It wasn’t until the very the last week of 2013, but I finally made it to one of the free public coffee cuppings offered every Friday morning at the Counter Culture Coffee training center in Durham. Counter Culture has done a lot to support the Triangle’s coffee community and culture and I’m a big fan of their coffee and the shops that serve it around the Triangle. Attending one of their cuppings has long been on my list of local activities to explore and the experience from my first visit to their training center did not disappoint!
The weekly cuppings are held at 10am each Friday at the Counter Culture Training Center located off S. Alston Avenue in Durham. Counter Culture has similar training centers in Asheville, Atlanta Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. These training centers are where they hold classes, educational demonstrations, and barista certification training for coffee professionals. The Durham location is a bit unique in that it is attached to a neighboring building where Counter Culture roasts all of their coffee before it is shipped out to retail locations and coffee shops across the country.
The cupping lasts about an hour and is followed by a quick tour of the coffee roasting facility. On the day I attended they were cupping three wonderful coffees harvested from the African country of Burundi. The three coffees cupped were MPEMBA, Buziraghindwa, and a natural sundried Burizaghindwa. How a coffee tastes is influenced by the growing environment (climate and soil type etc.) in addition to the botanical variety of the coffee how it is is processed. The three coffees we cupped ranged in flavor and aroma from earthy & spicy to very bright & fruity.
To learn more about the different coffees we cupped visit the Counter Culture Coffee online store to read the coffee descriptions and details about the origin and processing of each.
In general a “coffee cupping” is the practice of observing the tastes and aromas of brewed coffee. Cuppings are a lot of fun because you learn about new coffees and how they are different from one another. These public cupping are particularly engaging since they provide the opportunity to share thoughts with others and discussing with the group what you each noticed and experienced.
There are no wrong answers in cupping, just different perspectives and experiences. Cuppings can help you develop a reference library of flavors and taste sensations that can become a background against which you can examine new coffees. Over time a cupper can begin to associate particular flavors with geographical regions and different botanical varieties of coffee.
The cupping procedure follows four primary steps. As you progress through each step you begin to notice how the aroma changes or is enhanced as the coffee transitions from dried ground beans to complete brewed coffee. The overall goal is to measure aspects of the coffee’s taste, specifically the body, sweetness, acidity, flavor, and aftertaste. The cupping steps include:
- Sniffing the dry coffee grounds
- Smelling the coffee after the hot water pour-over
- The “breaking of the crust” (breaking through the floating layer of coffee grounds as the coffee brews)
- Tasting or “slurping” the coffee.
During this particular cupping there were about 15 cups of each coffee lined up in stations along the counter. There were roughly 30 or so people there and we all took turns going from station to station smelling the different coffees during each step of the cupping process. After each step one of the coffee buyers at Counter Culture would lead a short discussion with the group about what everyone experienced from each coffee. It was interesting to hear the different flavors and aromas others picked up. By the way, if you are like me and sometimes need a little help describing coffee flavors, check out Counter Culture’s Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel.
This all lead up to the final step when we finally tasted each coffee. The brewed coffee is first prepped by the Counter Culture staff. Using two spoons, they skillfully removed the floating layer of brewed grounds from each cup. Once this is done we all took turns taking a spoonful of each coffee and slurping it loudy. Slurping loudly is done by sucking the coffee in with such velocity that it is aerated and sprayed across your entire palate. This allows the full flavor profile of the coffee to be expressed and experienced by the taster.
The room was somewhat divided on which coffee was their favorite. My favorite was the fruity natural sundried Burizaghindwa. I enjoyed its brightness and the hints of orange and blackberry I tasted. After the cupping was completed we transitioned into the other side of the building where the group was given a brief tour of the coffee roasting operation. We were lead through the area where they stage their coffees delivered from around the world and even got to see where the coffee is bagged and labels are applied to each bag of coffee by hand.
The final stop on the tour took us to where the real magic happens. We witnessed the coffee roasters in action! The day of my visit was just two days after the Christmas holiday so things were hopping with two large roasters creating batches of delicious freshly roasted beans. It was interesting to see how all the pieces of the coffee operation fit together to deliver those 12 ounce bags of freshly roasted coffee on the grocery store shelf. The cupping and the behind the scenes look at the roasting process gave me much to ponder the next time I am enjoying a delicious cappuccino in my favorite local coffee shop.
If you would like to learn more about coffee cupping I highly recommend attending one of the free public cuppings held at Counter Culture each Friday. Visit their website below for more information about their coffees and upcoming events.
Counter Culture Coffee – Durham Training Center
4911 S Alston Ave, Durham, NC 27713 (Map)
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