Thursday, February 04, 2010

Scents of faraway places

Michael Allen Smith, Coffee Hero
The Coffee Club of Seattle crowded into the lower level of Stumptown Coffee Roasters on Capitol Hill for a free cupping session last Sunday. With the roaster churning and thrumming away behind us, our guide introduced us to the process of tasting coffee. First, the dry fragrance, then breaking the crust and finally slurping and tasting.

Along the counter before us, small cups of fresh ground coffee beans from Peru, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya and Panama were lined up. Each bean sample had a row of five cups. The dry fragrance of the ground beans was volatile. Elusive, you had to sneak up on the cups, jostle them and sniff the scent of these faraway places.

Then came the hot water, just off boiling, poured into the cups. As the grounds rose to the top of the cups and formed a crust, a timer was set for four minutes. We went down the line but since we were a large group, I only broke the crust on one cup from each group. Equipped with a teaspoon, the trick was to get up close and nosy with your mouth open while breaking through the crust with the back of the spoon.

As a bonus for the group, while the coffee crew carefully removed the grounds from each of the cups after the crusting was done, the Coffee Club of Seattle was treated to tasting samples from four Columbian micro-lots brewed in Chemex coffee makers. The buzz around the highly-prized beans sounded like the Colombia Esperanza was definitely a big hit.

Returning to the cupping, the chance to do multiple spit takes finally arrived. Armed with spoons in one hand and paper cups in the other hand, we dipped our spoons into the coffee cups, slurped vigorously, and then spit same sip into the paper cups. The trick here is to spray your tongue to fully taste the coffee. The spitting is a guard against getting over caffeinated. I, however, swallowed.

The Peruvian coffee at the beginning of the line had a light body, bright and refreshing. Going down the line, the Burundi, Kenya and Rwanda coffees were bolder, richer; each had their own singular sensation of fruit flavors and chocolate or caramel like finish.

At the end of the line was the Panama Esmeralda Especial Mario San Jose. Drinking a cup of bad coffee is like licking a toad without the high. Slurping and tasting the Panama Esmeralda Especial gave the sensation of a flower blossoming in your mouth and your head at once for a moment was Buchart Garden in springtime.

I loved the Panama Esmeralda but it’s a bit much ($70 / 12 oz. bag) for my coffee budget. I chose instead with no regrets to take home the Kenya Gatamboya (12.75 / 12 oz.-bag) that Stumptown describes on its website as “this classic Kenya profile moves seamlessly from a creamy apricot aroma to rhubarb pie, black cherry, fruit punch and a clean chocolate finish.”

For more photos from the event, check out the Coffee Hero’s Sunday at Seattle’s Stumptown. For an audio tour, listen in as Lynne Rossetto Kasper of The Splendid Table visits Stumptown Portland for her own cupping session.

Photo: Michael Allen Smith, Coffee

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