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Coffee cupping: a subjective art.

For the future, the Coffee Break column will be shared by various columnists. This month's article is supplied by John Heuman, chairman of Dinemor Foods, Inc.

The cupping of coffee is a century old art, not a science, which has been passed down from generation to generation. This art continues to be taught as people are coming into the coffee business and want to be trained as blenders. Coffee cupping is a very complex matter, requiring a number of years of practice and teaching.

Today, potential "cuppers" can be pretested to see whether the person has the talent to become a coffee cupper. Once that has been established, the training can begin under an experienced coffee cupper. Over a number of years, the various differences in coffee taste and defects are taught, and eventually a person can become a qualified cup tester.

It is interesting to note that when it comes to coffee defects - such as sourness, ferment, or as in Brazilian coffees, hard and rioy tastes - they can generally be detected by all trained cuppers. One of the first parts of cupping coffee is to be sure that the coffee bean used in the blend is free from these defects, is essentially sound, and can be used without negative effects on the blend structure.

Judging the values of flavor, body, and aroma of various coffees and how they will fit into a blend is where the art of coffee cupping comes into play. This is where the art of coffee cupping really comes to the forefront. Probably no two coffee cuppers in the world can totally agree on the flavor values of various coffee growths.

Let's look at the best quality coffees, such as Colombian, Kenya, and special coffees, such as Jamaica Blue Mountain and Hawaiian Kona. Many people believe that, overall, Colombia produces quality coffee and can be used as a top value coffee in most any blend. Again, with Colombia, there are all kinds of varieties, although they have been obscured in recent years because regional coffees are difficult to purchase today in Colombia. Years ago, when this writer purchased coffee, it grew in various regions of Colombia, the name affixed was the name of the region and there were substantial value differences in these coffees. Today however, Colombian coffee generally bought as good quality covers basically the whole spectrum of Colombian coffee.

Kenya coffee, in the minds of many coffee cuppers, is considered among the world's very finest coffee. The character of Kenya coffee, however, is different from Colombian coffee, and here the judgement of the coffee cupper determines which coffee can be used better in a blend and to what percentage. Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is considered by some to be the best coffee in the world, while others feel it has been over romanced through commercial promotion with the really good selection being better than fine Central American Coffee. Hawaiian Kona is also a coffee that has been widely romanced and again some cuppers will ascribe to it a much higher value than others.

Next, comes the Central American group of coffee and we will include Mexico in this discussion. Here we have the so-called Prime Washed coffees, which are available in all of the Central American Coffees, including Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. However, again, even in the Prime Washed category, cuppers will vastly differ in their approach to how the coffees are used in blends.

Some cuppers will prefer the rather robust flavorful taste of Mexicans, while others are more inclined to use a more delicate coffee from Costa Rica or Guatemala. Central Standard Salvador coffee also falls into this group and again it is simply a preference of the individual cupper as to which of the origins he/she prefers for the particular blend in which these coffees are to be used. Also, in this group would be Honduras and Peruvian coffee, washed Ecuadorian and washed Santa Domingo. Many people consider Peruvian coffee somewhat inferior to the Central American group, while other consider it equal and some may even prefer it because of certain characteristics.

With regard to Ecuador and Santa Domingo, many cuppers consider these coffees somewhat below the Prime Washed categories and often use them to substitute for coffees such as good quality Brazilian, depending again on the approach. There are some other washed coffees grown around the world such as coffees from Rwanda and Burundi, which are the so-called Ociru Group, as well as coffees from the Island of New Guinea from the small Central American country of Panama and Venezuela. Here again, cuppers will describe totally different values to these coffees and their approach to usage.

In the Unwashed Arabica group, several differences of opinion exist among cuppers. In Brazil there are a variety of flavors available, depending on where the coffee is grown. Some cuppers like the sharpness and acidity that is generally found in the coffees from the state of Minas Gerais, while others prefer the nut-like mellow flavor of coffee grown in the state of Sao Paulo and still others like the somewhat more neutral, more robust tasting coffees from the state of Parana. Also in this group is Ethiopian coffee, which display different cup characteristics from the Brazilian coffee and certainly in the minds of many cuppers are not interchangeable but are useable, unwashed Arabica coffee of high acidity and probably fit very well into certain blends. Again, difference of opinions among cuppers will decide where these coffees are to be used.

Even in the Robusta group, there are a lot of differences in taste and different cuppers will prefer coffees from different origins. While generally low in grade appearance, Indonesian EK-1 apparently find wide usage because of their neutral albeit somewhat dirty flavor. Other cuppers prefer the Brazilian Conillon, and still others prefer coffees from the Philippines, Thailand, or Ecuador. The Ivory Coast or Uganda are large producers of Robusta coffee in Africa and while some cuppers may prefer the former others possibly would not use Ivory Coast and would insist on coffees from Uganda.

In other words, it is not a simple science in cupping whereby you can ascribe specific values to specific coffees. This is where the art and experience comes into play and many cuppers have very strong opinions about which coffees they prefer. There have been approaches made to what we will call computerized blending. However, in order to computerize blends, one must describe specific blend values to each of the coffees used in the blend and here again, the subjective judgement comes into play.

Just let us take as an example Prime Washed coffee. A company that may be doing computerized blending may assign a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best and 1 being the poorest. They may also assign the number 6 to Prime Washed Mexicans and the number 5 to Central Standard Salvador coffee, while another cupper may do the reverse or may give a hard bean Costa Rican a number 7 in describing the flavor characteristics of the coffee. In computerized blending, once the values are assigned, the computer can then pick out the lowest cost blend given the particular values ascribed to each particular ingredient of the blend. This, obviously, starts a scientific approach, but still needs the subjective evaluation of each coffee used in the blend.

In summary, cupping will never be a science because it is dependent on the human palate and just like in the tasting of food, one man's poison may be another person's nectar. This is one of the wonders of the coffee business and it is something that creates the mystique in coffee blends and flavors.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Coffee Break; coffee blend taste testing
Author:Heuman, John
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Column
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:1287
Previous Article:Well-known columnist, Dr. Samuel Lee, retires.
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