Thursday, May 03, 2007

Australian Cupping Championships

An update from the Australian Barista Comp and Adelaide is certainly in order, but for the moment I thought that I'd get the cupping comp out of the way ...


Me in the first round.


Introduction

Cupping is the name given to the process that roasters use to evaluate coffee. Generally, a roaster will receive small samples of green coffee beans from their brokers. These will be roasted, ground and placed into a cup. Water is added and the mixture is allowed to sit. The coffee grounds float to the top and form a crust, which is cracked open with a spoon, releasing a puff of aroma. The scum and excess floating grounds are then skimmed off. A spoon is used to draw up a sample to be sucked into the mouth, so as to aerate it and coat as many of the tastebuds as possible.

The process is of great importance to roasters, who basically use it to guide their purchasing decisions and conduct quality assurance. But how do you run a competition on something as subjective as taste? The answer is to base it on a technique known as 'triangle cupping,' where three cups are presented to the taster - two with the same coffee and one with a different one. The taster must pick the odd one out to be able to confidently say that it is better or worse than the other two. In this competition, the task is to successfully pick the odd one out of eight sets of three cups. Practicality necessitates using drip brewed coffee and paper cups, rather than ground coffee and water and some sort of ceramic.


I won this Indian silver-plated cupping spoon ... schweet. I gather that Ben might be importing them, so bug him if you want one.

Competition Report

There really wasn't much of an incentive for me to enter; I'm not a roaster, I haven't cupped much and the world cupping competition is smack-bang in the middle of exams. That said, seeing as I was over in Adelaide for the barista competition, I thought that I might as well have some fun and give it a go.

The competition was held immediately after the barista competition, whilst the scores were being double-checked, with the aim of providing a bit of a diversion. I don't think that anyone really thought that it would turn out to be as decent a spectator sport as it was. The spectacle of a bunch of people slurping, sniffing and spitting their way through 24 cups only took a few minutes each. Rob was cluey enough to have us turn our cups over one at a time, which built up a bit of suspense ... the "oohs," "aaahs" and "oofs" were pretty loud.

I will have to upload a photo of the scoreboard when I get it back. To my utter amazement, I topped the first round, getting 7/8 right in about 4:05. A few were identifiable on the nose alone and some on acidity levels alone.

The finalists were Hazel De Los Reyes, Peter Wolff (my boss) and myself. I thought that if I was going to win I should try to win big, because no-one expected me to even be in the finals, so I just raced through and got 6/8 right in about 2:40. Hazel won with a clean sweep of 8/8 and I think that Wolffy finished on 5 or 6/8. Naturally, I have been suitably gracious about beating the boss ;P

From left to right; Emily Oak, two guys from Grinders (sorry, can't remember their names), Peter Wolff, Ben Bicknell, Hazel de los Reyes, myself, Tom from Grinders, Jonny Nease. Note how a Veneziano shirt suddenly appeared on my back when I made the finals ;P

Thoughts, Musings and Opinions

Well, from my point of view the competition was great. Instant, totally straightforward and unequivocal results ... what's not to like? More importantly, it puts the focus where it belongs - on taste. I'm sure that next year's event will lead to a nice soundbyte in some news program ...

As one would expect, there are still a few kinks of the format to be ironed out. Personally, I would have liked the tables to have been a little higher and the cups to have either been much more full or to have been cut shorter - it was a bit of a PITA to have to pick upt he cup and tilt it around to get the spoonful out. I also can't help but wonder if the competition would be more amusing for the spectators if all of the spitting and slurpign were miked up.

Thanks

A big thankyou is certainly owed to Ben Bicknell. Ben has put an incredible amount of time and effort not only into the cupping comp, but also into the barista comp, the barista guild, AASCA and the WA coffee scene in general. Ben, it was a pleasure to deprive you of one of the spoons you sourced ;P

Thankyou to Five Senses for providing the coffee.

On a more personal note, it is quite ironic that I have to credit Hazel and Peter as the ones who taught me the basics of cupping in the first place!

Resources

Intro to cupping at coffeegeek.

The official "SCAE World Cup Tasting Championship" page.

The resources page at coffeecuppers.com.

The AASCA webpage.

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