coffee was on the table at my first ever coffee cupping. For those of you who aren't familiar with this term, it's essentially the coffee world's answer to a wine tasting. Cuppings occur at every stage of the specialty coffee chain; farmers use them to check on their crops, importers and quality committees use them to determine pricing, roasters use them to test roast profiles, baristas use them to get a feel for a coffee's personality.
A few days ago I had the pleasure of cupping coffees at Press Coffee's South Phoenix Roastery. Press gives anyone who is interested in learning more about coffee the opportunity to explore their offerings with a few of the folks who are intimately involved with selecting and roasting them.
There are so many tiny things that can influence a coffee's expression in the cup -- soil and weather conditions, elevation, processing (the method by which the fruit part of the coffee cherry is removed from the seed part that we call a coffee bean), and roast level, to name a few. It's important to note that no two coffees are alike; even beans from the same tree can change dramatically from year to year. Coffee genetics, organic acid composition, and the chemical makeup of the dirt the plant takes roots in all contribute to the way the drink tastes. These factors vary from plant to plant, from place to place. Terroir is as essential a concept in coffee as it is in wine.
Two coffees stood out at the Press cupping. These offerings were dramatically different from one another, and helped illustrate how that sense of place can shape the way a coffee tastes.
The first coffee to note, and my personal favorite on the table, was from the Rushashi region of Rwanda. It had a slick mouthfeel, bore a tropical fruit sweetness, and had a slightly musky aromatic quality (think ripe guava fruit).
This coffee was produced at a high elevation. At higher elevations, dramatic temperature differences between day and night stress out the coffee plant - in a good way. Plants store extra compound sugars for food when they are subjected to a bit of environmental pressure. These sugars are broken down during the roast process into the organic acids that influence a coffee's flavor profile.
Head roaster Nanda made excellent choices when roasting this coffee; the profile was light enough to preserve a lot of the coffee's sweet, intensely aromatic qualities, but developed enough to tame its innate acidity. The resultant cup was clean, sweet, and vibrant.