Adventures in Ethics and Science

Counter Culture Coffee generously invited us to join us for their regular Friday morning cupping at their Durham, North Carolina headquarters.

Here are the dimensions on which the coffees are evaluated in the cupping:

  • Fragrance:
  • smell of coffee when it’s dry (undertones, first thing that comes to mind)

  • Aroma:
  • smell off coffee just off the boil (under 200 oF)

  • Break:
  • Crust forming on top from brewing — from CO2, unless the beans are stale. After coffee has steeped 4 min, breaking crust of coffee and smelling it.

  • Brightness:
  • acidity that bring their own flavor (cf. acids that distinguish a banana from a lemon)

  • Flavor:
  • how it tastes (slurp vigorously)

  • Body:
  • tactile sensation of coffee (cf. skim milk vs. whole milk)

  • Aftertaste:
  • the flavor that lingers 30 sec after drinking the coffee

We’re doing a blind tasting, so our reaction isn’t biased by our past history with a particular variety. Also trying to work silently so as not to influence our neighbors’ answers .

Number one:

  • Fragrance:
  • subtle, fruity, stroganov, meaty, nutty, malt, moldy, carob, peaty

  • Aroma:
  • raisin bread, sloppy joes, wood smoke, popcorn, bread, hot summer night, baked cheddar cheese

  • Break:
  • carrot peels, mushrooms, woody, BBQ, smoky, toasty

  • Bright:
  • low, intense, cherry, red apple, kiwi

  • Flavor:
  • almonds, dark chocolate, lemon, brown sugar, peas, leguminous

  • Body:
  • thin, medium-mild

  • Aftertaste:
  • tart, mineral, light

La Golondrina (Popayan, Colombia)
In season right now! (Tastes better when it’s just in.)

Number two:

  • Fragrance:
  • warm, savory, sweet gorgonzola, earth, ashy, mineral, savory, cocoa, chocolate, grapefruit, butterscotch, butter, caramel

  • Aroma:
  • toast, butter, dried fruit, strawberry fruit roll-up, plastic

  • Break:
  • light chocolate, cinnamon, sweet beef, bitter chocolate, molasses

  • Bright:
  • citrus, green aplle, lime, white grape, peach

  • Flavor:
  • goaty, burnt sugar, tin, woodsy, buttery, apricot, black, toast

  • Body:
  • medium

  • Aftertaste:
  • ashy, nutty, dry, orange peel, toast.

Humure (Byumba, Rwanda)
.

Number three:

  • Fragrance:
  • malty, vanilla, hazelnut, pecan, peat, red wine, cranberries

  • Aroma:
  • molasses bread, beef stew, sour cream, balsamic vinegar, soap, lemongrass

  • Break:
  • bread baking in a forest, sterno, cherry, green wood, chokecherry, blueberry, cooked carrots.

  • Bright:
  • sharp, bell pepper, tropical fruit, hibiscus tea, citrus, tomato

  • Flavor:
  • fruity, roast beef gravy, plum sauce on pork, chocolate, currants, pineapple

  • Body:
  • light, syrupy, coating

  • Aftertaste:
  • marmalade, chocolatey, tart pie, ginger, champagne

Tegu (Nyeri, Kenya)

All the coffees we tasted today were wash coffee (take skin off fruit, let it ferment awhile, then wash it).

Coffee never better than when it comes off the tree.
Each step of processing is a chance to mess it up.
A lot still to be learned about how microclimate in which the beans are grown affects flavors.

* * * * *

It’s very odd to take so much time trying to discern all the flavor notes of a beverage that many of us use as our morning jump-start. For many of these, I’d find myself saying, “I know that flavor (or smell), but can I name it? Also, it’s worth noting that we were tasting little bits of the coffees with spoons, rather than quaffing mugs of it … which is kind of what I feel like doing right now!

Comments

  1. #1 Greg Laden
    January 16, 2009

    Yeah, I saw you all coming back from the tasting, and you looked pretty wired!!!!!

  2. #2 Julie
    January 16, 2009

    Counter Culture is awesome — great sourcing, great coffee, and great people. I wish I could have been there.

  3. #3 Charles Bacon
    January 18, 2009

    Well, I have moved back to the US from having lived 20 yrs in Europe and I can tell you that even here in Cambridge, MA there is not a decent cup of coffee to be found. It is all Urn Take-out, and not just at Starbucks. The cup you get is mass produced and loses in that alone. If I request that an individual cup could be prepared for me, incomprehension ensues, as the machine is for Espresso only! So, any improvement must be based on those observations, as a decent cup of coffee was everywhere to be found in Europe. They apparently have already done the necessary research, on site! And the cup is delivered to you at your table. But, it is heartening to see that some care.